- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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HONOLULU -- The mountain peak was in full view, the final destination for The Little Engine That Could just around the bend. I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can. He kept huffing and puffing, pushing and pulling toward the ultimate goal. I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can. And then it happened! The Little Engine reached the summit! The eternal overachiever found success and lived happily ever after. The end.
Or so we thought. Instead, the Little Engine woke up the next day refreshed and rejuvenated. Saying he had nothing to lose after fulfilling his dream, he simply kept chugging along, looking for greater mountain peaks around the bend. I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can. And you know what? He did it again!
Tadd Fujikawa is The Little Engine That Could. Always has been, really. Born three-and-a-half months premature, weighing one pound, 15 ounces, doctors gave Fujikawa a 50 percent chance of survival. He underwent multiple surgeries, stayed on the positive side of those odds, and became a healthy, happy, athletic child, keenly aware of what might have been.
"I think that it's really something special that I'm actually here, alive," Fujikawa said prior to playing in last year's U.S. Open. "I'm really grateful for that."
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that 16 years after his birth, Fujikawa is still a fighter. It was on display in Thursday's first round of the Sony Open, as the Moanalua High School sophomore battled his way to a 1-over 71. An admirable score for a kid to shoot in his hometown PGA Tour event, but that mountain peak was still off in the distance, the ultimate goal of making the cut still a faraway dream.
But the Little Engine kept chugging along. He returned on Friday with renewed determination to reach the top. I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can. And so he churned out birdie after birdie, his perseverance and confidence growing with every hole. It bubbled to a head in a cauldron of emotional ripostes, as he smiled and fist-pumped around the familiar Waialae Country Club grounds, shooting 66 to make the cut. The Little Engine reached the summit!
And that's where the story should have ended. The peak had been reached. Everyone lived happily ever after. But Fujikawa kept looking around the bend.
"Now that I made the cut," he said after the second round, "I'm just going to go out there and have fun and do the best I can. Just hit the best shot that I can every time. That's pretty much all I can do. I'm probably not going to win this tournament. ... But I'm certainly going to do my best. And it may happen maybe like one out of a hundred times, but you never know."
With that notion in mind, the Little Engine came to the course on Saturday full steam ahead. Having already achieved his goal and with no particular mountain peak in sight, he simply followed the bend to see where it would lead. And wouldn't you know, it led to greater heights.
Fujikawa followed a second-hole bogey with a birdie on the third. And another on the fifth. And the sixth, ninth, 11th and 12th holes, too. It was a remarkable run of stellar play and Fujikawa was loving every minute of it.
All the while, his legions of supporters, whom Fujikawa would later call "the biggest crowd I've ever seen in my life," turned the usually subdued Waialae galleries into whirling dervishes of energy and enthusiasm. Fans chased after his shots with a persistence normally reserved for the likes of such favorites as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, as the "local boy makes good" story reached epic proportions.
When it was over, when Fujikawa tapped in his final par putt in front of thousands of adoring spectators, his scorecard showed a second consecutive round of 4-under 66. By day's end, Fujikawa had soared into a share of eighth place, in front of recent Sony winners David Toms and Vijay Singh, six strokes behind leader Charles Howell III.
"I'm just out there having fun and doing the best that I can," Fujikawa said. "I'm just trying to do my best and just take one shot at a time and stay in the moment."
Tadd Fujikawa has shown us the value of optimism this week. He's become a literal metaphor for dreaming big and working hard. Like he said, "I'm probably not going to win this tournament. ... but you never know." We do know one thing: The Little Engine That Could will keep chugging along, striving for the next peak. I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
Tied for eighth through three rounds at the Sony Open, Tadd Fujikawa, 16, was The Little Engine That Could, writes Jason Sobel.