Finau’s grandfather, 89, provides inspiration for rookie at Riviera
February 21, 2015
By Garrett Johnston, Special to PGATOUR.COM, PGATOUR.COM
- Sione Finau, who lives in the L.A. area, was at Riviera Friday to see his grandson. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — PGA TOUR rookie Tony Finau played his second round at Riviera and shot his second consecutive 70, but the real story was in the gallery.
Yes, you had the usual Finau supporters headlined by his father Kelepi and stepmother Talafau, but Friday, was unique as Tony’s 89-year-old grandfather Sione watched Tony walk the fairways in the Northern Trust Open.
“It’s something pretty special,” Tony said. “I think the whole reason he moved here (from Tonga Islands to Inglewood) was to give his grandkids an opportunity to do something special ourselves in this country and it’s good for him to see the fruit of his labors. It’s amazing.”
Sione lives in Inglewood and made a living there for 40 years as a gardener, having finally retired just a couple of years ago. His wife Mele Na’ati passed away last year.
Sione’s yard is full of fruit trees, including apple, peach, and bananas. Although Tony is only able to visit Sione three times a year, he loves when his grandfather cooks barbecue chicken. It’s hands-down his favorite dish.
Tony says the lessons he’s learned from Sione are mostly those of respect and humility.
“He’s just a humble, grateful guy,” Tony said. “He doesn’t speak much English. We talk in a different language. He’s a really humble guy and he’s taught me that we are fortunate to be here."
Fortunate indeed as Tony is the the first, along with brother Gipper, in the Finau family to play golf. To be playing on golf’s highest level — the PGA TOUR — is a story in its own right.
For father Kelepi, he knew that Tony’s path in golf would be a challenge. Very few of his peers growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah played the sport.
On Friday, before Tony teed off in the second round of the Northern Trust Open, Sione whispered a piece of advice to the young rookie.
He told his grandson: “Your best is better than the rest.”
It was an emotional moment for both, and an extraordinary moment for Kelepi to take in. Seeing his own father watch Tony play at this historic venue was special for him.
“I don’t think he could hold his emotion when Tony was putting,” Kelepi said. “He had to look away because he was so nervous.”
When Tony and Sione first saw each other Friday, as Tony walked from the putting green to the iconic first tee next to Riviera’s clubhouse, they embraced, and Tony said “Love you, champ.”
“Champ” is what Tony, Gipper, and his other six siblings referred to their grandpa as over the years.
“My grandma (Mele Na’ati) didn’t get the opportunity to see me out here,” Tony said. “She passed away last year and so a couple of my grandparents didn’t have the opportunity to see me (on PGA TOUR). So for him to come out, it’s just so special.”
Walking the fairways of Riviera, Sione wore tan pants, a blue shirt, and brown jacket and — the favorite hat of his grandkids — his cowboy hat.
Sione compared Tony’s office, the golf course, to his own office in the gardens and trees that he has tended to for nearly the last half century.
Sione said he loved that Tony’s office has similar nature aspects like a fresh breeze, trees, grasses, and the lovely sounds of the birds. As the weekend continues, Sione will get to see Tony continue his pursuit of a title, he will do so in strange — yet familiar — surroundings.
Meet Tony Finau