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Utah golfer Tony Finau was ‘off and running’ this year until coronavirus shut things down

A year after battling Tiger Woods in the final round at the Masters, Finau is making the best of his time off from golf to relax and enjoy his family

Tony Finau hits from a bunker on the second hole during the third round for the Masters golf tournament Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Augusta, Ga.
AP

SALT LAKE CITY — One year ago, on the second Sunday of April, millions of eyes around the world were focused on Tony Finau as he played in the final round of the biggest golf tournament in the world at Augusta National Golf Club.

Well, Finau and a guy named Tiger Woods.

Those two were playing in the final group in the final round of the Masters, the first of golf’s four majors, along with reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari.

Finau, who grew up in Salt Lake City and graduated from West High School before turning professional, played toe-to-toe with Woods and Molinari throughout the round but came up just short, finishing two strokes behind Woods, who captured his fifth green jacket.

This year, Finau isn’t in Augusta and will be spending the day with his family of six in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lives in the winter while maintaining a home in Lehi. They’ll hold a family church service, have a big meal and spend time relaxing together.

Like every other golfer on the PGA Tour, and people in general for that matter, Finau is holed up at his home for the time being. He’s trying to stay in shape, awaiting a return to tournament golf, which looks like it won’t come until June or July at the soonest.

Tony Finau of the United States lines his putt during the Hong Kong Open golf tournament at Fanling Golf Club in Hong Kong, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020.
AP

“I’m just hanging out with the family,” he told the Deseret News two days ago from his Arizona home. “I’ve just enjoyed being at home and being a dad.”

Although he works out every day, golf has taken a back seat in his routine as he’s probably played less than he has since about the time he took up the game at age 7. He said he’s played just two rounds since his season was shut down in early March at the Players Championship in Florida.

“Not a lot of golf, just taking time off, being a teacher, cooking a lot,” he said with a laugh. “It’s been nice, actually, hanging out at home and being with the family. The weather’s been perfect. I’ve got time to do a lot of different things.”

Tony and his wife, Alayna, have four children ranging in age from 3 to 8 years old. The two oldest, Jraice and Nene, are school age, so Tony has spent extra time with them helping with their schoolwork. Besides their home studies from school, he has started something called, “Daddy’s 10 questions,” where he quizzes his kids on a variety of things.

“It’s a mixture of what I think are common sense things, say about fruits and vegetables, or maybe a riddle,” he said. “It’s fun for me — I get to ask them 10 things I think they should know at that age, or fun things, whether it’s about family vacations or church stuff. That takes up a good 45 minutes of my day thinking about what questions I ask them. I’m enjoying that.”

Finau grew up in the Rose Park area of Salt Lake City and was turning heads in the golf world by the time he was 12 when he won the Junior World Championship in San Diego. He won the Utah State Men’s Amateur Championship at age 16 and turned professional right out of high school in 2008.

After playing various mini-tours as well as the Web.com Tour, he made it to the PGA Tour in 2015 when he won $2.1 million and finished 43rd in FedEx Cup points. He moved up to No. 17 in 2017 and was sixth in 2018 and seventh last year.

He was off to another solid start this season with $1.4 million in earnings and was 34th in the FedEx Cup rankings when the season was suspended after one round of the Players Championship last month.

“No doubt, I felt sharp early to start the year,” he said. “I had a chance to win at Hong Kong (fifth place), had a top 15 in the desert (La Quinta), sixth place at Torrey Pines and had a chance to win at Phoenix (lost in a playoff).”

Tony Finau hits a drive on the seventh hole during the final round for the Masters Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. Finau played in the final round, but fell two shots short of eventual winner Tiger Woods.
AP

Finau said he “was off and running” and he was looking forward to the spring stretch with the Players, the Masters and the match play tournament.

“My game was in a good place ... but here we are,” he said.

For now, Finau can reflect on great memories of a year ago when he was in the spotlight of the arguably the greatest golf tournament with arguably the greatest golfer ever. He ended up in a tie for fifth place, just two shots behind Woods, a year after finishing in 10th when he received all that attention when spraining his ankle after a hole in one at the Masters’ Par-3 Contest.

“I would have been teeing off at Augusta National right now,” he lamented on Friday when talking about the Masters. “I have so many great memories, some of the highlights of my career so far. I had a top 10 and a top five and the whole ankle thing — obviously a lot more good has come out of it than the initial embarrassment. It was just enjoying the good times with my family and having all the people that have supported me to be there with me — just the whole experience.”

“It’s definitely bittersweet not to be playing there this week and have that opportunity to play,” he added. “But I’m looking forward to getting back there to play in November and chasing down a green jacket.”

Ah, November. That’s when the Masters has been rescheduled for (Nov. 12-15), assuming things get pretty much back to normal after the coronavirus pandemic.

Wearing a Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant uniform in memory of the late NBA star, Tony Finau hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open PGA Tour golf event Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Bryant, his daughter, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles last week.
AP

Finau knows he won’t be playing any tournament golf for at least a couple of months, and he’s hopeful that the schedule the PGA Tour put out earlier this week will come to fruition, with the PGA in August, the U.S. Open and Ryder Cup in September and Masters in November.

“Yeah I think it’s going to work,” he said. “All I’ve got to say is it’s going to be a pretty dang busy fall, because as much as we’re taking time off now, we’re going to be as busy in the fall. There’s a lot of golf between August and November and a lot of meaningful golf, which is going to be fun.”

Finau also hopes he can make the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which will take on Europe in late September in Wisconsin, soon after the U.S. Open.

Right now, Finau is ranked No. 9 in the Ryder Cup standings, which puts him one spot out of being an automatic qualifier for the 12-man team, which includes four captain’s picks.

“No question, that’s a huge goal of mine. I’ve always had aspirations and goals of playing in international team events, ever since I can remember watching them as a kid,” he said.

School staff at Backman Elementary in Salt Lake City join with the Tony Finau Foundation and For The Kids working to feed 500 children each week at both Backman and Liberty elementary schools to ensure these at-risk children are fed through May due to COVID-19 on Monday, March 30, 2020.
School staff at Backman Elementary in Salt Lake City join with the Tony Finau Foundation and For The Kids working to feed 500 children each week at both Backman and Liberty elementary schools on Monday, March 30, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

During these tough times, Finau has found the time and effort to give back, helping a couple of local elementary schools, including his former school, Backman Elementary, with food, thanks to a generous donation from his Tony Finau Foundation.

“That’s my ties, that’s where I grew up in Rose Park,” he said. “As we looked at what we could do to help, this organization For the Kids was already set up to deliver meals. So we made a monetary donation, which was able to provide 30,000 meals for that area, which they said would feed 500 kids and their families over six weeks. It’s been cool to see.”

Now it’s just a waiting game for Finau to get back to playing golf, but he sees the silver lining in being able to take a long rest.

“I’ve been working out every day. It’s been great for me,” he said. “My body’s in a good place physically and I’m getting the proper rest and proper treatment I need. I’m looking forward to this next stretch as all the guys are. We’re all going to be pretty refreshed.”