Tadd Fujikawa, the 16-year-old who became the youngest player in more than 50 years to make the cut on the PGA Tour, said Thursday he was giving up his amateur status and would make his pro debut in three weeks at the Reno-Tahoe Open.
'I'm really ready for this,' he said. 'It's something that I want to do.'
Fujikawa made his announcement at a news conference at the Waialae Country Club, where in January the 5-foot-1 Fujikawa sent the gallery into a frenzy with an eagle on the 18th hole for a 66 that allowed him to make the cut at the Sony Open.
He stole the attention from Michelle Wie, the most popular golfer in Hawaii who turned pro at age 15. Wie, who just graduated high school, has spiraled into a miserable slump and has not broken par on any tour in nearly a year.
Wie's splashy news conference two years ago was very different from Fujikawa's low-key announcement, which had more friends and family members in attendance than media. Wie had signed multimillion deals with Nike and Sony. Fujikawa is still working on his first contract.
Fujikawa quickly shot down any comparisons between the teens.
'You can't really compare yourself with anyone else,' he said. 'You're two different people. You're playing two different stages -- she's on the LPGA. I'm the PGA. ... It's just totally different.'
Fujikawa, who just finished his sophomore year at Moanalua High School, said he still plans to finish high school and attend college.
He first drew attention in 2006 when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. But it was his experience at the Sony that pushed him to turn pro.
'It showed me I can compete with the best players in the world and I can handle myself in front of the cameras. But sometimes I get a little nervous,' he said.
Finances weren't really a factor in the decision.
'I'm not in it for the money at all. I just want to play with the best players in the world,' he said.
Lori Fujikawa, who wiped away tears as she stood behind a row of television cameras, said that her son turning pro will make it easier for him to concentrate on golf.
'It's hard to tell your child 'No, you can't do it,'' she said.
Lori Fujikawa, an office clerk at an auto body shop, said paying for her son's travels to the mainland, golf lessons and other expenses has been extremely difficult. Family members often had to help out.
'We always went the cheapest route and it was still expensive,' she said.
While other players stayed at the closest resorts, the Fujikawas opted for 'safe' motels in the area.
Derrick Fujikawa remembers when his only child was just 5 and would take swings in their backyard. By age 11, the younger Fujikawa was beating his dad on the golf course.
'But I still could beat him in judo,' his father said.
Derrick Fujikawa said his son, who was often the smallest kid around, has always been a 'fierce competitor.'
Fujikawa was a fighter from the time he was born -- 3 1/2 months early, so small that he weighed only 1 pound, 15 ounces and could fit into his grandfather's palm. Fujikawa, who had only a 50 percent to live, made it through a series of surgeries the first year, one to reconnect his intestines.
'I try not to think about those days,' Derrick Fujikawa said. 'He went through a lot. I don't know how he does it, but everything he does he tries his best at. That's the main thing.'
Fujikawa received a sponsor's exemption to the Reno-Tahoe Open, which starts Aug. 2.
Kevin Bell, a partner in the law firm who will serve as his attorney-agent, said Fujikawa will ask for other sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour or try to qualify on the PGA TOUR, Nationwide Tour and in Japan until he finishes high school.
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