Utah’s Tony Finau picked the PGA Tour over LIV Golf and proved nice guys can win (twice)

The West High graduate was back home this week for his foundation’s pro-am, where he discussed his back-to-back wins, his family and plans to grow the game in Utah.

(Randy Dodson | Fairways Media) Coming off back-to-back wins on the PGA Tour, golfer Tony Finau returned home to Utah this week to host his annual pro-am event in Farmington.

Farmington • Taylor Pendrith played some of the best golf of his life for three rounds. Proven winner Patrick Cantlay made a Sunday charge. Yet as it turned out, the only person who could have stopped Tony Finau from winning consecutive PGA Tour events was his wife.

Alayna Finau had packed up the couple’s five children and gone home to Lehi after the family witnessed Finau’s July 24 win in the 3M Open in Minnesota. She suggested that her husband withdraw from the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit and enjoy the victory with them.

He stuck to his schedule.

“It’s OK,” he assured her. “When I come home, I’ll have two wins.”

Sure enough, as Finau stood on the driving range of Oakridge Country Club this week, two trophies were displayed as he hosted the Tony Finau Foundation Golf Classic. The annual pro-am event, aligned with the Korn Ferry Tour’s Utah Championship, became a double-victory celebration for Finau, a West High School graduate.

Snapshots of the clinic he helped conduct in advance of the pro-am will be lasting images.

Here’s Finau, pausing for 15 seconds before managing to continue his welcoming speech, amid thoughts of Vena Finau, who died in 2011. “There’s always a special person in my life that’s never able to be here to enjoy the success,” he said. “That’s my mom.”

Here’s Finau, who as a child was happy to drive the ball over a hill that stood 90 yards from the No. 1 tee on the Jordan River Par-3 that’s now a disc golf course in his old Rose Park neighborhood, blasting the ball 367 yards in the air, as tracked by a high-tech monitor.

Here’s his 10-year-old son, Jraice, confidently launching 260-yard drives, evoking scenes of Tony and his younger brother, Gipper, from similar showcases in the early 2000s.

Here’s another son, Tony Jr., 7, using a cross-handed grip and a chopping swing, topping shots that roll a few yards. Next to him is Kington Finau, the 8-year-old son of Finau’s father, Kelepi, who’s remarried. Kington is swinging sweetly, lacing shots into a net.

So it’s nurture, after all. As Finau has said, “It’s not a natural thing to swing a golf club.”

(Randy Dodson | Fairways Media) Coming off back-to-back wins on the PGA Tour, golfer Tony Finau returned home to Utah this week to host his annual pro-am event in Farmington.

Still, Finau keeps improving, thanks to the drive that PGA Tour star Justin Thomas admires about him. The rewards came in a late-July torrent in the Upper Midwest.

“I say it all the time: A week on the PGA Tour can change your life,” Finau said. “For me, it was two.”

Emphatically so. Finau is among five golfers in the past 30 years who have won consecutive events by three-plus strokes, following Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Thomas.

“Tony has always been a winner,” said his coach, Farmington native Boyd Summerhays, adding that Finau enjoys “the big stage, the bright lights.”

Many golf observers doubted that assessment, during the five-plus years between Finau’s first and second tour victories. But then he beat Cameron Smith on the first extra hole of a FedEx Cup Playoff event last August and added two more wins in July.

Finau’s foundation intends to develop a 15,000-square-foot learning center in West Valley City to promote academics, health and community gatherings, and his influence is changing the face of Utah golf. The fields of junior and amateur golf events feature growing numbers of Pacific Islanders. “You look at any tournament, and you see the effect that Tony’s had on this next generation,” Summerhays said.

BYU golfers Kerstin Fotu and Lila Galeai are two examples, as recent Women’s State Amateur champions who grew up in Utah County. When her father suggested she try the game, Fotu replied, “What? Tongans don’t golf. Are you crazy?”

Fotu added, “I can also see (Finau’s) influence on young kids today. You go to the golf course and see all these Polynesian dads. It’s pretty cool, because you didn’t see that growing up.”

Venu died in an auto accident while her son was still playing mini-tour pro golf, having turned pro at 17. The “TF” logo of his foundation forms a “V” to honor her. So do the green shirts he likes to wear on Sundays. “I know that she’s proud of what I’ve done,” Finau said during the clinic. “I feel like I just have to show the world not only what a great player I am, but the person I was raised to be.”

He’s apparently succeeding in multiple ways. Finau ranked No. 1 in Golf Digest’s periodic update of the 30 Nicest Guys on Tour, published Tuesday, based on conversations with players, caddies, media members, golf executives, locker-room attendants and tournament volunteers.

Finau “represents everything one could want in a role model and the work ethic/determination he’s shown,” Thomas wrote on Twitter.

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus also weighed in, saying everyone has known about Finau’s ability, and “now we are seeing it come to the surface.”

Thomas and Nicklaus are among the golf figures who are happy that Finau has stayed with the PGA Tour, rather than exploit his marketability by joining the new LIV Tour that offers guaranteed contracts. Finau’s recent victories served to reinforce his loyalty as he approaches his 33rd birthday in September.

“To me, at this point in my career, it’s so much about the satisfaction of winning golf tournaments and playing against the best player in the world (on) what I feel is the best tour in the world,” he said. “And the satisfaction that comes from it, no amount of money can buy. It’s just the fulfillment that I’m after, after all these years of working hard and now being at my best that I’ve ever been, to have the opportunity to reap the rewards.”

Finau is cashing some big checks. A golfer who once was thrilled to earn $3,000 for winning the Provo Open and collected less than $16,000 (Canadian) for a season’s work on PGA Tour Canada has earned nearly $31 million in eight years on the PGA Tour. That’s not counting equipment contracts and corporate sponsorships, such as a Qualtrics logo on his golf bag, stemming from his friendship with Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, a devoted golfer.

As a Draper resident, Mike Weir won two PGA Tour titles in three starts, with a tie for third place in between, over a four-week stretch in California in 2003. On the amateur side, Preston Summerhays (Boyd’s son), won the State Am and the U.S. Junior Am in consecutive weeks in July 2019. Now comes Finau’s resurgence.

“I’ve never hit it better. … The way I can explain the last couple weeks for me is I didn’t ever think I was going to hit a bad shot,” Finau said. “I was playing so free, just never thought anything was going to go wrong, and that’s a nice way to play this game.”

So having stood 150th in FedEx Cup points as of late February, Finau is No. 7, with a shot at an $18 million bonus for winning the season competition. Finau likes to skip the last tournament of the regular season, gearing up for the three-event Playoffs starting Thursday in Memphis.

He’s convinced there’s more to come, during a season when Netflix chose him as a player to follow for a documentary series. That’s good timing, in a career arc that at various points seemed to be behind schedule.

“I’ve just been very patient with myself over the years … to just allow myself to grow into what I feel like I can become,” Finau said. “Now, it’s cool to see some of the results.”

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