The story of how Tony Finau defied the odds to become a six-time PGA Tour winner could be golf’s version of the Hollywood blockbuster “Blindside,” in which Michael Oher turned a love of football into a college scholarship and eventually NFL success.
On Sunday, Finau carded a 5-under 66 at Vidanta Vallarta Golf Club near the Banderas Bay in Mexico’s Pacific to win the Mexico Open at Vidanta by three strokes over world No. 1 Jon Rahm.
“He’s the best and he’s on top of the world right now and I knew I was going to have my hands full with him all the way to the end,” Finau said. “It’s crazy how this game is, you never think you have a tournament won until it’s over.”
Finau 33, became the fourth multiple winner this season joining Rahm, Max Homa and Scottie Scheffler.
Finau finished second to Rahm at this event a year ago, but this time the finishes were reversed. Finau, who opened with rounds of 65-64-65, held a two-stroke lead heading into the final round.
Rahm signed for a third-round bogey-free 10-under 61 — a tournament record — and was bidding for his fifth win of the season and his first title defense on the PGA Tour. But he couldn’t go low enough again, posting a 4-under 67 in the final round.
“It was a day where I didn’t do much wrong, but I didn’t do much right, either,” Rahm said.
The Spaniard did succeed in breaking the single-season record for prize money — $14,462,840 — before the calendar flipped to May.
Finau, who is of Tongan descent, is the third-oldest of eight children. It was his younger brother, Gipper, then 5, who became enthralled by seeing Tiger Woods win the 1997 Masters on TV. That motivated their mother, Ravena, to ask her husband to teach the boys the game. This despite the fact that Finau’s father, Gary, never had swung a golf club.
Lessons and buckets of balls were beyond the family’s means, so Gary, who worked in cargo at Delta Air Lines, checked out instructional books and videotapes at the library. “Golf My Way” by Jack Nicklaus became his bible, and he plastered frame-by-frame images of the Golden Bear’s swing to their garage walls. The brothers shared a discarded 6-iron. Sets of clubs were purchased at Salvation Army. The boys blasted balls off carpet into a mattress in the family garage in Utah. When the brothers became good enough to play a regulation course near their home, Gary picked them up after school and drove them to the football field first.
“We’d stop there so they could see all their friends practicing Pop Warner football,” Gary recalled. “There must have been 400-500 of them. I said, ‘Where is everybody?’ They’d say, ‘Right here.’ Then we’d drive up to the golf course. I’d say, ‘Who’s here?’ They’d say, ‘Nobody.’ I’d tell them, ‘Exactly. Your chance to make it in golf is way better, boys. There’s no competition here. So let’s practice.’ ”
That they did and with the guidance of a loving and dedicated father, Finau became one of the world’s best golfers. He’s won five times on Tour in the last 19 months. Billy Horschel played with Finau the first two rounds when he kicked off his torrid run at the 2021 Northern Trust. When they were signing their scorecards, Horschel told him he’d never seen Finau putt better.
“I’ve always said he’s a good putter from outside 10 feet, really great putter from 10-20 feet, great speed, great imagination of how the putts are going to break but inside 10 feet he’s a different guy. That week he looked so confident inside 10 feet. He looked like he was going to make everything. I told him, “You look so confident and you’ve got to just believe that you’re a good putter.’ I was so impressed to see another side of him. Did I think he was going to win that week? No. I think he’s taken so much confidence from that win and believes in himself that he’s a good putter. I think you’ll see a pretty special run from Tony the next five years.”
Finau’s coach, Boyd Summerhays, had a feeling another victory might be in the offing this week.
“This was where he turned around his season last year so I knew he loved the course,” Summerhays said. “That’s all it was, he was trending and looking great in practice at home.”
Finau won the Cadence Houston Open in November, but his results of late weren’t reflecting how well he was playing, Summerhays said. Finau had made the cut in all 10 starts this year but had just two top-10 finishes since his win. He blamed inconsistency with his putting despite being on pace to have his best season with the short stick of his career. He worked hard on his putting last week at home and it paid off. Finau ranked eighth in Strokes Gained: putting for the week. He made three birdies in his first seven holes, but Brandon Wu temporarily tied for the lead with an eagle at six and birdie at seven. But he dropped a shot at No. 8 and drove into the water at No. 10 and settled for third with a 68.
“I think going toe to toe with two of the best players in the world is good,” Wu said. “Good to kind of feel the emotions, know how to stay calm in the moment and stay focused on myself. It was a great experience and glad to have done it.”
Wu wasn’t the only up-and-comer to gain valuable experience being in the trophy hunt. Akshay Bhatia, 21, who earned special temporary Tour membership with a second-place finish at the Puerto Rico Open in March, played his way into the final group and posted even-par 71 to finish fourth.
But it wasn’t enough to match Finau, who shot a 72-hole total of 24-under 260 and secured his fourth win in 280 days.