LA QUINTA, Calif. – Tony Finau is one of modern-day golf’s great rags to riches story, as he reminded the media on Wednesday with a tale from his mini tour days playing at PGA West, home of the American Express this week.
Finau, the third‑oldest of nine children, had an untraditional upbringing in the game. As a youngster, he was more interested in basketball, football and competing in fire‑knife competitions against other children of Tongan descent. 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 his father, Kelepi Finau, never had swung a golf club.
“I thought golf was a game for old rich guys,” Kelepi Finau has said.
Lessons and buckets of balls were beyond the family’s means, so Kelepi, 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 initially shared a discarded 6‑iron and blasted balls off carpet into a mattress in the family garage in Utah. It wasn’t long before they ripped through a blanket that hung as a target and replaced it with a net. They chipped and stroked putts at a nearby par‑3 course for free, which is why the brothers learned to play from the green back to the tee.
Eventually, Finau became good enough that he played on the 2004 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team. He earned scholarship offers from UNLV and BYU, but instead turned pro at age 17 in 2007 when an investor footed the $50,000 buy-in to play in “The Ultimate Game,” held in Las Vegas. Finau made the final 12 and while he fell short of the first-place prize of $2 million, he netted $100,000. Then he banged around the mini tours for several years with limited success.
“It wasn’t easy times, a lot of struggles, both financially and sometimes emotionally, but at the end of the road, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and here I am, just entering my seventh year on the PGA Tour,” Finau said.
As he recounted during his pre-tournament interview, Finau has good vibes whenever he returns to the Nicklaus Tournament Course and Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course at PGA West.
“I played on the National Pro Golf Tour, which is a mini-tour event in 2011, and I made my biggest check here. It was $21,000 to the winner,” Finau recalled. “At that time, that was the most money I had ever made in a week’s work (excluding the Ultimate Game).”
He’s cashed some much bigger checks in recent years. In addition to winning the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, Finau, who currently is ranked No. 22 in the Official World Golf Ranking, passed $20 million in career earnings earlier this season.
Not bad for a kid who thought a $21,000 first-place check was a bonanza and never owned a car until he was married.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/01/20/tony-finau-payday-20-million-man/