A moment can come to define an athlete.
Just ask Tony Finau.
Before teeing it up this week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the last thing most golf fans remember of Finau was his cringeworthy moment in the Masters Par-3 contest April 4.
Finau spun his ball all the way across the seventh green into the hole for an ace, took off running in celebration — the guards at Augusta National tell patrons not to run, for good reason — and dislocated his ankle. He went to a knee, popped it back in place. For those of us watching, the reaction went from “Oh!” for the ace to “ha-ha-ha-ha” for Finau’s celebratory sprint to “Aaagh!” when his ankle went sideways.
Few noticed that Finau went on to tie for 10th place in the Masters, eight strokes back of winner Patrick Reed. He’s back in action this week for the first time, playing with Daniel Summerhays, the brother of Finau’s teaching pro in Salt Lake City, Boyd Summerhays.
The ankle, which Finau has been rehabbing back home with trainers from the University of Utah and the Utah Jazz, rates at about 70 percent, he says.
Imagine, if it were better, where he and Summerhays would stand heading into Sunday’s final round. As it is, they’re one stroke back of Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown at 19-under 197 following a Saturday best-ball 63 that was nearly a perfect match to their Thursday 62 in the same format.
“We just kind of got into a rhythm,” Finau said. “He (Summerhays) got us off to a nice start on 1 again, made a birdie there. We ham-and-egged it really nicely. I was proud of the way we fought there at the end to make a run.” Finau and Summerhays birdied 14, 15, 16 and 17 to vault into a tie for second with second-round leaders Michael Kim and Andrew Putnam.
Finau’s is one of the most remarkable stories on the PGA Tour.
In golf, where most players grew up in a pampered, country club-like existence, Finau was the opposite. One of seven children, the tour’s first player of Tongan-Samoan ancestry came from much humbler roots on the poor side of Salt Lake City.
According to a richly detailed 2016 profile by GolfChannel.com writer Ryan Lavner, Finau learned the game by smacking golf balls with his brother Gipper into a net in the family’s garage, hitting not off grass but carpet remnants with used clubs their father Kelepi bought from the local Salvation Army. He videotaped Tony and Gipper’s swings and compared them to swings he saw in golf magazines, books and instructional videos. The boys honed their short games for free at a local nine-hole municipal course and once a week were allowed to pay the $7.50 required to hit an actual bucket of balls at the muni’s driving range.
Gipper made the cut at 16 in a 2006 Web.com Tour event, but after the death of their mother, Ravena, in a 2011 car crash, he drifted away from the game.
Tony’s game continued to flourish.
He only has one PGA Tour win, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, but he has four top-10 finishes on tour this season, is 10th in FedEx Cup points and is ranked a strong 33rd in the world. And he’s already pocketed $9.1 million in career earnings — not bad from a kid from the poor side of Salt Lake.
Summerhays has yet to win on the PGA Tour and comes in ranked only 212th in FedEx Cup points. A win would be huge for both, guaranteeing Summerhays his tour-playing privileges for two years, and for Finau, strengthening his chances of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team this fall. Both of the team formats in use at the Zurich — Thursday and Saturday’s best-ball and Friday and Sunday’s alternate-shot — will be in play at the Ryder Cup outside Paris.
Someone on the Golf Channel referred to the 5-foot-8 Summerhays as the team’s point guard and the 6-4, long-armed Finau as the power forward.
“That’s accurate,” Summerhays said. “In high school they used to call me Khalid El-Amin. I can pass and shoot the 3.”
And Finau can make the dunks, like he did in the Par-3 contest at Augusta.
But if you guys win Sunday, Tony, please, no running and jumping for joy. Just a simple hug and a couple arms thrust in the air in triumph will suffice.
Maybe it will be a new moment to define them both.