There was the cliched presumption of Tony Finau being starved for a win, having gone five years since his only previous PGA Tour victory until he won the Northern Trust on Monday. Then there is Finau’s version of being starved. And, perhaps more impressively, what he did about it.
A few hours after finishing off Cam Smith in a playoff to win the first event of these FedEx Cup playoffs outside New York City and exorcising the “Why can’t Tony Finau win?” demons that followed him for years, Finau and his team adjourned to a Ruth’s Chris restaurant to celebrate.
They were finished about 11 p.m., but Finau still felt the hum from what he had done, including a back-nine 30 that put him in position to win. Around 3 a.m., Finau was awake, having plowed through a portion of the messages – literally thousands, Finau said – and calls that came his way.
Still hungry, Finau and his swing coach Boyd Summerhays made a middle of the night McDonald’s run and went full teenager.
“I ordered a Big Mac, I had a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and then 10 chicken nuggets. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I had a large fry with Oreo McFlurry and a bottled water. And I had no problem cleaning all of it up,” Finau said proudly on Wednesday at Caves Valley, where the BMW Championship will be played this week.
Nutritionists may cringe. But after about three hours of sleep, Finau said he was in the gym at 8 a.m. for a proper workout while enjoying the view from atop the FedEx Cup playoff standings.
One week ago, two questions shadowed Finau:
Why hadn’t he won in five years?
And, sitting at 12th in the Ryder Cup points race with only six automatic qualifiers for captain Steve Stricker’s U.S. squad, had Finau done enough to warrant being added to the team that plays at Whistling Straits next month?
It seemed inevitable that Finau would eventually win again, but the longer he went and the more chances that slipped his grip – he had a couple of good chances earlier this year – the more the weight of unmet expectations grew.
As for the Ryder Cup question, Finau was a “maybe” with a capital M.
“If you don’t like Tony Finau, there’s something seriously wrong with you.” – Jon Rahm
He sits in sixth spot now, inside the line as the final qualifying event begins. Regardless of how he plays this week at Caves Valley, Stricker can go ahead and order Finau’s team clothing.
Finau’s victory after his well-chronicled chase of a second Tour trophy – he had 39 top-10 finishes between victories – provoked an understandable wave of congratulations for a player whose popularity has been and will always be built on his personality more than his performance.
The gift of graciousness radiates from him. He’s a ferocious competitor. The disappointments have lingered, but Finau long ago won over fans and his peers by being himself.
“If you don’t like Tony Finau, there’s something seriously wrong with you,” said Jon Rahm, who shook off his own disappointment at Liberty National to give Finau a hug on the 18th green.
Here’s how Finau described himself this week:
“I want to be a light for those around me for exactly that. If you want to be good at anything, you’re going to go through some really hard times. When you go through those, it’s OK to be nice, it’s OK to be kind still. I never wanted to be one where golf was going to kill me. I’ve seen it happen to too many people, where they let the game literally drive them crazy. I’ve never wanted that to be the case.
“No matter what, the game has given me so much already to this point in my career. I have no animosity towards the game of golf and towards my life. I have an amazing life because of the game, and I try to portray that in who I am and how I am. I’m a very grateful person and I try to portray that, and I think that has helped on my journey to just attract people that want to see me succeed.”
Among the tsunami of congratulatory messages Finau received after his win, one of the earliest came from Tiger Woods.
“Very, very cool,” Finau said.
Throughout the near misses, Finau never dodged the question that dogged him. He didn’t like being asked so often about why he hadn’t won again but he understood the reason behind the question.
“I’ve always had an attitude of perseverance. I was somehow taught since I was a kid, and something that’s very important to me is try and overcome the obstacles, try and learn from your mistakes and overcome. I will say it was extremely hard to do that,” Finau said.
“I have had a lot of disappointment and frustration from those losses, but I took it on the chin. I wanted to get better from it. What can I learn from it and how can I persevere through that? I didn’t get discouraged. The biggest part was I used it as fuel to do better, to try and learn and not think about how impossible it is to have a feat such as winning a golf tournament, and a big one.
“It was more of the attitude of, OK, not quite good enough yet, keep working. That’s all it was. It was, all right, keep doing what you’re doing, one foot in front of the other, and it’s going to happen. So, I had to have that type of belief, but it was extremely hard to do that.”
And, if Finau’s celebration was any indication, he’s hungry for more.
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