AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – Tony Finau can laugh about it now and he’ll probably laugh about it forever.
He might as well because regardless of what else Finau does in golf – and his first-round 68 on a bad wheel in his first Masters was a brassy indication of how talented he is – he will always be remembered as the guy who dislocated his ankle while celebrating a hole-in-one and then popped his foot back into place.
Finau had worked much of his life to play in the Masters, and hours away from his Thursday tee time, during Wednesday’s Par-3 Contest, he made the 12th ace in his life and was so excited by it that he sprinted down the fairway. Turning to look at his family, Finau rolled his left ankle and went down in a stomach-turning heap.
“It was a pretty cool moment followed by one of the most embarrassing moments in my life,” Finau admitted.
If you’ve seen the video (posted below), you know the injury looked gruesome, something worse than a dislocation. But it’s what happened next that was astounding. Finau leaned over, pushed on the outside of his left ankle and popped his foot back into place like he does it all the time.
Lehi’s Tony Finau just aced a hole during the Par-3 contest, appeared to dislocate his ankle during the celebration, and is back playing on the next hole.
— Sean Walker (@RealDSean) April 4, 2018
“I saw where it was and I knew where it needed to be,” Finau explained.
Plus, he wanted to be cool. He was already embarrassed. The last thing he wanted was to be carted off in an ambulance after making an ace in his first official trip to the Masters.
Ask almost anyone on the PGA Tour who the best athlete is and Finau’s name will be on every short list – that is, until he fell.
“He can dunk flat-footed. I’ve seen him tomahawk. I’ve seen him windmill,” Finau’s caddie, Greg Bodine, said.
Playing himself into his first Masters last fall by qualifying for the Tour Championship was one of the biggest moments of Finau’s career and suddenly it was almost gone. He got good news Wednesday evening when an X-ray was negative but Finau didn’t sleep well with his foot propped up while icing it.
The pain wasn’t bad, however, and when an early-morning MRI was negative Thursday, Finau realized he could keep his tee time. With his left ankle heavily taped, Finau manufactured a new swing, one that kept his weight off his left foot, defying conventional swing theory.
It was the only way he could play and it worked. Finau, one of the most powerful players on Tour, birdied all four par-5 holes and felt better as the day wore on. Any questions were answered at the par-3 fourth hole when Finau leaned on a 5-iron and smoked it 225 yards to a back pin, setting up a birdie on what played as the third-most difficult hole Thursday.
“He worded it as a blessing in disguise. He told me he had one way to swing. He’s got one shot this week and it’s pretty good,” Bodine said.
Finau’s family is with him in Augusta this week. His father, Kelepi, immigrated to the United States from Tonga when he was 12 years old. For 22 years, Kelepi Finau said Thursday, his son dreamed of a day like Thursday and it almost didn’t happen.
“We were just going to pack up and watch it,” Finau’s father said.
Kelepi Finau got teary-eyed talking about the year’s long journey to Augusta, seeing his son’s name near the top of a leaderboard in the distance. He talked about living in the United States and the joy it has brought him and his family.
Asked if he had something to prove Thursday, Finau said that’s not his way.
“It seems like as my career unfolds, it becomes more about proving the people around me right than proving people wrong. I feel like I have a lot of great people on my side, a lot of great support and people that believe in me,” Finau said.
ADDITIONAL READING: Garcia Drowns Five Shots, Makes a 13
“I think it’s just more about proving that they are right than proving anybody wrong. You know, I tried to play that card early in my career, and you’re never going to win. Doing your best and just trying to impress the people that believe in you, I think that’s more important than (anything) else.”
Especially if you can laugh at yourself.
“The funny thing is if it didn’t happen to me, I’d probably laugh first, and then I’d be worried after,” Finau said.
“So I kind of chuckled at myself, and I try not to take myself too seriously, and that’s the hard part. That’s why I was embarrassed. It’s quite funny, I just rolled my ankle celebrating a hole-in-one. You can’t make that up.”