By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)
(B 01/08/1991) Tadd Fujikawa is a professional golfer and the first openly gay athlete to compete on the PGA Tour. He was born three months prematurely in Honolulu, Hawaii where he was given a 50/50 chance of survival. While his parents initially worried that the premature birth would affect Fujikawa’s mental and physical development, it ultimately did not have an impact.
He originally pursued golf as part of his training in Judoka to help him strengthen his grip, however he quickly found a talent for the sport and switched. Stating that “it was such a lot of fun!” and he expressed his passion for the sport “I feel like I love golf because more than any other game it helps bring out your true character.”
When he was a high school freshman, Fujikawa qualified for the 2006 U.S. Open in golf by winning the Hawaii Sectional Qualifier which made him the youngest player in the history of the PGA to qualify for the tournament. He competed at the U.S. Open in 2006 but missed the cut for the PGA Tour by nine strokes. The following year he tried again and qualified at for the PGA Tour, making him the youngest athlete in 50 years to make the cut.
From there, Fujikawa quickly showed that he has a lot of potential as an athlete and ultimately placed 20th in the final result. A month later, he competed at the Hawaii Pearl Open, considered as Hawaii’s most lucrative tournament and he became the first amateur athlete to win since 1992.
Fujikawa then turned professional in 2007 when he took part in the Nationwide Tour and then again on the European Tour but unfortunately, he failed to qualify for the 2007 PGA tour event. For the 2008 season, Fujikawa finally made his first professional cut and victory at the Mid-Pacific Open in Hawaii, at age 17 he was the youngest winner in tournament history.
Despite his early successes, his athletic performance hit a slump and he had trouble maintaining his initial rankings. This was due to his relationship with his father who had been caught and arrested for selling drugs to an undercover police officer. Fujikawa held a lot of resentment toward his father as a result that impacted his mental health.
In 2018, Fujikawa announced on Instagram that he is gay, he made the announcement on World Suicide Prevention Day and shared his own experiences and struggles with mental health, including depression and anxiety as a result of hiding his sexual orientation. After debating on whether or not to come out, he chose to share his story to inspire and serve as a role model for others going through similar issues. In his post, he shared…
“I don’t expect everyone to understand or accept me, but please be gracious enough to not push your beliefs on me or anyone in the LGBTQ community. My hope is this post will inspire each and every one of you to be more empathetic and loving towards one another.”
He came out as gay to his father only an hour before he made his public announcement.
“I called him and told him I was gay and right away it was like this wall between us just disappeared, and it was very, very cool. I’ve never been really close with him, but my coming out really helped our relationship.” Fujikawa said. “I’m in a better place since coming out, it was a bit of transition learning to feel comfortable again, and now it’s kind of like I’m starting over.”
Later on, when talking about why he chose to share his story, he shared.
“I thought that I didn’t need to come out because it doesn’t matter if anyone knows. But I remember how much other’s stories have helped me in my darkest times to have hope.” Sharing the pernicious fear that comes from hiding in the closet he said, “I spent way too long pretending, hiding, and hating who I was. I was always afraid of what others would think/say. I’ve struggled with my mental health for many years because of that and it put me in a really bad place,” he continued. “Now I’m standing up for myself and the rest of the LGBTQ community in hopes of being an inspiration and making a difference in someone’s life.”
Fujikawa had used social media before to share his experiences with mental health and the importance of getting help, finding a support system and freeing oneself from the pressures of perfection.
“We all have our issues and problems, just in different ways,” he wrote. “It’s how we deal with those issues and learn how to overcome them that makes us stronger and beautiful in the end. But it all starts with getting help.”
Fujikawa is hoping that his story will help bring more awareness to this issue and fight for LGBTQI people to fight for equality…
“Whether the LGBTQ is what you support or not,” he continued, “we must liberate and encourage each other to be our best selves, whatever that may be. It’s the only way we can make this world a better place for future generations. I can’t wait for the day we all can live without feeling like we’re different and excluded. A time where we don’t have to come out, we can love the way we want to love and not be ashamed,” Fujikawa wrote.
While he is now living in Georgia and still competing in golf, Fujikawa was uncertain as to whether or not the traditionally conservative and straight sport would accepting.
“Living in Georgia, it’s not, how do I put this?” he says, “I guess it’s a pretty conservative state and the people aren’t really as accepting and open-minded towards the LGBTQ community as they are on the west coast.” The decision to come out was scary “just because I didn’t know what was going to happen, what the reaction was going to be, whether I was going to be discriminated against”.
“Honestly, I did expect a few of the members to pull away from me, and it’s been almost the opposite, everyone’s been so supportive and encouraging.” He shared. “On the PGA Tour there’s got to be at least a couple of gay guys, there’s just no way around it,” he says, “but coming out is one of those things everyone has to do in their own time and, honestly, people don’t even have to come out. That’s the way it ought to be, where people can just live the way they want and coming out doesn’t have to be this big announcement.”
Being openly gay in arguably the straightest sport there is, Fujikawa is showing that he is more than capable to show his strength and courage to be himself in the sport.