Meet and greet
Thursday, January 13, 2011
The opening round of the Sony Open was washed out Thursday because of heavy overnight rain. Tour officials say the first two rounds will be played Friday and Saturday, with 36 holes played Sunday.
Course: Waialae Country Club (7,044 yards, par 70), Honolulu.
Purse: $5.5 million. Winner's share: $990,000.
Last year: Ryan Palmer beat Robert Allenby with a birdie on the par-5 closing hole.
HONOLULU – Respecting a stage to which he is new, Tony Finau stepped gingerly around the practice range at Waialae Country Club. He was looking for a spot to hit balls, but being without PGA Tour membership rights and having so little history at this level, Finau rightfully stayed back.
Golf is one of the last bastions of protocol.
Ah, but if Finau only realized he actually fits in perfectly this week, because an annual attraction to the Sony Open is the number of unknown players who tee it up.
Even a marquee veteran such as Ernie Els appreciates the flavor at work just a few miles from Waikiki Beach.
“It’s a great event to get your feet wet,” Els said. “At this event, the new guys show their faces.”
Then the Big Easy smiled and added, “but when I walk on the practice green, I (sometimes) think I’m on a different tour.”
Finau might rank as an unheralded name to the vast majority of golf fans, but he does possess a story of great intrigue. He and his younger brother, Gipper, gained attention for turning professional as young teenagers, though neither has made much of an impact quite yet.
Who knows? This week might be the turning point that Tony, 21, has been looking for. He shot 67 to get through a Monday qualifier, so the tall and lanky man with heralded long-driving talents will tee it up for the third time in a PGA Tour tournament.
Heck, he hadn’t even found a spot to hit balls on the range when the week paid off. That’s because he ran into Callaway tour rep Barry Lyda, who congratulated Finau and offered company assistance. Next thing you knew, Finau was set up with Callaway balls, extra-large gloves and even some hats.
Oh, and Lyda went the extra distance and fixed the zipper on Finau’s tour-style golf bag.
“It’s exciting,” Finau said. “I’m thrilled to be here.”
Finau was raised in Utah, but he has plenty of relatives on Oahu, so that’s where he’s settled in during the winter. He played in the Hawaii State Open right before Christmas, then went home for a few weeks before returning to Oahu right after the first of the year.
He and Gipper, 20, play out of the Turtle Bay Resort on the other side of the island, and barely had Tony settled into the warm, tropical air when he shot 64 at Sunday’s pre-qualifier and 67 in Monday’s qualifier.
But if he feels a bit in awe of the PGA Tour scene here at Waialae, he shouldn’t. That’s because the field roster is dotted with new faces, so as fans stood by the putting green fence, the conversations were comical. They thought Finau might have been Joseph Bramlett or maybe Jhonattan Vegas, then pointed to Fabian Gomez and asked, “Who is that?” right before scratching their heads when Joe Affrunti, Bobby Gates, Kevin Kisner and Brendan Steele walked by.
Els gets a kick out of it, actually, and remembered a few years ago when he played a round alongside Matt Bettencourt, someone whom he had never met.
“It’s nice to kind of follow their years (after that),” Els said.
Not long after speaking those words, Els was off in one direction, so from the clubhouse to the course, a short walk took us in behind the ninth hole. That’s where a very familiar sight was at work, Hall of Famer Vijay Singh – soon to be 48 – shaking off the rust in preparation for his 19th PGA Tour season.
Yet what jumped out at you while watching Singh? The same thing that comes to mind whenever you visit this tournament, because playing alongside Singh was a little left-hander who had a golf bag with a pop-up stand. David Saka is 18, a freshman member of the University of Hawaii golf team, and he’s in the field via an exemption that goes to the winner of what is called the Governor’s Cup, a select tournament for leading amateur players in Hawaii.
Perhaps being 18 and an amateur and a new face to the PGA Tour scene, Saka is looking around wondering just who are these guys. If so, he should not feel alone.
Els and Singh are probably feeling similarly.