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Dick Harmon: Tony Finau's Ryder Cup story brings pride, encouragement from Utah PGA chief

Utah's Tony Finau, right, and Dustin Johnson chip out of a bunker during a practice round for the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, outside Paris, France, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. The 42nd Ryder Cup will be held in France from
Utah's Tony Finau, right, and Dustin Johnson chip out of a bunker during a practice round for the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, outside Paris, France, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. The 42nd Ryder Cup will be held in France from Sept. 28-30, 2018 at Le Golf National.
Francois Mori, AP

PROVO — It is historic that Tony Finau’s rise as a professional golfer makes him the first native Utahn to play in the Ryder Cup, which tees off in Paris this week at Le Golf National. There, he joins the world’s elite as a teammate of a resurrected Tiger Woods in America’s challenge of the Europeans.

It should be high drama in France.

One of his many fans who can’t stop smiling is Utah PGA executive director Devin Dehlin. America’s Ryder Cup team is a creation of the PGA of America of which Dehlin is an officer and official spokesman for professional golfers in Utah.

“We run the Ryder Cup, and that, along with the PGA Championship, pretty much funds what we do in the PGA of America," Dehlin said. "But the Ryder Cup in general to me is the biggest and most exciting sporting event in the world and I’ve been to the Masters, the PGA, NBA championships and a lot of big events in my life.

“There is nothing like it," he continued. "For Tony, who we’ve seen grow up playing against us, watched him play in junior golf tournaments, USGA events and win the Utah State Amateur, and now he’s representing the United States of America in an event that many believe is bigger than the Super Bowl. It is just fantastic.

“Tony is representing his country. It is amazing and it is a big thing for Utah. He’s representing us, sharing his experiences and Utah golf is going to be recognized even more than it now is.”

Dehlin said within moments of Finau being named as a captain’s pick by Jim Furyk, he began receiving text messages from his colleagues in the PGA from all over the country congratulating him and the state of Utah for Finau’s inclusion.

“We’re pretty proud from our standpoint,” said Dehlin.

This is a pressure-packed event and Dehlin said Finau is in for an experience that is incomparable in its emotion, passion and sheer weight as an athlete.

Dehlin has been to Medinah and Hazeltine and talked to players who’ve said they’d never felt the pressure in their lives like they had on the first tee in the Ryder Cup.

“The volume of noise, the crowd, it’s all electric and you can feel it and it goes right through you," Dehlin said.

Earlier this week, another Ryder Cup rookie, Tommy Fleetwood, who will play for the Europeans, was asked about the biggest event that overwhelmed him in his life, and he said it was when his wife gave birth. Ryder Cup teammate Ian Poulter gave him a pep talk about how to handle similar emotions and pressure this week in Paris.

“Look, like this is what we practice for and what we play for week in, week out,” said Fleetwood. “The best piece of advice that definitely Poulter's given me, and Rory (McIlroy) says the same thing, he says it's the most special you'll ever feel. Whatever nerves you felt up to now, times it by 10, and that's what you have; but this is what you want and this is what we play for, so embrace it. Take it all in.

“That's what you've got to remember. It's not like — as daunting as it can be, it's not — I mean, come on, it's not a chore to be playing in the Ryder Cup. It's the greatest thing you'll ever do in your career. I'm very excited about whatever those feelings are.”

What advice would Dehlin give Tony?

“Not that I’m one to give him advice,” he said, “but I’d tell him to just take it all in and enjoy it. Being on a team together is a great opportunity, and hopefully it isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is that special.”

Finau is the first golfer of Tongan/Samoan descent to succeed on the PGA Tour, finishing in the top 10 of the FedEx Cup rankings this past week. He’s had 11 top-10 finishes and earned $12.3 million in his career. This year on tour, he is fourth in driving distance at 314 yards, sixth in eagles and 11th in birdies.

And he doesn’t even take a full swing at the ball.

That Finau grew up outside the country club life as a kid, hitting balls in his garage against a mattress in humble beginnings in the Rose Park area of Salt Lake City, makes for an intriguing national story.

“It’s totally one of the great stories in golf," Dehlin said. "Talking to him about not even being able to hit a bucket of balls when he was younger speaks volumes about how great a natural athlete he is and how much talent he has. It’s like a pat on the back to him that he’s worked so hard to be able to do this.”

Dehlin says Finau’s number of top-10 finishes the past two months has been remarkable.

“Any time you are in the heat that many times, as a team you can count on him. He will be able to handle the pressure and it doesn’t hurt that he makes so many birdies.”

Tony Finau in Paris.

Oh là là.