16-year-old starts pro career at Reno-Tahoe Open opportunity: 5-foot-1 Hawaiian played in U.S. Open as amateur | TahoeDailyTribune.com

16-year-old starts pro career at Reno-Tahoe Open opportunity: 5-foot-1 Hawaiian played in U.S. Open as amateur

Tadd Fujikawa laughs during a press conference at the Reno-Tahoe Open in Reno on Tuesday. The 16-year-old golfer from Honolulu has chosen the Reno tournament to begin his pro career. (The Associated Press)

RENO (AP) — Tadd Fujikawa said his family might care about the money but the 16-year-old golf phenom insists he’s most concerned about projecting a good attitude when he makes his PGA Tour debut as a professional this week at the Reno-Tahoe Open.

“I think it’s more of a pride thing for me than the money,” Fujikawa said Tuesday after a practice round at Montreux Golf & Country Club on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.

The 5-foot-1 Hawaiian was introduced to golf fans last summer as the beaming 15-year-old who became the youngest golfer to play in the U.S. Open since 1941. He missed the cut at Winged Foot but brought the same fun-filled demeanor to the Sony Open in Hawaii in February, where he become the second youngest player ever to make the cut at a PGA tour event.

Last month, he announced he’d received a sponsor’s exemption and intended to turn pro at Reno, a tournament in its ninth year opposite the World Golf Championship, which attracts Tiger Woods and the other top golfers in the world to Ohio.

For a high school junior missing his first week of the new school year back home in Honolulu to make a run at a $3 million PGA Tour purse, he offers a remarkably mature take on what’s most important in his life.

“I think it’s more about me. I think that is more important than golf,” Fujikawa told reporters Tuesday.

“I think giving back to the community and treating people the way you want to be treated — giving back to junior golf — I think is really important,” he said.

“That is more important to me right now, to show I treat people very nicely. That’s what my parents have taught me throughout my life … I’d rather have (fans) see that than say, ‘Oh, he’s a really good player but his attitude stinks.”‘

But doesn’t the $540,000 winner’s check interest him just a little bit?

“Not really,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe for my parents or my family. For me, I just want to go out and have fun.”

The Reno-Tahoe Open has served as a springboard for a number of young players who claimed their first PGA victories here – Notah Begay III (1999), Chris Riley (2002), Vaughn Taylor (2004-05) and Will MacKenzie last year – as well as tour veterans who ended dry spells, including Scott Verplank (2000), John Cook (2001) and Kirk Triplett (2003).

Taylor’s consecutive wins at Reno helped propel him to last year’s Ryder Cup team.

MacKenzie is only the second Reno winner to return the following year to try to defend his title because typically the victor moves up enough in the world golf rankings to secure a spot in the other weekend event.

It’s all a dream for Fujikawa, who said the decision to turn pro was easier on him than his parents.

“Basically, I’ve always wanted to be able to compete against the best players in the world and hopefully beat them,” he said Tuesday.

“I think that is every golfer’s dream, to be the best in the world. I felt that I could get further in my golf and achieve more and learn a lot quicker.”

“For me, it was not a hard decision. For my parents, they obviously are going to think about the down side of everything just to be safe. … We just felt it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”

Fujikawa said he’s discussed his decision with other players since he arrived in Reno last week to begin practicing for the tournament. One was Kevin Na, who also turned pro as a teenager.

“He basically said just to go out there and have fun. Don’t take it too seriously,” Fujikawa said.

“It’s really hard I think when you start playing for money. I’m not out there for the money. If it comes great. If it doesn’t, that’s all right,” he said.

He takes the same approach to his height.

“Maybe I will grow. If I stay short, that’s OK,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘Wow, you’re a lot shorter than you look on TV. That’s the main thing, as long as I look taller on TV.”

Fujikawa said one of the hardest chores will be keeping up on his studies while trying to get in as many tournaments as he can in the coming months.

“Actually I think school starts on Wednesday,” he said. “That’s not too good. I’m going to be missing the first week, so I’m going to have to catch up. Some teachers are kind of mad.”

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