As diminutive as
Fujikawa is, it would be a mistake to underestimate his fighting spirit.
"In judo he was like a wild animal," says Derrick, an instructor at the
Salt Lake Judo Club, which has been run for decades by his father, Danny.
"All the kids were a head taller, but they would cry when they had to face
him because they were so scared." A month after the Sony, Fujikawa he won
the Pearl Open, a pro tournament in Hawaii that attracts regulars from the
Japanese tour. Fujikawa iced the tournament with approach shots to two feet or
less on two of the final three holes.
against the pros convinced Fujikawa that he had outgrown amateur golf, but his
parents were tortured about letting him play for pay and spent months trying to
talk him out of it. Tadd ultimately wore them down. In many quarters Wie's
career has come to be viewed as little more than a cynical cash grab, and
Fujikawa's decision to go pro was inevitably seen in the same light. "The
comparisons are unfair because we're different people and our situations are
very different," Tadd says.
Wie is the
daughter of a university professor and attended the Punahou School, a bastion
of the Hawaiian elite. Fujikawa was offered a scholarship there but instead
chose Moanalua, a large public high school that, according to a news clipping
in the school's front office, draws from a district with a median annual income
of $38,427, below the state average. Explaining his decision, Tadd says, "I
feel more comfortable there. It's more my kind of place."
Derrick is a
self-employed contractor specializing in plumbing and air conditioning,
and the work comes and goes. (His gig as a judo instructor is unpaid.) Lori
works part time doing paperwork for an auto body shop, but spends most of
her time attending to her son's hectic schedule. Her duties include acting as
chauffeur because Tadd has been too busy to get his driver's license, or so he
humble material circumstances played a big part in Tadd's decision to turn pro.
When he was an amateur, the outside assistance he (or the family) could receive
to defray travel expenses to the mainland was limited. In recent months
Fujikawa has teed it up at the Omega Masters in Switzerland and the Casio Open
in Japan, with the tournaments supplying airfare and other travel expenses for
Tadd and Lori.
In all, Fujikawa
has played eight tournaments as a pro, including three on the PGA Tour (where
any kind of travel stipend is forbidden). His career earnings so far are $0, as
he has yet to make a cut. The family is getting by with help from Tadd's
grandparents and something called the Tadd Fujikawa Dream Fund, which was
started by a group of magnanimous Hawaiians and has grown to about $10,000.
"It's been hard to make ends meet," Lori says, "but we're used to
having to sacrifice."
It was by design
that Tadd did not sign any endorsement deals in the first four months after
turning pro. In formulating a marketing strategy, those around Fujikawa looked
at Wie's career blueprint and basically did the opposite. Says Tadd's attorney,
Kevin Bell, "There was certainly plenty of interest, but we didn't want
Tadd to be burdened by extra demands on his time or feel like he had the
pressure of having to justify corporate contracts. The idea was to give him
time to settle in."
To no one's
surprise, Fujikawa has received a sponsor's exemption to play in next month's
Sony Open, where he will be the center of attention, not to mention the
tournament's ad campaigns. (He'll turn 17 on Jan. 8, two days before the
tournament begins.) To cash in on all that publicity, Bell has been ramping up
discussions with potential sponsors, which is how Fujikawa recently found
himself in a sterile conference room atop a Honolulu high-rise. Eight other
people crowded the table, including Bell, representatives of a marketing firm
that he has retained and executives from go! Airlines, which services the
Hawaiian Islands and the West Coast. After the lengthy ritual exchange of
business cards the air crackled with business jargon such as corporate
alliances, cross-platform branding and activation initiatives. Tadd sat
impassively at the head of the table, swallowed up by a large black leather
chair. During the 45-minute meeting he asked no questions and was content to
let the grown-ups do all the talking. Afterward he was asked if the experience
was interesting or torturous. "A little of both," he said.
Bell is waiting on
a final proposal from go! and its parent company, Mesa Airlines, but is
confident a deal will get done. Also being finalized are endorsement pacts with
Aloha Petroleum, a watch company and what Bell says is a major food
manufacturer. These contracts will give Fujikawa and his family some financial
relief, but none of the deals will be blockbusters, and Tadd still has not
signed with an equipment manufacturer. Bell is too polite to say it, but it's
clear that Wie has become so radioactive that the fallout is being felt by the
next teen phenom to come along.
While the business
aspects continue to get worked out, Fujikawa is focused primarily on improving
his game, the foundation of which is a natural swing. He is blessed with
athletic genes, and in fact is the only one in the family without a black belt.
Ball striking is Fujikawa's strength, perhaps a surprise for someone who is so
small. "Tadd's height would be an issue if he were a short hitter, but he's
not," says Todd Anderson, Fujikawa's swing coach since July. "He
generates plenty of speed, and he compresses the ball nicely. I actually think
his height can be an advantage, because he has fewer angles and moving parts to
worry about, and it definitely helps him when it's windy."