For Tony Finau, it’s always been coming, and now it’s here

DETROIT — If you want to judge a man by his walk, Tony Finau’s walk has always said a lot. He sort of walks around. His arms, two fire hoses hanging from his 6-foot-4 frame, don’t swing, but swing. Sometimes he stuffs his hands in the pockets of his flat pants and walks with his shoulders hunched. In recent years, the entire look portrayed a guy with endless talent who didn’t look like he was going particularly far.

But now there’s the Sunday afternoon Tony Finau at the Detroit Golf Club. Coming down the 18th fairway, this stride was different. Long strides and a straight spine. Easy, but fast. His shoulders were back. His gait had a certain rhythm. A cameraman scooted out to keep up.

Turns out it’s hard to keep up with unwavering dominance.

This is the space where Finau currently resides. The 32-year-old understood, no matter what this was or is. After all these years and all these questions, everyone wondered why this beacon of young American talent didn’t know how to win, now the question is… how much can he win? Last week he picked up a three shot win at the 3M Open, posting rounds of 67, 68, 65 and 67. This week he showed up at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and set the tournament record at 26 under. in a runaway five. – victory by shooting. He played at Detroit Golf Club in rounds of 64, 66, 65 and 67. Total control.

It’s what everyone was waiting for. Finau’s first career PGA Tour win was the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. A long time ago. He was 26, one season retired from play, and had a bag full of Nike clubs. Then came a streak of 143 tournament starts. Finau went without a win for five years, five months. During that streak, he’s wandered through eight finalists and 39 top-10 finishes.

The dry spell ended last year when Finau fought off Cameron Smith and nine inches of rain from Hurricane Henri to win the 2022 Northern Trust in the playoffs. He spoke afterwards of always maintaining “an extreme belief” in himself, but admitted: “It’s hard to lose. And it’s hard to lose in front of the world. With the victory, Finau could finally play without the pressure of this ever-present burden.

Now, just under a year later, in the space of two weeks, Finau has doubled his career win tally from two to four. Not only that, but he did it in an authoritative manner that justifies his enormous talent. Admittedly, TPC Twin Cities and Detroit Golf Club aren’t exactly US Open courses, but over 144 holes in total over the past two weeks, it has scored 47 birdies, just four bogeys and 126 of 144 greens in regulation. and 89 of 112 fairways. Unbelievable. Dominant. Whatever you want to call him, Finau is the first player to win back-to-back tournaments since Brendon Todd in 2019. (Yes, Patrick Cantlay won back-to-back last season but didn’t produce the true low-scoring 72 holes in the ladder score circuit championship.)

Finau, as a player, has always been fascinating.

Finau, as the winner, is all the more enticing.

“He always told me… it happens,” caddy Mark Urbanek said Sunday. “He just needed to be a little bit better. Like, weekends, Sundays – just be a little bit better, you know? Make that putt. That one chip. That momentum. He knew it was okay to arrive.

Didn’t you know, Finau is fifth on tour in the third round (68.81) and second in the last round (67.75) this year. The victories were indeed there.

But what might get lost in the immediate reaction to Finau’s protest is that this isn’t some windy romance novel about a star learning to win. Is he a better close than in previous years? Yes of course. But winning is above all giving yourself the opportunity to be in position. Finau didn’t magically figure out how to win. He kept improving and improving his game. He’s a better ball hitter. It’s a better putter. At some point, he believed, all the pieces would come together.

That this victory came at the Detroit Golf Club is a fitting tribute to that work. As a young man, Finau shortened his swing to better navigate the tight lanes of PGA Tour courses. He developed a three-quarter swing that was essentially equivalent to a fairway finder out of necessity. Because he is so naturally off the tee, the question of sacrificing a bit of clubhead speed was of little concern. He was still among the furthest hitters on the tour.

Still, Finau needed to keep gaining more and more control off the tee if he was to reach the level of a regular PGA Tour winner. Some courses just didn’t fit his swing. Urbanek recalls that he was mostly disinterested in playing Rocket Mortgage because the idea of ​​maneuvering around an ancient tree-lined course designed by Donald Ross was inherently claustrophobic. While, yes, he could bombard the ball over much of the box, playing his massive left-to-right loop fade was impractical on multiple holes as well. Finau played in Detroit during the reworked pandemic summer schedule in 2020 and finished T53 after making the cut on the number. Often that week, he found himself aiming for tee shots over left trees and trying to bring it all back.

“Kind of a one-course fader nightmare, honestly,” Urbanek said.

It’s a hard way to play. Other courses were even more troublesome.

So Finau took the time. He and instructor Boyd Summerhays spent hours gradually reducing the fade. He came out the other side with a controlled tee shot with no inherent limitations.

“My game has evolved considerably since the beginning of my career until now,” Finau said on Sunday. “It was a golf course that didn’t look very good to me the first time I played there. That’s the beauty of playing on the PGA Tour – you play the same courses every year, and you can compare yourself and see where you are as a person and where your game compares to last year. What does this golf course look like this year? The golf course has looked pretty good to me this year and so for me it told me I’m much better than just a few years ago.

And as has always been the case with Finau, what is most shocking is that there is still the general feeling that this is just a glimpse of his quality. When all the pieces of his game are lined up, he’s not that far off from the names lining the top of the world rankings. The past two years have seen several stars step up to warm-ups to cement themselves among the best players in the world. It was like they were taking turns – Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler.

Now it’s Finau who will take over in the weeks leading up to the FedEx Cup qualifiers. If he continues like this, there might be another name to add to this list after the Tour Championship.

“These past two weeks are just the culmination of everything,” Urbanek said. “He and his instructor Boyd, they’ve built something he can rely on. Under pressure, he knows he can aim for that left side and the fade is there every time. It is enormous. Everything else is just a little better, just slightly better. His corner game. Take spin off half shots. Fly the ball. These are things he works on daily and it adds up. If you just win a shot here, a shot there, it adds up.

As for that walk, much of Finau’s appeal has always come from a laid-back disposition. You have to love someone who is never in a hurry to go anywhere.

The difference now is that Finau actually gets where he’s going.

“That’s what’s happening,” he said on Sunday. “They say a winner is just a loser who keeps trying, and that’s me against a T. How many times do I lose? But one thing I won’t do is give up, and I’m only here as a winner because I chose not to give up.

(Photo of Tony Finau after puttingt for par on the ninth green in the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)


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