Finau Brings Unlikely Story to Potential Greatness
Jim Furyk has made his final pick for the Ryder Cup team, and all the evidence suggests that he made the right selection, hands down.Along with a host of veterans ready to take on Europe in Paris in a few weeks, rookies Bryson de Chambeau and Justin Thomas will be joined by up-and-comer Tony Finau. His full name is Milton Pouha Finau, but we don’t call him Milt or Pooh, or Winnethe, or anything else – just Tony.
Finau had every reason not to become such a good golfer, but by combining natural gift with a high work ethic, sense of purpose and integrity, he did it anyway. Even though he was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, his heritage comes from Tonga and Samoa, way over there in the Pacific. I know those places have golf courses, because I checked, but they don’t make a habit of sending citizens or descendants into the pro golf tours. They do now, for Tony Finau turned in a body work that was pretty much undeniable in his interview for the Ryder Cup job It’s an interview where nobody talks much, but Finau has put in 15 consecutive rounds in the 60s, all under the pressure of tournament play. He has finished second all over the place, and leads Dustin Johnson for top 10 appearances. He isn’t hoisting trophies just yet, but his 2018 play has been spectacular in every other category.
The second obstacle to Finau being where he is comes down to the Salt Lake neighborhood he grew up in. It specializes, it seems, in high quality basketball players. Finau himself was one of them, as was his brother. When the college offers came in, it was for that sport, not golf. That is the third obstacle. Stories abound about how various golfers managed to get onto the course before sundown or before dawn; how they met the pro, made connections, caddied for someone famous, and found their way into the game. Fina had a local muni course and a par 3 pitch and putt in his area. It is difficult to write a magical story of being discovered in an environment like that.
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However, Finau had some advantages as well, and none more important than family, spelled a capital ‘F.’ On occasion, we do hear this type of story, a father and mother willing to sacrifice just about anything for a child’s dream. It sounds all fanciful, but often it meant sleeping the car, eating discount hamburgers at McDonalds, and parents fasting. Finau made it pay off quickly, winning the Utah State Amateur Championship. Isn’t it great how low scores can get one discovered? He kept shooting them and got into several minor tours such as the Gateway, the Hooters, National Pro Tour and Web.com. In 2013, he played in the Canadian PGA, and made seven cuts out of eight starts. Eventually, he won two events, the Stonebrae Classic of 2016, and the Puerto Rico Open in 2017. From there, he qualified for three of the majors in 2018 by way of the Tour Championship in the previous year, and finished 10th in the Masters. That may seem far from the winner’s pedestal, but in the Masters, it’s not. It means you’re out-shooting all but a few of the world’s best. He upped the ante by finishing 5th in the U.S. Open. This year, he finished second in the Safeway, second in the Genesis, and second in the Northern Trust. No fluke can manage that, and such consistency got him a serious look for the Ryder Cup. So, here he is, America’s newest member.
Finau’s father is in Seventh Heaven over the turn of events that has led his son to the big stage. Despite the fact that the American constitution offers no provision for anyone possessing “sort of” citizenship, there is a lot of divisiveness at the moment, and the two Finau men finally feel like he is participating as a true, accepted American. I’m sorry that there was ever any doubt, but am gratified that they feel that way.
No one knows how Tony Finau will do at the Ryder Cup. It was probably an advantage to come up through the ranks instead of exploding on to the scene too green to comprehend his situation. He was even a Junior Ryder Cup Champion – perfect. At any rate, although we wish him well on the scorecard, he got here, and for now the rest is gravy. Welcome to the American team, Tony Finau.