News & ToursJune 24, 2015

Tony Finau gets some major education at Chambers Bay

Tony Finau wasn't going to complain about Chambers Bay's greens. Not after growing up on the Jordan River Par-3 course in Salt Lake City's low-income, high-crime Rose Park neighborhood. Not in his first U.S. Open and his first major championship.

Boyd Summerhays talks about their first lesson a year ago. Finau showed up wearing basketball shorts and a T-shirt. Summerhays thought he was looking for a pick-up game.

"That's kind of my personality," Finau said. "I'm definitely an athlete. Those are the clothes that I'm comfortable in."

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So when there was a rain delay last month during a T-10 finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson, it was easy to find Finau. He changed out his spikes for sneakers and shot hoops at the Four Seasons Sports Club with his caddie until play resumed. Earlier that week, in the same gym, Finau and Dustin Johnson were having a shootout that included some slam-dunking.

"It wasn't a dunking contest but it was our first time in the gym together," Finau said. When it comes to best athlete on tour, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Finau would give Johnson his best competition. They are ranked first and third in driving distance, with Johnson just over 10 yards longer per drive.

While Johnson went on to finish second in this year's Open, Finau experienced a predictable learning curve. The PGA Tour rookie opened impressively with rounds of 69-68 before encountering his first late afternoon tee time. It was like the Tongan with American Samoan heritage taking on second cousin Jabari Parker of the Milwaukee Bucks in a game of one-on-one.

The first two days, Finau hit 79 percent of his fairways. Saturday he missed every fairway on the front nine and finished with a three-putt bogey on 18 to shoot 74. It wasn't the number he was looking for, but it was respectable considering the pressure, the golf course getting firmer and faster, and his struggles off the tee. He did better on Sunday, shooting 71 to finish T-14.

"I've contended in PGA Tour events, but this is on a much bigger scale," Finau said. "A major championship is as big as it gets."

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At 25, Finau reached this stage in the season ranked 54th in FedEx Cup points with more than $1.3 million in earnings. Along the way, he hit balls with Vijay Singh at Bay Hill and played competitive rounds with major winners Lucas Glover, Louis Oosthuizen and Geoff Ogilvy, impressing them not only with his length, but his overall game.

"A year ago he didn't have a card," Summerhays said. "After he got his card, he said I know I have the game, I need to get comfortable. It never hurts to have great players compliment your game."

Finau hasn't let the success go to his head. He lives with his family, wife Alayna and children Jraice, 3, Nene, 2 and newborn son, Tony Jr., in Washington, Utah. The day before leaving for Chambers Bay, Finau won the nine-hole Nibley Park Parent-Junior Scramble sponsored by the Salt Lake City golf department. He also hosted a dinner for 25 family and friends at the L&L Hawaiian Barbecue the week of the U.S. Open.

Even though the full circle is complete, there's also no doubt there's more to come for Tony Finau.

"I'm more than willing to pick up the check," Finau told me driving away from Chambers Bay on Sunday night. "Being my first major, this was one to celebrate."

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