In case we had forgotten, Tadd Fujikawa and Cassy Isagawa gave us a grinning reminder last week about why it is such a terrific time to follow Hawaii golfers.
Isagawa, 16, a Baldwin high school senior, heated up her already scorching golf summer by winning the 35th Junior PGA Championship. Since May, Isagawa has won the state high school championship, her second straight Hawaii State Junior Golf Association age-division title, finished second at Junior Worlds and earned co-medalist honors at the Girls Junior America’s Cup, leading Hawaii to its first win since 1992.
Isagawa calls it a breakthrough of shocking proportions.
"I just surprised myself this year," she said. "There’s been such a change in my game and I don’t know how and why. I’ve been amazing myself. It’s a really incredible feeling."
The PGA of America had been following her and was so impressed by her resume it extended one of the 74 Junior PGA exempt spots, calling HSJGA President Mary Bea Porter-King to give Isagawa the news. Now she is heading to Scotland next month to play in the Junior Ryder Cup, and will be on The Golf Channel’s one-hour Junior PGA highlight show Sept. 13.
Isagawa, who will play for Oregon next year, is ranked 24th in the latest Polo Junior Rankings. That’s up from 103 a week ago and 312 a year ago when the Ducks first got interested.
Their coaches told Wailea Old Blue pro Brenda Rego, who has coached Isagawa since she was 10, what they liked most about her was her tenacity and sophistication on the course. The fearlessness has always been there, along with great length, Rego says. The course management and maturity is more recent.
"Cassy had a little bit of a temper," Rego said. "This year she learned to control that. She goes out and doesn’t give up to the end.
"Mentally she’s learned to work hard at every single shot … she works hard until the last putt falls in the hole."
Isagawa celebrated last week’s playoff win by playing basketball with one of her future Oregon teammates. She was most impressed with the list of items she will get as part of the Junior Ryder Cup team, wondering out loud if she actually gets to keep everything.
Her grounded personality is much like that of Fujikawa. Tellingly, his composure when he won on the eGolf Tour’s grandest stage Saturday impressed people as much as it had in March, when he shot 82 on the final day to lose and handled it with dignity.
The 19-year-old Moanalua High School graduate won the eGolf Tour Championship at Gordonsville, Va., by an astonishing nine shots. He was a career-best 15-under after two days. His first win away from home was worth $25,000, his biggest paycheck except for the $29,000 he got for 32nd at the 2009 Sony Open in Hawaii.
Two years earlier, as a 16-year-old amateur, Fujikawa became the youngest in PGA Tour history to make a cut, finishing 20th at the Sony and turning down $52,455. Five months later he turned pro and had been playing in Japan, Europe and on PGA and Canadian Tour exemptions until this year, when he and mom Lori moved to the East Coast so he could play regularly on a tour and be close to his coaching team at Sea Island, Ga.
The eGolf — formerly Tar Heel — Tour turned out to be an ideal choice. Membership is $2,000 and each start costs $1,110, basically last-place money. Fujikawa was 16th on the money list going into last week and he and Lori were zeroed in on a "solid week" to stay in the Top 20 and get his $4,500 PGA Tour Q-School fee paid by the tour.
Both called first-prize money a "bonus," in part because his game was practically perfect.
"We’ve been really working on his swing to try and get it, and his putting," Lori said Saturday. "Parts of his game were coming together slowly. This week he putted well and hit it well. He’s been playing a lot more aggressive because he’s hitting the ball a lot better so he can be more aggressive. When you play like that you can make more birdies."
In a comfort zone that included former Manoa Cup and state high school champ Ryan Perez as his caddie, Fujikawa made 25 birdies, plus an eagle and only two bogeys. He finished the season fifth on the money list with $63,348.
National media suddenly showed interest in the tour. CBSsports.com wrote that "Fujikawa is such a relentlessly upbeat kid — sort of like the Gary Player of his generation — that it’s sure to generate smiles well beyond the shores of the 50th state."
The Fujikawas are now focused on Q-School. Tadd will play his First Stage at the Club at Irish Creek, Oct. 19-22 in North Carolina. It hosted an eGolf event last month and he shot 7-under the final day, grabbing one of his four Top-10 finishes.
It was almost as good as last week.
"This means a lot," Fujikawa said after his win. "I won Mid-Pacific and Maui and played well, but this is my first win away from home. It really, really means a lot. Knowing I played against the top 50 on this tour and won by nine means a lot. It says a lot about what I’m doing and the help I’m getting from my coaches and mom."