All summer, everyone asked Tony Finau about his hopes of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and how much that potential opportunity weighed on him. His answer never changed. The selection process would take care of itself, if he just kept performing.
And that's what happened. Chosen as the fourth and final captain's pick in early September, Finau will become the first Utah native to compete in the Ryder Cup in Paris, beginning Friday.
“It'll always be true: If you play good golf, you're always going to set yourself up for good things,” Finau said in mid-September, when he hosted the fourth annual Tony Finau Foundation pro-am at Alpine Country Club.
Once captain Jim Furyk picked Finau, the question became how would he use the West High School graduate in the lineup. Only eight of the 12 players compete in each of the four matches during the first two days. Because he makes so many birdies, Finau logically would play in the daily four-ball portion — with each team member playing his own ball and the team taking the lower score on the hole.
The event will conclude with 12 singles matches Sunday. Regardless of whom he's paired with and how much he gets to play, Finau said, “It's going to be incredible.”
A longer, more wide-open course than Le Golf National might better suit Finau. Even so, U.S. vice captain Zach Johnson said, “His game right now is exactly where it needs to be for the Ryder Cup. I'm pumped to see how he flourishes there, because I think he's going to do great.”
Finau, 29, advanced to the Ryder Cup level in his fourth season as a PGA Tour member. His credentials included top-10 finishes in the first three major tournaments of 2018 and three more top-10s to begin the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He finished sixth in the tour's season-long standings and is No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
That’s good stuff for a first-generation golfer from Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood who was playing mostly in Canada as of five years ago. “It happened pretty fast, but it’s been quite the journey for me, from where I came from to being on the Ryder Cup [team],” Finau said. “I had my sights set pretty high in my career, but this is a great start.”
And the Ryder Cup should only help him. Johnson attended Finau's event at Alpine and endorsed him as a valued team member who will benefit from the experience in Paris.
Finau's steady play, enabling him to climb in the rankings while winning only one PGA Tour title in his career, is a good trait. “What does that say right there? It means consistency, it means not giving up,” Johnson said. “We want guys that fight … because there's going to be times when it's not easy. He's just a feisty competitor.”
Johnson also believes Finau's easygoing demeanor off the course will help his teammates, amid varied personalities on the U.S. roster.
Golf history is filled with golfers who made an initial Ryder Cup appearance and barely were heard from again, but Johnson is convinced this “could be one of many” times when Finau represents America.
“What I've told other rookies in the past, just based on my experience, is it's going to make you a better player,” Johnson said. “Now, is it going to show immediate results? Not necessarily … but he's going to learn so much. When you have to hit a shot under duress, pretty much from the first tee on, it's going to make you a better player.”
Finau experienced international competition as a teenager, playing in the Junior Ryder Cup in 2004 and '06. Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who became acquainted with Finau while spending a childhood summer in Utah, played for the winning European team in '04 and is now an anchor of Europe's Ryder Cup side.
How it works
The Ryder Cup begins at 12:10 a.m. MDT Friday at Le Golf National in Paris. The biennial competition between the United States and Europe consist of matches between two-man teams Friday and Saturday; with one daily round of foursomes (alternate shot) and four-ball (commonly known as “best ball”) competition. Each captain will pick eight of 12 available players for each round. All 12 players from each side will participate in Sunday’s singles matches.