AUGUSTA, Ga. — On that first Wednesday last April, I was there at the seventh hole on the Augusta National Par-3 Course when it happened.
With his wife, children and other family members, as well as a few thousand Masters “patrons” looking on, Utah’s Tony Finau made the 12th hole-in-one of his life with a wedge shot on the uphill 115-yard hole. Then, while celebrating, he rolled his ankle, briefly dislocating it, before sitting down and putting it back in place and then limping up the fairway. It was a moment that went viral worldwide and brought Finau notoriety that he didn’t envision.
Like I said, I was there and I witnessed it ... but I didn’t see it all.
Let me explain.
I was up near the seventh green when Finau hit his tee shot. The ball landed some 40 feet above and right of the hole and rolled swiftly down the slope until it hit the pin and settled into the cup.
I glanced toward the tee to see Finau sprinting up the fairway with his hands high in the air and his wife and children cheering behind him.
I can’t remember exactly what I did next, but as I was looking back toward the tee, the fans to my left had stood up and obscured my view down the fairway. Figuring I wouldn’t be seeing any more shots by Finau with his ball already in the hole, I started heading over to the ninth green so I could watch the threesome of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson finish their rounds. Then I would wait for Finau to finish and talk to him about his ace.
As I was watching Nicklaus, Watson and Player finish up, wouldn’t you know it, I saw another hole-in-one. Turns out it was made by Gary Nicklaus Jr., Jack’s 15-year-old grandson at No. 9 (children, grandchildren and others often hit shots in the casual par-3 event). So in a span of about 20 minutes, I saw two of the three aces that day in the Par-3 Contest.
After that, I made my way to a roped-off press area where I could talk with Tony. But I was surprised and disappointed when Finau, after holing out on No. 9, was whisked past me in a golf cart and an official announced Finau wouldn’t be available to speak because of a “medical issue.”
Here I had my chance to talk to our local player about his ace at the Masters and I couldn't even talk to him.
Wait, medical issue?
Yep, that was the first I knew about Finau’s famous dance up the seventh fairway a half-hour earlier that had resulted in a badly sprained ankle.
With Finau unavailable to talk, I was left to receive updates from his coach, Boyd Summerhays, who told me a few hours later that Finau was getting an MRI the next morning and would be a “game-time decision.”
With no more news coming out about Finau’s injury it was up in the air whether he would even be able to play, right up until he teed off. As we all know, all Finau did was go out and shoot a 4-under 68 in his first round at Augusta National on that bum ankle and stayed in contention the rest of the week, finishing in a tie for 10th place.
By now you’d think he’d be weary of talking about the hole-in-one injury, which he recently called “probably the most embarrassing and craziest moment of my life.”
But as embarrassing as the incident was, Finau embraces it now.
“It was a negative thing at first, but it’s turned into a positive,” he said. “It inspired a lot of people and got me a lot of popularity, which I’m totally fine with.”
And what happens if he makes another ace in Wednesday’s Par-3 Contest this year?
“I’m not going to run — I learned that lesson for sure.”