Finau No Choker – Too Zen?

Analysis Abounds in Curious Case of Tony Finau

Here we are, those of us who write a better game of golf than we play, assessing the ins and outs of Tony Finau’s mind. For us, losing can be as interesting as winning, as it invites all sorts of questions we don’t ask of the winner. He just wins. However, the guy who might have but didn’t needs long distance therapy from the golf world. We don’t have a license to psychoanalyze the talented, but that’s how the world works sometimes.

Anyone who tuned in Sunday watched a two-stroke Finau lead evaporate in the final holes. As one columnist suggested, however, Tony Finau didn’t lose that tournament. Webb Simpson won it with a string of perfectly timed birdies. That answers one question, whether Finau is a choker. He is most assuredly not.  Simpson continued his winning ways by sinking a birdie putt on the first playoff hole, but Finau suffered no grand collapse.

Many pro golfers on the PGA Tour reach their 30s without stellar victories  to show for all the work. Some never win on tour, and settle for making a living playing week to week. Finau has one victory, the Puerto Rico Open. One wouldn’t ordinarily mention that, but Finau is different, and it’s not the record one should expect from this sort of player. He is no journeyman, no also-ran. He has enough talent to compete with anyone in the game. He has distance to burn, and an equal amount of finesse.

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It’s not as if Finau won the Puerto Rico and was never heard from again. He’s almost always there when the smoke clears, with an impressive record of top fives and tens. By all tangible accounts, this is a man who should be winning Masters and Opens, which is not to say that he won’t someday.

This is not the same sort of curiosity as the case of Tseng or Spieth, but it’s not a total mystery. There are statistics that provide some evidence for high finishes but no wins.  Finau’s final round over the past years seemed to be his weakest, by over a stroke. The reason most often cited is a putter that loses its magic. So it went in Phoenix. Finau described his third round 62 as the most enjoyable of his career, but that one innocent little club let him down again. Fellow pros such as Max Homa remind us that there’s really nothing wrong. Winning on tour is difficult to the  extreme, and Finau beat out the entire tour, except for one player.

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Still, the final round pattern is telling. There’s no collapsing, but no soaring rallies, either – no charging Arnie or dominating Tiger sorts on day four.  Ask Finau about the week in Phoenix, and he will speak of what he learned, and his friendship with and admiration for Webb Simpson. He speaks from a healthy and large world view in which his winning or losing the Phoenix will not cause the universe to crumble, within or without. This could suggest that, as another commentator put it, the answer to Finau is “abstract, not statistical.”

We have lived through the early years of Tiger Woods. Losing weeks were  often tinged with a sulky or explosive rant, sometimes quiet, sometimes not. He was robbed of his destiny – he was called to win that tournament, he was born for it.  Who took it away from his? In time, the great Woods moved on from that place, but Finau started at the enlightened spot Tiger finally reached. It’s more zen, more tranquil, perhaps, but it also isn’t producing fourth round 62s. The same writer who pointed out the ‘abstraction’ that plagues Finau also suggested that he is merely “stuck in neutral.”

In the end, what do any of us know about a talented mind struggling in the arena, while we are not? That being a given, I’ll keep asking questions instead of making declarations. My question for the day is, “Would it help Tony Finau finish off Sundays to get a little mad once in a while?”


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