While Tony Finau is still searching for his first big-title win, the 30-year-old has still claimed over $10 million in prize money – not bad for someone whose family had so little money when he was growing up they set up a makeshift driving range in the garage at home.
The US golfer, whose has climbed as high as ninth in the world, is keen to give back to the sport that has rewarded him so well, admits his most reckless investment was for a Las Vegas tournament that came with a hefty entry price.
With big punts out the way, Finau now focuses solely on big shots, as he revealed to RSNG…
RSNG You’ve worked so hard to get onto the PGA Tour – how does it feel to be a regular player on the tour?
TONY FINAU, PRO GOLFER ‘It’s definitely an honour and certainly something that, as you say, I have worked very hard for… since I was eight years of age when I first picked up a golf club.’
‘It’s such an amazing feeling when someone introduces me as a PGA Tour player, but I know that I have to continue working very hard to keep things that way.’
RSNG What do you put your success down to?
TF ‘I don’t think that I would be the player or the person I am if I hadn’t made a crucial decision when I was younger. That was when I was offered a scholarship at BYU (Brigham Young University) in Utah, but instead, I decided to play a tournament called The Ultimate Game.’
‘This was an event which was 40 guys putting in $50,000 each and playing for a winner-takes-all $2 million. The first hole was over 400 yards, with an elevated tee and the rest of the hole was downhill.’
‘I drove the green and Lee Trevino, who was there as part of the tournament was stunned that, not only did I manage to do that, but that I had even attempted it.’
I wasn’t fortunate enough to win first prize, but I did get a decent cheque and also Trevino helped me then get sponsorship with Callaway, so that was me on the road to professional golf.’
‘It also helped a lot that we grew up on a golf course in Salt Lake City, Utah!’
RSNG You’re quite a big man in stature at 6ft 4inches and have cousins who have played or are playing in the NBA and the NFL – how come you chose golf as your chosen profession?
TF ‘Yeah, Jabari Parker – who was the second overall draft pick in the NBA for Milwaukee Bucks and now plays for the Atlanta Hawks. Another of my cousins is Haloti Ngata was a five-time pro bowl player with the Baltimore Ravens, the Detroit Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles.’
‘It is quite strange that I have gone into golf when you think of who my relatives are, but my older brother began playing golf before I got involved in the sport and he was a great player as a child.’
‘It also helped a lot that we grew up on a golf course in Salt Lake City, Utah. That had quite a lot to do with me taking golf on. Ultimately we just played so much as kids that we were bound to get good at it!’
RSNG You were a pretty good basketball player at college, weren’t you? How close were you to going into that sport as a career?
TF ‘I wasn’t really thinking about any other sport as a serious career, if I’m honest. I was good at basketball, but not sure if I could have gone pro or certainly not gone as far in basketball as I have in golf.’
‘I won a tournament in San Diego when I was 12 – it was called Junior World. When I found that past winners included Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickleson… well, that was me done.’
*RSNG Is it true that your father had you practising your golf shots in your family garage and hitting golf shots at a bed mattress?
*TF ‘That’s about the size of it, yeah. When we were kids, my parents didn’t have a whole lot of money, so my dad improvised. He saw that we enjoyed watching golf on television, went into town and bought the best clubs that he could afford and brought them back for us.’
‘He told us that we were allowed to play in the garage to practise and he gave us a carpet to hit the ball off and a mattress to take all of the power and speed out of the ball.’
‘Salt Lake City is very cold in the winter, so setting up a practise range in the garage also ensured we kept warm! The other way we could determine whether a shot was good was the sound it made, but that’s pretty much how we learned to play.’
RSNG You played on the Web.com tour and that is always known as a slog and a really tough tour to play on. What did you learn from that tour to make you the player you are now?
TF ‘It wasn’t just the experience from playing on that tour and playing golf in general, but also the travelling that you have to do.’
‘When you’re on any tour, regardless of what level it is, the game is still the same. You have the physical game of golf itself and also the mental side. If you play 70 shots in a round, that’s a lot of thinking time in between each shot that you play.’
‘How do you maintain your focus when you are walking from one shot to the next? What goes on in your mind? How do you keep your concentration on playing the next shot and only that?’
RSNG How do you do that?
TF ‘We are all human and I think that I sometimes lost when talking about professional sportsmen, not just golfers. Just off the top of my head, the sports that have the most thinking time require the maximum focus and golf is right up there.’
‘When we are travelling from tournament to tournament, event to event, what do you think about to make sure that you are in the right frame of mind for the next event, even whether you have won or lost in the previous one?’
‘But yeah, the Web.com Tour taught one important thing and that was how to win, which is important in any sport. When I began to win on that tour, it made me think ‘why can’t I do that on the PGA Tour?’
‘Golf needs a great Tiger Woods and it was so amazing to see him come back to form at the very highest level’
RSNG As you say, you weren’t afforded all of the luxuries or the expensive coaches or equipment when you were young. This year, you recognised that in other young players growing up and donated $40,000 to your own foundation?
TF ‘Yeah, that was so great to be able to do that and it’s something that I will always be looking to do, because that’s a massive part of me. It has never crossed my mind to come from where I did, achieve what I have and live the life that I do and to not recognise that there are kids who are in similar positions that I was.’
‘Golf has given me the opportunity to learn a lot of amazing things and meet tonnes of great people.’
RSNG You may not have won the Masters, but you’ve done something that lots of pro golfers haven’t done and may never do – play a final round pairing with Tiger Woods. What was that like?
TF ‘That was a very privileged situation for me. I went into that final day thinking that I had a very good chance of winning the Masters and although I was under no illusion who the crowd was willing to win, I gave it my best shot.’
‘It wasn’t to be for me, but I had almost the best vantage point of anyone on the course playing alongside the greatest player of his generation, at one of the greatest golf courses – if not the greatest – in the world and watching him make history.’
‘Golf needs a great Tiger Woods and it was so amazing to see him come back to form at the very highest level… even if I was one of those players trying to stop him from making history!’
WHAT NEXT? ‘Dislocated ankle? I’ll play on’, says Tony.