NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – What kind of a player do you want on your Ryder Cup team?
I want somebody who played well in the big tournaments and maybe finished, oh, 10th at the Masters and finished strong, such as with a 66. I’ve always liked horses (or greyhounds) with closing speed.
I want someone who, say, played in Sunday’s final pairing at the U.S. Open and knew what it felt like to have a chance to win, came in fifth, then was ninth at the British Open at Carnoustie. In the hunt at two straight majors? Count me in.
I want someone who is consistent. Maybe 10 top-10 finishes this year. That would be Tom Kite strong, with three runners-up. How about $5.17 million in earnings so far, and he’d be ranked fourth in the FedEx Cup race with a good shot at the $10 million bonus at East Lake?
I want a player who is mentally tough (like Jordan Spieth) yet very positive (like Phil Mickelson). I’d like him to say something measured about his no-win, 10 top-10 season: “I feel like each time I finish in the top 10 or have a good, solid week, I look at it as a building block instead of not being able to get the job done.” His half-empty glass always runneth over. I like that.
All those high finishes, all that consistent golf – such a player surely would be on the Ryder Cup team, right?
Nope. Tony Finau has done all of the above, yet he isn’t on the American side. At least, not yet. Finau is the leading candidate to be the 12th man, as captain Jim Furyk’s final wild-card choice.
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American Tony Finau has racked up 10 top-10 finishes this season, including 3 of the 4 major championships, to put himself in position to be a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup.
So, tell me a possible scenario this week in which Finau still shouldn’t be the pick. Maybe Xander Schauffele shooting a pair of 58s en route to a 17-shot victory? Maybe.
Perhaps Furyk already has made up his mind. If so, he’s too smart to show his cards. Which means Finau effectively has been auditioning for a Ryder Cup spot for the past six weeks. He has auditioned well, too. He was 10th in Akron, second at the Northern Trust and fourth last week in Boston.
We’d be gushing about Finau’s stretch run here if not for Tiger Woods, who blots out all other golf news and was one of Furyk’s first three picks Monday, and Bryson “Mr. Science” DeChambeau, who won back-to-back FedEx Cup events to earn one of the other wild-card picks.
I don’t see how Finau isn’t the guy, but captains look at pairings and experience, too. Or as European Ryder Cup warhorse Justin Rose said Wednesday morning when discussing captain Thomas Bjorn’s picks, “It’s all about winning points. Many players deserve a spot on the Ryder Cup team, but no one is here to do anybody favors, either. It’s about assembling 12 guys to put points on the board when it counts.”
Finau is a player whom the American public is only just getting to know. He will turn 29 next week, he’s tall – 6 feet 4 inches – and looks like he could play strong safety or wide receiver in a pinch. He was born in Salt Lake City and still lives in the area. He turned pro after high school when he was 17, so, yes, it has taken him nearly 12 years to become an overnight success.
What was that about a sense of humor? He was asked Wednesday, because he ranks fourth in the FedEx Cup standings, what he’d do if he were to win the $10 million bonus. “Well, I’ve got four kids,” he said with a laugh, “so a lot of it will be going to them.”
Four kids? There’s a man who barely would notice a raucous European Ryder Cup crowd. He hears that same clamor at home every day.
Finau displayed prodigious length when he started out in pro golf. His years since then have been honing the other parts of his game. He’s still long, ranking third in driving distance (316.3 yards), but the fact that he’s 184th in driving accuracy (53.9 percent) hasn’t hurt his success. He makes a lot of birdies. If Captain Furyk wasn’t convinced before, he might have become a believer during the PGA Championship when Furyk was paired with Finau and watched him make 10 birdies in the first round at Bellerive. Ten birdies works in match play no matter what the other eight scores are.
If there’s a factor working against Finau in the Ryder Cup, it’s that the course, Le Golf National near Paris, will play more like target golf. It’s got water, it’ll be tight and the rough will be thick – all planned strategy to minimize America’s Murderers’ Row of big hitters. Maybe Furyk thinks he needs a straight hitter to balance the team.
Finau already has done all he could and, really, all he needs to do. His attitude is something to note, too. He successfully has managed to ignore the Ryder Cup talk and just play.
“I’ll continue to approach it the way I have the last couple of weeks, and that’s focusing on winning the FedEx Cup,” Finau said. “That seems to have worked for me. I look forward to the task at hand. I can’t say how important every shot is this week because of the FedEx Cup. Every point and every stroke is going to count all the way to East Lake.
“The Ryder Cup is something I have dreamed of since I was a kid. It would be a special phone call for me. If not, I’ve got the Tour Championship coming up. There’s so much to look forward to.”
Last year, Finau came to the final round of the BMW Championship at Conway Farms near Chicago in need of a low score to advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta. He chipped in on the 72nd hole to shoot 64 and make it to East Lake. “I knew I had to put a special round together,” he said. “I knew I had to shoot between 6 and 8 under. To be able to execute that way … it felt like a turning point in my career.”
Another turning point should happen on Monday. That’s when his formerly low-profile public image blows up after he joins Woods and Phil Mickelson and the rest on the U.S. Ryder Cup team … assuming Finau is the kind of player whom Captain Furyk wants on his team.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle