Mathematically, Tony Finau could play his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team by winning the PGA Championship. Subjectively, he needs to perform well during the first two rounds.
It hardly is a coincidence that Finau is paired Thursday and Friday with U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who will make four picks in September to complete the 12-man American roster for the Ryder Cup. Xander Schauffele, who is also contending for a spot, will play with Furyk and Finau at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. The PGA of America operates the PGA Championship and sanctions the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Utah club pros Zach Johnson and Craig Hocknull also are in this week's field, having qualified via top-20 finishes in the PGA Professional Championship in June. Counting Hocknull, who lives in Arizona but spends his summers at Glenwild Golf Club as the director of instruction, Utah has sent seven club pros to the PGA Championship in five years.
Thursday’s pairings for Utah golfers (times MDT): 6:01 a.m. – Craig Hocknull, with Austin Cook and Alexander Bjork. 6:17 a.m. – Tony Finau, with Jim Fuyrk and Xander Schauffele. 1:05 p.m. – Zach J. Johnson, with Michael Kim and Seungsu Han.
Besides hoping to enhance his Ryder Cup credentials, Finau has an opportunity to cap one of the best seasons ever in major tournaments for a Utah resident after top-10 finishes in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. Sandy resident Mike Weir’s 2003 showing remains the standard, as he won the Masters, tied for third in the U.S. Open, tied for seventh in the PGA Championship and made the cut in the British Open.
In Finau’s case, advancing to the weekend of the PGA — with Furyk watching every shot for two days — might be enough to give him a trip to the Ryder Cup in Paris in September. Finau is 13th in the U.S. standings, based on the PGA of America’s formula; the top eight players after Sunday receive automatic berths. Furyk’s first three picks will come after the second event of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, ending Sept. 3, and the final selection is due the following week.
Finau and Schauffele are viewed as strong contenders to become captain's picks, along with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Johnny Miller (1981) is the only Ryder Cup player who was living in Utah at the time; eight-time contestant Billy Casper moved to Utah shortly after his last appearance in 1975.
Even aside from the Ryder Cup possibilities, Finau is determined to play well in another major. As he said during the British Open, “I feel like my game is built for major championship golf. … I'm getting better every year.”
Johnson, an assistant pro at Davis Park Golf Course, is the subject of some fascination this week in St. Louis because he shares the name of a two-time major winner and Ryder Cup veteran. The Farmington resident was asked to go by “Zach J. Johnson” to distinguish him on the pairings sheet, although there is bound to be some confusion with the two players.
In 2007, when Iowa product Zach Johnson won the Masters, a reader called The Tribune, convinced that the wrong photo had appeared in the newspaper because the pictured golfer was not the Zach Johnson she knew.
The Utahn, who attended Cottonwood High School and Southern Utah University, won the 2013 Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open
This week’s appearances by Johnson and Hocknull in the PGA Championship follow Utah Section PGA members Chris Moody in 2017, Tommy Sharp and Joe Summerhays in 2016 and Steve Schneiter and Dustin Volk in 2014.