Miracle child is living a dream week in Hawaii
Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
HONOLULU — Tadd Fujikawa stood 50 feet away from the cup on the other side of the 11th green, staring at a birdie putt that not even the best players in the world expect to make.
Then again, the kid is used to defying the odds.
He was born 3 months premature and given only a 50 percent chance to live. In a sport ruled by high-priced swing gurus and golf academies, the only person resembling a coach is his mother. He looks out of place at the Sony Open not so much because of his age — he turned 16 on Monday — but the short, choppy strides from his 5-foot-1 frame.
The putt dropped into the heart of the cup and Fujikawa lunged forward and thrust his fist, sending some 1,500 people into another frenzy as they watched the pint-sized sophomore pull off another shocker Saturday.
First, he became the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut on the PGA Tour with a birdie-par-eagle finish Friday for a 4-under 66. If that wasn't enough, he shot another 66 and was tied for eighth at 7-under 203, six shots out of the lead.
"Nothing in this game surprises me anymore," said defending champion David Toms, who played in the group ahead of Fujikawa and waited until his shots were over to cope with crowd noise. "He's having a good time."
Fujikawa is a foot shorter and two years younger than Michelle Wie, the Hawaii teen who has been trying the last four years to get a tee time on the weekend at Waialae.
He made the hometown crowd forget about her on a sunny, breezy afternoon along the southeast shores of Oahu.
Fujikawa stayed up past midnight to watch highlights of him making the cut, then must have decided that wasn't enough. Starting with a pitching wedge that stopped 4 feet from the flag at No. 5, he ran off five birdies in eight holes and was on the leaderboard.
His mother, Lori, stayed some 250 yards behind and couldn't believe what she was watching.
But then, her only son has been full of surprises since he was born 3 months early, so small he fit into his grandfather's palm.
"I don't know why he came so early," she said. "I was sleeping when all the contractions began, and there was no reason for me to go into labor. I guess he wanted to come out and see the world."
He was in the hospital for three months, and doctors warned her it was 50-50 that he would survive. His first surgery was to reconnect his intestines, which caused more fears for his survival. They also told her a mental disability was possible.
"After his first year, we thought we were in the clear," she said.
Fujikawa took up judo, then started whacking golf balls on the practice range at age 8. He got serious four years later when he took his first lesson from a PGA teaching pro, but lately he has been on his own, his mother at his side.
"He goes to school in the morning, then the golf course until dark," she said. "Then homework and dinner. He loves it."
About the only player who could have seen this coming was Steve Stricker, who played in a pro-am round with him. Stricker was asked if he could have predicted two rounds of 66 by the teenager.
"Yes, because he shot 65 with me," Stricker said. "I was keeping his score and said, 'This little guy is beating me.' He played great — all 5-foot-1 of him. I was really impressed with how he handled himself."
It was hard to suppress a smile when Nick Faldo, the analyst for the Golf Channel, told Fujikawa his game was good enough for the PGA Tour. That's been the goal, and this week has been a delicious taste of it.
"Let's hear it for Hawaii's own ... Tadd Fujikawa," the announcer said behind the 18th green as the kid strolled up the fairway. He hit a wedge 10 feet below the cup for another roar, and the groan was almost as loud when he missed.
Despite his size, Fujikawa generates great club speed and hits his driver about 285 yards. And he showed plenty of savvy for only his second professional event (he qualified for the U.S. Open last summer at Winged Foot).
Behind two coconuts trees that split apart like a wishbone, he thought about hitting a fade between the trees.
"I took the other route and went around the trees," he said, hitting a hard draw with a 9-iron that hopped out of the rough and landed on the fringe about 10 feet away for birdie.
He is not expecting to win, and even a 66 in the third round didn't change his mind. He didn't have any specific goals when he showed up Monday and played a pro-am round with Stricker, and that hasn't changed. "I'm just trying to have fun, and to do my very best on every shot," he said.
The only regret Saturday was not seeing his name on the electronic leaderboard that scrolls down the list.
"I saw the leaderboards," he said. "I guess I was looking at the wrong time."
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