PGA Tour player Tony Finau has soft spot for Shriners Open

For PGA Tour player Tony Finau, the 2014 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open was an important steppingstone in his ascent to becoming one of golf’s elite players. In his second PGA Tour event as an exempt player, he finished in the top 10 for the first time with a tie for seventh.

Finau, who was sixth in the 2018 FedEx Cup playoffs, is scheduled to play in his fifth Shriners Open when the tournament begins Thursday at TPC Summerlin.

Joining Finau are fellow U.S. Ryder Cup teammates Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson and Jordan Spieth, along with captain Jim Furyk. Other notables are defending champion Patrick Cantlay, Jason Dufner, Gary Woodland and Southern Nevadans Shintaro Ban, Alex Cejka, Wyndham Clark, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Scott Piercy and Aaron Wise.

SHORT DESCRIPTION (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

“I’m pretty happy with where my game is at,” Finau said after the final round in 2014. “I am starting to get my feet wet at the highest level of golf. A couple nice finishes are going to be huge for my confidence throughout my whole career.”

It was clear that week that given Finau’s hype, his prodigious length and legendary feats as a junior golfer in Utah who turned pro at 17, an exciting and diverse new player was ready to make his mark. Finau has been exempt on the tour since and made more than $12 million over the past four seasons, with one victory. He has made the Shriners cut each year, including a tie for 16th in 2017.

Finau, 29, lives in Lehi, Utah, a five-hour drive from Las Vegas. But he will be traveling from the other side of the world for the Shriners Open. Finau’s hot play is continuing this weekend at the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan Golf Club in China, where he has a two-stroke lead entering the final round.

Finau is of Tongan and American Samoan descent and grew up in the ethnically diverse Rose Park area of Salt Lake City. Golf wasn’t exactly part of the community dynamic, but when Finau was 7, he watched Tiger Woods win the Masters on TV and thought to himself, “One day, I want to play in the Masters.”

Utah native Boyd Summerhayes, Finau’s swing coach and a former PGA Tour player, has been witness to Finau’s talent and demeanor. While many are drawn to his length, Summerhayes said Finau is among the tour’s most well-rounded and consistent players.

“He only missed three cuts last year and had the second most top 10s,” Summerhayes said. “He has a large skill set. He hits it far. He hits it high, a big advantage. He has a strong mind. Now he is a very good putter and chipper. He’s a really good iron player, and he’s great off the tee.”

Finau finally played in the Masters in April and finished tied for 10th, guaranteeing a spot at Augusta in 2019. While the finish was solid, his recovery from a dislocated left ankle he suffered while celebrating a hole-in-one during the par 3 contest was monumental. He shot a 4-under 68 in the first round, less than 24 hours later.

“It went from one of the most incredible moments of his life to one of the most embarrassing,” Summerhayes said. “And then sitting around waiting to see if he could play was very difficult for him. Once we knew it wasn’t broken, even though it was extremely damaged, I knew he was going to play because he is one tough kid.”

After the third round Saturday at the WGC-HSBC Champions, Finau reflected on his blossoming career.

“I always had dreams and goals to play against the best players in the world and be one myself,” he said. “Sometimes I do look back and think, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool to be in this position.’ I get to play golf for a living.”

Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt is a two-time author who has covered golf in Las Vegas for more than two decades. He can be reached at bhurlburt5@gmail.com or @LVGolfInsider.

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