Not many golfers receive a standing ovation on the first tee in their first U.S. Open.
Tadd Fujikawa did.
In 2006, Fujikawa became a part of golf history. At 15, he became the youngest player in 65 years to compete in the Open when he teed off at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
“The ovation was special,” Fujikawa said last week. “I think it made me more comfortable knowing people were rooting for me and wishing me well. It was a great experience and also a bit surreal.
“But golf is hard. I picked a tough sport to play.”
The 2006 Open was the first U.S. Golf Association event for Fujikawa – the diminutive Hawaiian started at the top, in the USGA’s biggest event. But he missed the 36-hole cut and has never played in another Open.
For Fujikawa, 23, the past eight years have mostly have been filled with missed cuts, small paychecks, swing changes and missed opportunities. On Monday, he was at an open qualifier for the Rex Hospital Open, the Web.com Tour event this week at TPC Wakefield Plantation, but his 1-over-par 71 at Benvenue Country Club in Rocky Mount wasn’t good enough.
Former Auburn golfer Patton Kizzire of St. Simon’s, Ga., had a 64 to take the lead in the Benvenue qualifier, with six spots in the Rex field available. Another six-spot qualifier was held at Wilson Country Club and Seamus Power of Huntersville also had a 64.
Fujikawa was at the Governors Club in Chapel Hill last Thursday for a U.S. Open local qualifier. Among the late starters, he stood on the clubhouse balcony for a few hours watching the rain fall.
The qualifier eventually was postponed until Friday, and Fujikawa withdrew. He won’t be in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. After missing out Monday in the Rex qualifier, he will soon be back on the eGolf Tour, looking to work on his game, hopefully make some money and somehow reach his goal of playing on the PGA Tour.
Fujikawa remains upbeat. He’s not a sullen type.
“It has been a struggle the last few years,” he said. “I was working with an instructor and it wasn’t so good. I made a couple of changes and it really went South on me. I kind of lost my swing.
“But it’s kind of moving in the right direction. I’m working with a new guy and have learned a lot. Just get my confidence back and I think I’ll be OK.”
Such is the refrain of so many who try to make a living playing golf. Overhaul the swing, add a little length off the tee, sharpen their putting touch, put some good rounds together, get some swagger in their game and they can be back on their way.
A few years ago, Chesson Hadley was a regular on the eGolf mini tour. But the Raleigh native reached the Web.com Tour, winning last year’s Rex Hospital Open at Wakefield, and has been a winner on the PGA Tour as a rookie this year at the Puerto Rico Open.
“We know it can happen,” Fujikawa said.
After the 2006 Open, Fujikawa made the cut in the 2007 Sony Open in Hawaii – at 16 years, 4 days, the second-youngest golfer to survive a PGA Tour cut at the time. He turned pro later that year and in the 2009 Sony had a 62 to tie the course record before fading to a tie for 32nd place.
Three years later, the Honolulu native, only 5-foot-1 and 150 pounds, returned to the Sony and tied for 19th, his best PGA Tour finish.
But those are the few highlights. He has often been on the eGolf Tour, based in the Carolinas, and the NGA – formerly Hooters – Tour.
“I knew that it wouldn’t be easy when I turned pro, and I’m not where I want to be,” Fujikawa said. “But some of it has been fun. I’ve learned a lot about myself.”
Fujikawa no longer is in the USGA record books. Andy Zhang was 14 years, 6 months old when he played in 2012 U.S. Open.
But Fujikawa will always have Winged Foot and the memories of the 2006 Open, when so many wished him well.