(Reuters) - American former teenage golf prodigy Tadd Fujikawa said he struggled for years hiding his true identity before publicly revealing on Wednesday that he is gay.
Fujikawa made the announcement in an Instagram post. The 27-year-old from Hawaii is believed to be the first male touring professional golfer to announce he is gay.
"I'm gay," he wrote. "Many of you may have already known that. 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."
Fujikawa rose to prominence by qualifying for the 2006 U.S. Open and at the time was the youngest to play in that major championship.
The American proved that was no fluke when he finished 20th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Hawaii in 2007.
At age 16, Fujikawa was the third youngest player to make a halfway cut on the PGA Tour.
However, he never earned full playing status on the PGA Tour, and now plays primarily in Canada.
"I've been back and forth for a while about opening up about my sexuality," Fujikawa wrote on Instagram.
"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.
"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.
"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."
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)