A well-rounded Tony Finau is fulfilling his potential
6 Min Read
Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
HOUSTON – Perhaps we had Tony Finau all wrong.
We’re quick to ascribe a player’s Sunday struggles to a deficit in his mental game, an inability to handle the pressure of a tournament’s final holes. Finau possesses preternatural physical gifts, so it was especially easy to blame his five-year winless drought on an intangible characteristic.
The easy answer isn’t always the correct one, however. And now we can cease the inquiry.
The narrative is no longer, “Can Tony Finau close?” The question is, “Can he be stopped?” His four-shot win Sunday at the Cadence Bank Houston Open was his third in past seven TOUR starts. While Finau admits that winning breeds confidence, that momentum has him moving in a positive direction, listening to him speak Sunday must make one wonder if perhaps we had it backwards. It was the continued progression of his physical gifts that allowed Finau to fulfill his potential.
The son of a Delta baggage handler, Finau got started in the game with a 6-iron purchased for 75 cents and pounded balls in his garage until his hands bled. There were times he slept in his car at junior tournaments, and the scars are still visible on his forearms from the fire-knife dancing he did to raise money for his junior tournaments. He turned pro at 17 and endured years on the mini-tours before reaching the Korn Ferry Tour.
He’s faced things more difficult than the final round of a PGA TOUR event.
“To be consistently great takes a full game both mentally and physically and I feel like, honestly, my physical game is starting to match up to my mental,” he said. “I've always been tough; I've always been strong mentally. Having a game that matches that is, I think, a great combination and I'm starting to see that with myself.”
Finau’s 6-foot-4 frame is filled with more than the usual share of fast-twitch muscle, which explains how he can be one of the TOUR’s longest hitters with one of its shortest backswings. But while social media can get distracted by 200 mph ball speeds, Finau takes pride in the refinements he’s made to his power game. Things like a more precise wedge game, a fairway-finding tee shot and an improved putter that can help him take advantage of his power.
In that context, his performance this week at Memorial Park may have been the most impressive of his five PGA TOUR victories. He led from start to finish, shooting 65-62-68-69. He held four-shot advantages after both the second and third rounds and was eight ahead with just nine holes remaining. He’s just the seventh TOUR winner in the past 20 years to lead the field in both Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation, and he was second in Strokes Gained: Putting to boot.
“I've become a very precise, precision player. I always have enough in the tank when I feel like I need it,” he said. “It's a luxury to have speed. At the end of the day, it's always been a luxury for me. So being as precise as I am now off the tee, it's a fun game hitting from the fairway a lot.
“I didn't hit a lot of fairways growing up. I hit it very, very far, but that occasional hook, duck hook or slice was right around the corner, and it's nice to have the type of control that I had over the driver this week for sure.”
This was Finau’s third win in his last seven starts, more than he had in his first 211 TOUR events. It started with back-to-back victories in July at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic. Those victories were by three and five shots, respectively.
Three wins by three-plus shots matches the most in a single calendar year since Tiger Woods had four in 2002 (the players to have three such wins in a season since then are Finau, Woods, Justin Thomas, Vijay Singh, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson).
This also was Finau’s fourth win in his last 30 starts, dating to his victory in the opening event of the 2021 FedExCup Playoffs. That victory at Liberty National ended a victory drought that had lasted more than five years since his first career win, at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open.
Finau’s four wins since the start of the last year’s FedExCup Playoffs are the most on TOUR in that span, matched only by the reigning FedExCup champ (Rory McIlroy) and PGA TOUR Player of the Year (Scottie Scheffler).
Finau didn’t need to make a putt longer than 15 feet to shoot 62 in the second round at Memorial Park. He also had the luxury of finishing the round before Friday’s rain delay that required players to complete their second rounds in extreme cold the following morning. Finau held a four-shot lead at the tournament’s halfway point and continued to play flawlessly when it was his turn to face the cold and wind.
He hit every fairway in the third round, just the second time he’d done it in nearly 750 rounds on TOUR, and he missed just two greens. Considering the conditions, he said that bogey-free 68 on Saturday was more impressive than his score a day earlier. He took a four-shot lead into Sunday and doubled it by the turn, missing just one fairway and one green in his front-nine 31.
Earlier in his career, he was accused of being incapable of closing. Now he’d ended a tournament nine holes early. His back-nine 38 was inconsequential to the final result.
The victory came a week after a missed cut at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, where Finau was just a shot short of making the weekend despite a triple bogey on his second hole. Mayakoba is one of the tightest courses on TOUR, and finding fairways was a crucial part to his gameplan this week.
“He’s so disciplined,” said Finau’s swing coach, Boyd Summerhays. “He toned it down on purpose, giving up 15-20 yards, because we got on-site and the Bermuda rough is no joke and all those greens are so elevated. He just kicked it down.”
In his three wins this year, he’s ranked no worse than third in Greens in Regulation and was in the top 10 in Driving Accuracy all three weeks. His average ranking in Driving Distance in the week of his wins, however, was 31.7. That’s a surprise for a player who ranked in the top 10 of that statistic in each of his first five TOUR seasons, peaking at No. 3 in 2016.
Dialing back has had its benefits. In the recently-completed 2022 season, he was a career-best fifth in Greens in Regulation. His average ranking in that metric in his previous seven seasons was 55th.
What impresses Summerhays most about this recent run, however, is that it came after the worst six months of his TOUR career. Finau was 149th in the FedExCup entering late April and without a top-10.
“He’s not a guy who ever complains or makes excuses,” Summerhays said. “He just stayed really upbeat. He never got edgy with me or his caddie. It’s a credit to his strong mind and his attitude. His patience is incredible.”
He knew his physical gifts would soon match his fortitude. We were the ones who had it wrong all along.
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.