NICE SHOT, TONY!
From driver to putter, learn how to execute Tony Finau's greatest hits
AT THE 2021 NORTHERN TRUST, Tony Finau went into the final round with a real chance to win his second PGA Tour event. His first had come five years earlier, and during the time in between, he was second eight times in tournaments and had 39 top-10 finishes. You can’t really blame him if he was starting to wonder what it was going to take to get his second “W.”
Here’s what it took: On the fifth hole in the final round at New Jersey's Liberty National, he drove it into the long weeds and had to get up and down from 89 yards to keep the momentum going. It was a back pin into a heavy wind and soft green, so the only way to get it close was to flight one down and take some spin off it. Tony did exactly that, hitting his wedge shot to about five feet and then making the putt. If he hadn’t worked hard to master that shot, which he used multiple times that day, he probably wouldn’t have won the tournament.
I bring this up because Tony’s flighted wedge is a really nice shot—one you should want in your bag if you want to bring your scores down. You see Tony demoing it here, and I’ll explain later how he hits it, as well as several other go-to options from tee to green.
We’ve been working together for nine years now, and I find myself saying “Nice shot, Tony,” a lot. Maybe I should put it on a hat or something. —With Ron Kaspriske
RAMP UP AND SWING UP
Even with a shorter backswing than many tour pros, Tony can absolutely roast a drive when he wants to. You might assume he achieves that by consciously trying to swing harder. That’s not exactly true. What he does do is ramp up his preshot routine—making faster waggles and moving his feet around at a quicker tempo. The faster waggles prompt him to take the club back faster, which in turn creates more length in his backswing to generate extra power.
In addition to copying that when you want to air one out, make sure you do two other things. The first is to set up so that you can catch the ball on the upswing and launch it higher. Tee it high and stand a little wider, which makes your spine tilt away from the target a little more like you see Tony doing here (above). The second thing? Find the center of the face. Your fastest swing won’t produce your longest drive if you don’t hit it out of the center of the face.
STAND NARROW AND SWING LEVEL
Tony loves to hit a baby cut that flies a little lower and shorter than a normal drive but is way more reliable than the bomb. Some people say to play it farther back in your stance to hit this shot, but it’s hard to start the ball left when you play it back. Instead, Tony narrows his stance, which sets his spine more vertical (above). Along with teeing it down a little, the narrow stance keeps the shot down without changing his ball position.
Now here’s the real key: Swing with your normal speed—no holding back—and feel like the club is moving level with the ground through the hitting area (above). Teeing it down a little and narrowing your stance like Tony does will help you launch it lower, so you’ll find more fairways. Don’t try to hit down on the ball, or you’ll put too much distance-robbing spin on it.
SEE IT AND CONFIRM IT
Compression is the key to great iron play and Tony does some things at address and during the swing to make sure he strikes the ball while his irons are still moving on a downward angle of attack. Even though he’s not taking a big divot here, his club is still moving down a few inches past impact. That’s why Tony and other great ball-strikers can hit a 6-iron well over 200 yards. They are essentially delofting the club as it strikes the ball, turning a 6-iron into a 3-iron.
Two other things to note about his iron play: 1) Tony has the shaft of his irons leaning toward the target a little at address. This is a great way to “preset” the position you want the club’s shaft to be in at impact. 2) Tony loads into his trail side as he takes the club back, which is key to generating power into the ball, but notice that he doesn’t sway away from the target. If you move off the ball, you’ll have to sway in the opposite direction in the downswing or you’ll hit it fat or thin. It’s tough to compress it with all that lateral movement.
CLUB UP AND SWING SMOOTH
Let’s start with the one thing Tony doesn’t do to hit this lower-trajectory wedge shot. He doesn’t set up with the ball back in his stance, which is a common tip for this play. That ball-back position creates a steeper angle of attack and makes the ball spin more, which in turn, makes it fly higher. Instead, play it in the same position you’d hit a normal wedge shot, but bring your trail foot in toward your lead foot, narrowing your stance.
Then when you swing, you want to feel like your head and sternum stay over the top of the ball through impact. If your head and sternum are behind the ball, you’ll likely add loft to the shot or make poor contact.
To take spin off, which is key to keeping it down and controlling distance, Tony clubs up and makes a swing at an unhurried pace. Try your 9-iron from where you’d normally hit a pitching wedge, and when you swing, think—stay smooth.
SQUARE UP AND STAY STACKED
When Tony chips, he loves to hit a low spinner. I like this shot for amateurs because it eliminates some common chipping mistakes, like leaning back with the upper body or trying to help the ball in the air.
Tony sets up with his shoulders and hips square to the target, but the clubface is noticeably open. He does that to counter his bowed left wrist, which would deloft the club too much coming into impact. His other key at setup is to make sure his head and sternum are over the ball.
When he swings, his grip pressure stays light to add some feel in his hands, but his upper-body rotation is mostly responsible for the shot. He swings down his target line (above) and hits a little down on the ball with a slightly forward-leaning shaft. That produces the low, spinny chip.
THE FLICK PUTT
SET THE SHAFT AND BE WRISTY
Tony is never shy about using a putter from off the green. Nor should you be.
If you choose the putter, there are a couple of technique changes Tony makes. First, he sets the shaft so that it’s vertical or leaning a touch away from the hole. Why? You want to make sure you have enough loft on the face to get the ball through the fringe easier. Second, you need more power in your stroke, but you don’t want a lot of body movement to get it or you risk a mis-hit. Instead, Tony gets some extra power by hinging his wrists a little going back (below) and putting some pop into the ball.
When you knock it close from off the green with a putter, I guarantee someone is going to say, “Nice shot.”