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Tadd Different
Alan Shipnuck
December 10, 2007
When 16-year-old Tadd Fujikawa announced that he was turning pro, he was lumped together with another Hawaiian prodigy--even though they are polar opposites
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December 10, 2007

Tadd Different

When 16-year-old Tadd Fujikawa announced that he was turning pro, he was lumped together with another Hawaiian prodigy--even though they are polar opposites

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The other day Tadd Fujikawa and his father, Derrick, went fishing in the beautiful waters off Sand Island in Honolulu, where Derrick has been a regular since he was a boy fishing with his dad. The outing had to be crammed into the narrow window between Tadd's morning at Moanalua High and his afternoon as a pro golfer, chock-full as it was of media interviews, business meetings and a long practice session at Honolulu Country Club under the watchful gaze of his mother, Lori. As Derrick piloted the 19-foot skiff through some choppy water, both Fujikawas went to great lengths to explain why no fish would be caught: The tide was too high, fish don't bite in the afternoon, etc. According to Derrick, there was only one glimmer: "Taddy boy is the luckiest guy in the world, so you never know." ¶ Tadd, 16, has been so consumed by golf since he turned pro this summer that he and his father hadn't been fishing together in a while. As Tadd loosened up with a few idle casts, Derrick was unimpressed with his son's deteriorated form. "You throw like a girl, bruddah." ¶ One so-so cast was followed by one word of commentary: "Shank." ¶ Tadd simply rolled his eyes. "He's always like this, unfortunately," he said. ¶ Derrick and Tadd's conversation was a mishmash of English, Japanese and Hawaiian, a reflection of the family's polyglot roots. Derrick finally stopped the boat in his secret spot, above a cave in the reef, where he claimed the fish like to loiter. Tadd unfurled a majestic cast, and no sooner had the lure hit the water than his rod began twitching violently. Moments later he had reeled in a three-pound papio, its body a striking, translucent blue.

Derrick seemed more excited about having his prediction confirmed than the fish itself: "I told you, he's the luckiest guy in the world!"

Tadd lazily made another half-dozen casts. When a papio grows up--say, above 10 pounds--the locals call it a ulua. It has razor-sharp rails on its fins, which it uses to stun its prey. Off in the distance the water exploded around Tadd's lure. A ulua had tried to smack it with its fin before biting down on the hook.

"Big one!" Derrick yelled.

Tadd, his rod bent nearly in half, sweat already beginning to pour off his forehead, still managed some perfect teenaged snarkiness: "Hello, I know that. I'm the one holding the rod!"

Tadd won his first junior judo national championship at age eight. He has the balance and grace of a ballet dancer, combined with the powerful lower body of a fullback. He danced around the boat, fighting the fish and fending off the excited commentary of his dad. After a heroic battle that lasted at least 10 minutes, he reeled in a 17-pound ulua that was so big it wouldn't fit in the ice chest. Derrick took a knife and hacked the ulua's gills so it would bleed out, ensuring that the next day's homemade sashimi would have white meat, not pink. Tadd didn't hide his disgust: "Ewww, that's gross."

Later Derrick and Tadd waded into waist-deep water to hunt octopuses with spears, poking into the holes where the mysterious creatures like to hide. They were having a ball, but with a sigh Derrick cut short the trip. "We have to get to the course or Moms is going to be pissed."

"Practice always comes first," said Tadd, who in his short professional career has already discovered that in golf it is not quite so easy to land the big one.

In July, when Fujikawa turned pro, the move occasioned plenty of head-scratching, and some undisguised scorn. The day Tadd made his announcement, John Francis, whose son Phillip is a top amateur now enrolled at UCLA, told SI, "I would personally be embarrassed for my son to do that."

Because Fujikawa is a teenager from Hawaii it is irresistible to draw comparisons with Michelle Wie, who has become a $10 million-a-year cautionary tale. Like Wie, Fujikawa burst onto the scene at the Sony Open in Hawaii. In his case it was last January, when he became the youngest player in a half century to make the cut at a PGA Tour event. It wasn't only the achievement that resonated but also Fujikawa's panache. On his 36th hole he made a spectacular eagle, chasing the ball into the hole with a roundhouse fist-pump that was pure exuberance. The next day he shot a 66 to surge into a tie for eighth, and Hawaii fairly shook. Fujikawa ran out of magic on Sunday, shooting 72, but still finished a very creditable 20th. (He would have collected $54,228.57 had he not been an amateur.) What made Fujikawa impossible not to root for was the figure he cut on the course: Born more than three months premature and weighing less than two pounds, he has topped out at 5' 1" and 135.

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