He had written the note months earlier and kept it in his phone. The time was coming. He could feel it.
The time to share the truth about himself.
The time to become visible. Vulnerable, even.
The time to do something no other high-profile male professional golfer had ever done before.
On the morning of September 11, 2018, the time arrived.
He plucked up the courage, picked up his phone, and pasted his pre-prepared announcement into a new Instagram post.
He looked at the words once more.
“So… I’m gay.”
No going back.
People would judge him but they’d been doing that for years. At the age of 15, he qualified for the 2006 US Open, becoming the youngest golfer ever to do so. In 2007, aged 16 years and four days, he made the cut in the Sony Open in Hawaii, becoming the second youngest player ever to accomplish the feat on the PGA Tour.
He knew what it was like to be the talk of the driving range, the name on the lips of golf fans the world over. But this was different. This was totally and completely different.
He took a deep breath, hit ‘Send’ and, in that instant, Tadd Fujikawa’s life changed forever.
* * *
A year has passed since Hawaii-born Fujikawa shared details of his sexual orientation with the world.
As bunkered.co.uk catches up with him, he’s taking shelter with friends in North Carolina having been forced to evacuate his home in neighbouring Georgia as Hurricane Dorian makes its move.
“I’m not too sure what I’ll be going back to,” he admits. “Hopefully it’s not too bad.”
The same, one suspects, was true of the storm he weathered this time twelve months ago. As he looks back, he admits he’s struck by how much has changed.
“I feel totally different,” he says. “I mean, I’m still doing the same things in terms of playing golf but, as a person, I’ve changed a lot. I’m kind of re-learning how to live, I guess. It’s as though everything is new. But I’m happy.”
It was purely by coincidence that Fujikawa came out on World Suicide Prevention Day last year. He had no idea until people pointed it out to him. The timing of his decision to reveal that he’s gay was purely and simply down to one thing: being ready.
WATCH - MASTER YOUR SHORT GAME
“I’d written that post a few months earlier and had kept it in my phone,” he says. “I had watched other people’s coming out videos on YouTube and stuff like that so I had been building up to it. It was always only ever a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ I came out of the closet. I drew a lot of confidence and inspiration from seeing other people do so. It gave me a lot of hope and kind of made me feel as though as I wasn’t alone.
“So, I wanted to help others in a similar situation, who maybe wanted to come out but who didn’t feel able to or who lived in fear of the world rejecting them because of who they are. I wanted to show them that if I could be comfortable enough to come out not just as an athlete but also as somebody who plays quite a reserved, old-fashioned sport, that there was nothing for them to fear. I guess it was my way of giving something back.”
Prior to coming out, Fujikawa says he struggled with depression.
“It was a lot of things combined,” he admits. “I was struggling with my game, I was still in the closet. You know, when you put everything together, it really affected me. I’m slowly coming to terms with it. Even now, it’s an on-going process and something I have to constantly be aware of.”
The reaction to Fujikawa’s ‘coming out’ post was both immediate and huge. That, he says, is something he wasn’t fully prepared for.
“I genuinely didn’t think it would be that big a deal. I thought it would be mainly friends and family who would respond to it. I honestly wasn’t looking for all of the attention that I’ve received but I’m grateful for it and thankful to have the opportunity to use my platform to help others.”
Now 28, Fujikawa says he was “pretty late in noticing” that he’s gay.
“I was maybe 16 or 17 when it hit me that, okay, this is the real deal but I tried my best to push it to the side. I was doing well with golf and doing well with life so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I really started coming to terms with it and, yeah, that was difficult. For so long, I had denied it. I had tried to push it away, pretend it wasn’t a big deal and --”
He pauses for a moment. “Yeah,” he sighs. “I guess I had a lot of demons to deal with.”
He confided in his best friend first, then his mum.
“I’m really close with my mum but she wasn’t very accepting of it at first. It’s not that she was angry or anything. She just questioned how real it was. Looking back now, I realise that she was just taken aback and didn’t know how to react but at the time I felt as though she was rejecting me, that she didn’t love me the same way anymore.
“Things are good now. They always were. There was no falling out. I think it was just tough for us both.”
Fujikawa says he likes to be, as he puts it, ‘visible’. “I think it’s important that you don’t put up this front of living a perfect life. There’s no such thing as that. There’s only you and you are who you are.
“Whenever I have seen people being true to themselves and not try to hide behind a façade, I’ve found it really empowering. Happiness, I think, comes from being real. There’s no right or wrong way to do any of this stuff but it’s so much easier when you’re being you.”
He admits that living where he lives also made him a little nervous about announcing his sexuality.
“Georgia, like most of the southern states, is a little more conservative and probably not as inclusive as the states on the coast,” he says. “Fortunately, though, everybody has been fantastic. I live in quite a somewhat older community but it’s been great.
“I was slightly nervous about how I’d be treated by the guys at my country club. I won’t lie, I was prepared for the worst. But they have been so accepting. The same, he says, has been true of his fellow golfers on tour.
“I got a lot of messages from other players offering their support, which was great. Players I know, players I don’t, older players, younger players – they’ve all been brilliant, which I wasn’t totally expecting but I’m so thankful for.”
One of the messages that really stood out to him came from the then world No.1 Justin Rose.
“I met him about ten years ago at a European Tour event and he’s a very nice person. Like me, he turned pro at a young age, so he’s somebody I’ve always admired. That message really meant a lot to me.”
WATCH - M5 vs EPIC FLASH vs TS3
It is considered by many to be a damning indictment of sport that so few active male athletes have come out. Five-time Olympic gold medal winning swimmer Ian Thorpe did so long after he retired, as did former German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger.
Former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas revealed his sexuality in 2009 shortly before he retired from the sport.
Footballers Justin Fashanu and Robbie Rogers are the only high-profile names that immediately spring to mind when you think of gay male sportspeople who have come out at the height of their careers.
Fujikawa says that, by dint of its reputation, golf is a particularly difficult sport to come out in.
“It’s always been a somewhat masculine sport and I guess, for me, I was a little scared of being the subject of the locker room banter but the more we can educate people, the easier it will be for other players to do what I’ve done.”
He adds that “there’s no way possible” that there aren’t other gay players on tour, and says: “I don’t know if another male golfer coming out would help our cause but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. I can only really speak to my own experiences and that’s to say that, yes, it’s difficult initially, but I’m so much happier now than I’ve ever been.
“I’ve got a completely new perspective on golf. I feel like I’ve got a bigger purpose in life than to just be a golfer. You know, my form hasn’t been that great since I came out and I’ve been battling a pretty bad wrist injury for much of that time but I’m in a better place mentally.
“A bit like re-learning how to live, I’ve kind of had to re-learn how to play. I’m entering new territory. Golf is such a singular sport for the most part and it can get lonely. It can get lonelier still when you’re hiding something about yourself and you don’t really feel you’re living your real life. But now that I am, I’m excited for what the future holds.
“Next year, if I’m not fit enough to go to Q-School and try to get my tour card back, I might do some Monday qualifiers and play on the mini tours. But it’s all good. In some ways, it’s never been better.”
Away from the course, Fujikawa describes himself as “extremely single”.
He laughs: “There are different levels to being single these days. I’m extremely single. Yeah, that side of things hasn’t been as good as I’d hoped. I was hoping for a bit more action on that front but it hasn’t happened. I think that has a lot to do with where I live, so I’ll probably have to move at some point.
“But life is good. I’m taking it a step at a time and one day at a time.
“What will be will be. But I’m hopeful.
“Hopeful, and happy.”
All pictures from Tadd Fujikawa's Instagram account