With so much talent and only 1 victory on the PGA Tour, the 6th-year player enters the PGA Championship with plenty of unfulfilled potential to go with that stack of top-10 results
To say that a golfer can’t finish well might be almost as bad as suggesting that he cheats.
Golf is harder to master than most other sports, and a competitor in such an individual game is left totally exposed after a bad shot.
Though cheating is a rare and conscious act, coming up short on the leaderboard is the norm for all except one player each week. Even Tiger Woods, whose total of 82 victories is tied with the late Sam Snead for the all-time lead on the PGA Tour, has lost in nearly four out of every five starts for the past quarter century. Everybody else on Tour loses far more frequently.
For Tony Finau, the lanky, 6-foot-4-inch long hitter from Utah, his return to competitive golf at the Charles Schwab Challenge in early June was the beginning of a stretch of seven events in eight weeks. This week at the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco will be his fourth consecutive week of competition.
Recently, Finau faded on the weekend, to eighth place at the Memorial and into a tie for third the next week at the 3M Open. Through 36 holes at each event, he was at or near the top. The rap on Finau continues to be that he can’t finish.
Finau, 30, has won only once in six seasons on the PGA Tour, at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, which was an opposite-field event. Since that victory in his second season, Finau has racked up 30 top-10 results. He owns top 10s in each of golf’s major championships, highlighted by a stretch of five top-10 results in the eight majors played in the past two years. Yet, other than that 2016 victory in the U.S. commonwealth, Finau has done everything except win.
“I keep putting myself in that situation, and I have a proven track record myself of winning golf tournaments, not at the highest level yet,” said Finau, who enters this week at No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “But I look at myself as a closer and as a finisher, and I know through time, I think I'll be able to prove that.”
Finau has played on the 2018 Ryder Cup and 2019 Presidents Cup teams for the U.S., but he knows that winning – especially in the major championships – defines a golfer. It’s true not only for golf’s fans and media but among his fellow competitors.
A victory in a major championship also tends to open a player’s game to even greater career accomplishments.
“I have hopes that it will catapult me into a whole different type of player, just a different winner,” Finau said. “I've been able to prove to myself again that with all those top finishes, I'm choosing to look at it positively rather than not being able to seal the deal but how consistently I've been able to put myself in position to win. So, I do feel like and have the hopes that when it happens again, it will catapult me into a different type of player moving forward.”
When Finau answers those difficult questions about his inability to close, it’s not with disdain or animosity, but more with a quiet confidence.
He has negotiated a steep learning curve after having skipped college to turn pro at age 17. He made stops on various mini tours, Golf Channel’s “Big Break” in 2009 and played in Europe before earning a promotion to the PGA Tour from the Web.com Tour in 2014.
Now, because of how the global coronavirus pandemic has squeezed three major championships into a 3½-month span late in 2020 (the British Open was canceled) – and counting the anticipated return to a traditional schedule in 2021, seven majors will be played in 12 months – Finau thinks the time is right for his breakthrough.
“With these majors, so condensed, I definitely think that there's going to be a key guy that stands out as the hot player in these next three to four months that will probably be favored in some of these tournaments,” Finau said. “Hopefully, that name is me or includes me.”
For everyone playing professional golf, the past five months has introduced a new normal in the game. Few have navigated the uncertainty better than Finau.
Though he has not added victory No. 2, he has learned. What he does this week will not define him, but it could propel him to new heights, washing away any question about his ability to finish.
Finau harbors no doubts. Instead, his focus is on at the task at hand.
“I think coming off last year, I definitely gave myself a chance to win the Masters, which was definitely a highlight of last year, and had a great run at the Open Championship,” Finau said. “But I think anytime you have a great finish in a major championship, you build that confidence in just the way you carry yourself the rest of your career in major championships. I definitely still have good mojo from last year going into this week.”
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