On a barrier island off the Georgia coastline, the world’s first openly gay golfer celebrates peace of mind—and pickleball.
By Ken Schultz
Photos by Kelli Boyd
Tadd Fujikawa knows how to make headlines. In 2006, he captured the golf community’s attention when he qualified for the US Open at 15 years-old, setting a record for his young age. Then, in 2018, he became the first professional male golfer in history to come out publicly as gay.
Now, almost four years later, Fujikawa is living openly as his authentic self. He’s stepped away from the course but found contentment in a new sport: pickleball.
“I’m just trying to enjoy life and learn to live aside from golf,” he says from his home on St. Simon’s Island in southeast Georgia.
“Since I was 16 and up until the end of last year that was all I did: practice and play tournaments and travel,” he adds. “Having a life outside of that and making a consistent paycheck every two weeks is really nice.”
I’m just trying to enjoy life and learn to live aside from golf.”Tadd Fujikawa
Carved out over the past year, Fujikawa’s new path finds him a pickleball pro at the nearby Sea Island Resort.
It took quite a journey to get there. Born and raised in Honolulu, Fujikawa developed a love for the outdoors in his childhood.
While he eventually made a name for himself as a pro golfer, he originally took up the sport because of his first love—judo.
From ages 8 to 11, he won four national combat championships, and golf was just a companion hobby to build up wrist strength. Entering his teens, Fujikawa needed to focus his time and had to make a decision about which sport to pursue full time. Golf proved to be the right call.
After qualifying for the PGA at age 16, Fujikawa spent years focusing on his golf game but to the exclusion of other parts of his life.
“It was hard to figure out who I was,” he reflects now, realizing he didn’t have the time then to come to terms with his identity.
It was hard to figure out who I was.”Tadd Fujikawa
“It took me a long time…many years to figure all that stuff out.” When you’re a young pro, golf isn’t the relaxing activity that it is for others.
Fujikawa soon fell into a depression and after a few years it became so profound that it began affecting his athletic performance. He went into a deep slump that lasted numerous tournaments.
Fortunately, Fujikawa began to embrace his sexuality and the world around him started to improve.
He remembers winning the 2017 Hawaii State Open as one of the most significant moments of his golfing career, declaring: “Through all of the lows and bad experiences and mental health issues, coming out on top was a big deal for me.” Ironically, it was Fujikawa’s golf career that ended up playing a significant role in what became an intense and fulfilling coming out experience.
One evening in September of 2018 he decided it was finally time, and through a simple post on Instagram he quietly revealed to his fans that he was gay.
The next morning the golfer woke up to numerous supportive texts and comments. It grabbed the attention of a sports writer, who published a story about his announcement online.
News quickly took off, and Fujikawa still remembers his phone constantly buzzing every ten seconds.
Such an onslaught during one of the most emotionally vulnerable moments in one’s life could have been overwhelming, but the athlete’s experience dealing with media scrutiny helped keep him grounded.
Plus, as he remembers now, “Because a lot of the press was very positive about it, it made me feel good. And my family was on board and they supported me. That really helped.”
As the week went on, the tidal wave of positive responses Fujikawa received proved to be one of the most uplifting parts of coming out in such a public way.
“When most people come out, [they] hope for the best but always expect the worst. And for me, it was very pleasant,” he says. “A lot of positive feedback…it’s been amazing.”
From there, Fujikawa was able to use his public platform to help many others in their own coming out processes and to this day, he remains grateful for the opportunity.
Fujikawa believes he’ll eventually play golf again but at the moment he remains focused on enjoying this new life he has.
He’s thrilled about his pickleball gig, enthusing “I picked it up a little over a year ago, and I absolutely love the game! The people that play it are so fun, and it’s very social.”
I think the saying that ‘Everything happens at the right time,’ was very true for me.”Tadd Fujikawa
Along with the different sport and lifestyle, Fujikawa is also getting used to living with his boyfriend.
“I think the saying that ‘Everything happens at the right time was very true for me,’” he says. “Because if I had come out sooner, maybe the world wouldn’t have been ready for that. Everything does happen for a reason. I’m very happy right now with my life. I’m in a good place.”
Follow Tadd Fujikawa on Instagram.