Kragthorpe: PGA-bound Tony Finau won't forget where he's been
Tony Finau knew he would respond better the next time he was leading a golf tournament, because he learned to worry only about the present.
"You can't do anything about the past or the future," he said.
So after he came through Sunday, winning the Stonebrae Classic in northern California and assuring himself of PGA Tour membership for the 2014-15 season, what do you suppose Finau was thinking about? The past and the future, of course.
He's convinced this is just the start, that the most important win of his life will lead to even bigger victories on grander stages in the years to come. And he's processing the seven years of professional struggles that led him to that moment, amid the loss of his mother and other trials that made him wonder if a game that once came so easily to him would ever truly reward his efforts.
"The emotions are crazy," Finau said this week.
This always was going to be a good story, how a long-hitting Polynesian golfer from Salt Lake City's Rose Park neighborhood turned pro just before graduating from West High School and criss-crossed the country in search of places to play, before finally getting his chance on the Web.com Tour and fully taking advantage of it.
"Obviously, at this point, it's all worth it," said Finau, 24.
But man, did it have to be this difficult? Yes, actually. This is the road Finau and his younger brother, Gipper, chose when they passed up college offers in favor of endorsement and equipment contracts by turning pro at ages 17 and 16. The reality of it all hit home every autumn when they failed to advance through the stages of PGA Tour qualifying, forcing them to find alternative mini-tours in a wasteland of golf obscurity.
Winning the Provo Open is nice, for instance, but $3,000 gets you only so far. Finau was playing something called the National Golf Tour in 2012, when it suddenly folded. He once made three birdies and an eagle in a Gateway Tour round in Florida, only to post a 77 and miss the cut.
"Six years of mini-tour golf â¦ just trying to stay competitive, trying to stay afloat financially," Finau reflected.
Through it all, he said, "I never doubted myself."
Well, I doubted him, recognizing how tough it is to make it in pro golf. Some of my most memorable stories are about Utahns who have tried so hard to reach the PGA Tour, usually getting stuck somewhere in the middle of the qualifying process. And even golfers who get there usually have trouble staying at that level.
Finau should succeed. The new system that basically forces golfers to prove themselves over a full Web.com Tour season prepares them well for traveling and playing unfamiliar courses on the PGA Tour. Finau earned his chance in 2014 via a high finish in the qualifying tournament last December (Gipper was eliminated in an early stage) and he capitalized, playing consistently and eventually clinching his card with Sunday's victory.
Lack of access to tournaments can be a problem for rookies, so it's important that Finau plays well in the four-event Web.com Tour finals beginning later this month. That series sets the graduates' order of eligibility for the PGA Tour season that starts in October.
The irony of Finau's long grind in pro golf is that taking a week off may have launched his PGA Tour career. Staying home in Lehi with his wife and two children was somewhat risky, considering he fell to No. 24 on the money list, but not working for a week was a good investment.
He was refreshed and his game was sharp, if a 22-under-par total for four rounds means anything. And now, Finau happily can do what golfers are never supposed to do look back, and look ahead. He can appreciate the tough times he's experienced, shaping him as a person and a player with a promising future. Tony Finau is going places in pro golf, and he'll never forget where he's been.
Utahns on the tour
West's Tony Finau is the fifth Utah high school graduate to make the PGA Tour in the past 30 years. The other qualifiers, with career earnings at that level are the following:
Golfer, school First season Earnings
Jay Don Blake, Dixie 1987 $5.5M
Brad Sutterfield, Brighton 1997 $18,649
Boyd Summerhays, Davis 2004 $57,921
Daniel Summerhays, Davis 2011 $4.05M
How it works
With $238,125 in earnings, Tony Finau stands No. 8 on the Web.com Tour money list and has clinched a top-25 finish, giving him access to the 2014-15 PGA Tour schedule that begins in October. Those 25 golfers will start over and play for priority status, determined by their earnings in the 4-event Web.com Tour Finals, beginning Aug. 28.
Another 25 golfers will receive PGA Tour cards via that series. The Web.com Tour's Nos. 26-75 finishers and the PGA Tour's Nos. 126-200 finishers also are eligible for the Web.com Tour Finals. With three tournaments left in the Web.com Tour regular season, Orem native Scott Pinckney is No. 70 and former BYU golfer Zac Blair is No. 81.
Tony Finau credits his caddie, Marcus Burbank, for much of his success in advancing to the PGA Tour, as they've worked together since the Web.com Tour qualifying tournament last fall.
Burbank's degree of assistance reached an entirely different level, during a break from the schedule. He performed CPR on a 3-year-old girl who nearly drowned in a hot tub in an apartment complex in Lehi, after other efforts to revive her were unsuccessful.
Burbank, who has worked an assistant pro at The Ranches Golf Club in Eagle Mountain, recently was honored by the Lehi City Council with a Citizen Life Saver award.