Teen Shines but There are No Guarantees

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2006 Sony OpenHONOLULU -- The e-mail arrived two hours before Tadd Fujikawa teed off in the final round of the Sony Open. It was from a marketing agency, offering expert opinion on the kid's endorsement potential.

Five days earlier, hardly anyone knew who he was.

Five years from now, the 16-year-old might only be a trivia question.

All that anyone knows at the moment - and probably won't soon forget - is that the 5-foot-1 sophomore with a big heart and an infectious smile made golf fun last week at the Sony Open.

He amazed even himself by becoming the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut on the PGA TOUR. He shot consecutive rounds of 66 to get his name on the first page of the leaderboard, and finished with a respectable 72 to tie for 20th.

Six-time major champion Nick Faldo told him he had the game to compete on the PGA TOUR.

``I thought that was really nice of him to say that,'' Fujikawa said. ``That really motivates me right there. Now I know that I can play against the top PGA pros and compete with them. Not only play against them and do very well, but I can actually beat some of them.''

The proof was on the scoreboard.

He was one shot better than John Daly, two better than Vijay Singh.

Fujikawa is the hottest golf commodity in Hawaii, making the island forget for the moment about another teenager, Michelle Wie. She sent the golf world into a frenzy at the same tournament four years ago when she shot 68 and missed the cut by one shot at age 14.

But when Fujikawa returns to Moanalua High School on Tuesday, it might not be a bad idea to study up on his history.

One week doesn't make a career, especially in golf.

Remember Ty Tryon?

He was 16 when he qualified for the Honda Classic, made the cut with rounds of 67-73 and went on to tie for 39th. Later that year at the B.C. Open, he led after the first round before finishing in a tie for 37th. Then he went through three stages of Q-school and earned his PGA TOUR card. And he hasn't been heard from since.

Tiger Woods celebrated Tryon's feat at the Honda Classic, but he issued a caution that is still true today.

``Anybody can have a great week,'' Woods said in March 2001. ``Can you repeat it? That's the key. There are so many times that players have gone out here and played well one week, and then they're gone.''

It is tough to use Wie as a comparison because she dabbles on more than one tour. Against women, she was atop the leaderboard on the back nine Sunday at three majors this year. Against the men, she is making it a habit of finishing last, or close to it.

But there are similarities between the two teens from Hawaii.

Wie had no worries and no fear when she first played the Sony Open in 2004. It wasn't a job, it was a dream. And it was fun. Wie played 18 holes every day at Waialae, and even when she teed off in the morning, she hung around until late afternoon on the putting green or on the practice range. This was her one week to be on the PGA TOUR, and she soaked up every minute.

That was Fujikawa last week at Waialae.

Jim Furyk was on the putting green late Thursday in twilight when he saw Fujikawa chipping, goofing around, having fun.

``It didn't strike me until I was driving home that he played in the morning, and he probably hung out and had fun and enjoyed it,'' Furyk said. ``He looked like he was having a blast on the putting green. It was refreshing to see that.''

Furyk remembers his first PGA TOUR as a freshman in college, missed the cut in Tucson and didn't want to leave.

``I still went back on Saturday and Sunday just to hang out,'' he said. ``I went in the locker room, ate lunch, acted like I knew what I was going. I just wanted to hang out and be part of the tournament.''

Wie no longer stays at Waialae very long.

She gathered with her family, a few friends and a few agents in the dining room for lunch, hit a few balls and was gone before twilight when she played Thursday morning. Since that first Sony Open, she has competed 11 times against the men (including a U.S. Open qualifier at Canoe Brook). Now it's a business.

Fujikawa wants this to be his job, and he certainly has the skills. Never mind that his driver is almost as tall as him. He gives it plenty of pop, and hit 6-iron into the 551-yard 18th hole from 207 yards. He could spend hours on the putting green, a lesson for all juniors.

Fujikawa qualified for the U.S. Open last summer, the youngest to do that since 1941. He missed the cut (so did Woods) with rounds of 81 and 77 and probably didn't get much credit for being there because he only beat a field of 10 at the Hawaii sectional.

That didn't change him. He says this won't, either.

``I'm still going to practice golf,'' he said. ``It has been a little different for the past six months, since I qualified for the (U.S.) Open. But I think this tournament really got me out there and opened some eyes.''

He already was looking toward next year, hopeful he can make it through the Aloha Section qualifying to get the only spot offered to an amateur. Maybe the tournament will give him a sponsor's exemption, and some think he deserves one as much as Wie.

For now, he's going to stick to his own age group, and he knows there is plenty of competition.

``They're no pushover, either,'' he said. ``I'm just going to go out there and do my best, like I've been doing. If it doesn't work out, then I guess I've got to practice harder.''

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