Farmington • Tony Finau sat on the bumper of his vehicle in the Oakridge Country Club parking lot Wednesday afternoon and thought about where he has come from and where he’s going, in a career partly propelled by the Utah Championship.
Finau’s Farmington-to-Paris itinerary this week is good snapshot of his pro golf trajectory. Whether the checkpoint is his fifth-place finish four years ago or how he regularly attended the tournament (then staged in Sandy) from the time he was 10 or 11 years old, the Utah Championship frames his rise in the game.
“This is a life-changing tournament for me,” he said.
As the Web.com Tour players tee off Thursday in the $700,000 event presented by Zions Bank, Finau will be flying to Paris. Jim Furyk, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, invited him to play a couple of practice rounds with other candidates for the team on their way to next week’s British Open in Scotland.
Boosted by top-10 finishes in the first two major tournaments of 2018, Finau is 14th in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings. Eight golfers will automatically qualify for the 12-player team in late August, with the four captains’ picks to come in early September.
Finau played nine holes of Wednesday’s pro-am round with Gov. Gary R. Herbert, former BYU golfer Patrick Fishburn, tour president Dan Glod and Jeff Robbins, president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission, the tournament host. He’s thankful to have the Tony Finau Foundation associated with an event that once inspired him, while he watched the likes of Zach Johnson win at Willow Creek Country Club.
“I learned to fall in love with the game at this tournament,” he said. “I’m going to put a lot of energy and time into making this the best tournament I can. … Just to have my name as part of it is something I’m really proud of.”
The 2014 Utah Championship did not end well for Finau, as an errant tee shot on the back nine knocked him out of contention. Yet that experience helped him follow through with a victory in California soon afterward — sending him to the PGA Tour, where he has thrived with $10 million in earnings in less than four full seasons.
Finau’s success illustrates the impact of the Web.com Tour as a proving ground. So does Brice Garnett, who won the first Oakridge version of the Utah Championship last July and claimed a PGA Tour title this season.
UTAHNS IN THE FIELD: Thursday’s tee times for players with Utah ties — Mike Weir, 12:30 p.m.; Scott Pinckney, 2 p.m.; Seokwon Jeon, 2:20 p.m.; Patrick Fishburn, 2:30 p.m.
Four golfers with Utah ties, at varying stages of their careers, are in the field this week. Sandy resident Mike Weir is targeting his PGA Tour Champions debut when he turns 50 in 2020. Weir is taking advantage of a Web.com Tour exemption category for golfers of ages 48 and 49, and has shown good signs in four starts after struggling for the last few years on the PGA Tour.
Fishburn, who turned pro after his BYU career ended in late May, is playing via a sponsor exemption this week, while spending the summer on the PGA Tour-branded Mackenzie Tour in Canada. Seokwon Jeon, a former Utah State golfer, advanced from Monday qualifying.
Orem native Scott Pinckney, who grew up competing against Finau in the Utah Junior Golf Association, is a Web.com Tour member. Having missed nearly a year of competition with a back injury, Pinckney finished second in an event in Kansas last month and is 45th on the season’s money list. After this weekend, five tournaments will remain on the regular-season schedule, with the top 25 players earning the initial round of PGA Tour cards distributed for the 2018-19 season that begins in October.