PGA Tour

'Iron sharpens iron': How Tony Finau became practice buddies with Jon Rahm in Scottsdale—and became a better player

May 02, 2023

Tony Finau talks to Jon Rahm after winning the Mexico Open on Sunday at Vidanta.

Fernando de Dios

CHARLOTTE — If it's true that history rhymes, one couplet we've heard a few times over the past two years in golf comes straight from the ballad of Jon Rahm vs. Tony Finau. From the 2021 Northern Trust, when Finau broke a five-year drought with a Sunday surge that erased Rahm's lead, to Mexico last year when Rahm held off a charging Finau, to that same event last week, when Finau kept Rahm at bay in a tense final round to capture his latest title. But they're not just meeting on Sundays on the PGA Tour; Finau moved his base of operations from Utah to Scottsdale in 2020, and his home course is Silver Leaf Club, which is also the base for players like Max Homa and, yes, Rahm.

"We've been basically sparring partners, I would say, for a couple years now," Finau said on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Championship, speaking of his time with Rahm at Silver Leaf. "I practice with Jon a couple days a week, so just being around him has made me a better player. Iron sharpens iron.

"I hope he'd say the same," Finau continued. "Just us competing against each other on a weekly basis while we're home, I think has been great for both of us, but I can only speak for me. He's definitely made me a better player."

Stylistically, Finau admitted the two couldn't be much different in terms from a physical or mental standpoint. Their swings are about as different as possible on the PGA Tour. Finau is laid back; Rahm is fierce. But Finau says that observing Rahm's aggressive, competitive style has also brought out the best in him.

"If you play with someone of his stature and his caliber often, just rubbing shoulders with him, you're going to be better," he said. "Talking with him about the game, he speaks about the game as a very simple game. He's very simple minded when it comes to playing the game of golf, which is very refreshing because it's an extremely difficult game and sometimes I think we look at it as an impossible game."

When asked earlier in the press conference about what changed in recent years to unleash his current hot stretch, which has seen him win four times in the last nine months—a torrid run that may be second only to Rahm himself—he spoke about his commitment to a single putting stroke. Once he brought Rahm into the conversation, though, it became clear how a shift in his mindset has helped open the floodgates.

"It's an extremely difficult game and sometimes I think we look at it as an impossible game," he said. "I think my mindset has changed from how hard it is to win before, and now it's like, well, on Sunday somebody's going to win. There is going to be somebody that's holding that trophy. I think he's helped me kind of see clearly that mindset, because that's the type of mindset that he has."

This week at Quail Hollow, Finau will be attempting to win in consecutive weeks as he did last summer, at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic, and may benefit from the fact that Rahm, along with Scottie Scheffler, chose to not play in this particular designated event. He's aware that reaching 24 under, as he did to win in Mexico last week, is unlikely; he called the closing stretch of holes in Charlotte, the "Green Mile," one of the toughest stretches on the entire tour calendar.

Still, he knows he can pull it off. Winning was Finau's Achilles heel five years ago. Today he's one of the most prolific winners in the professional game. There are myriad reasons for that, but one of those reasons is Jon Rahm. Iron sharpens iron, as Finau said, and there's no better whetstone than the No. 1 player in the world.