Tony Finau’s wild rookie week at Augusta ends with invite back to Masters

Apr 7, 2018; Augusta, GA, USA; Tony Finau plays his second shot on the 1st hole during the third round of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Tony Finau’s wild rookie week at Augusta ends with invite back to Masters

PGA Tour

Tony Finau’s wild rookie week at Augusta ends with invite back to Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tony Finau will return to the Masters in 2019. But it’s unlikely that appearance will be as entertaining as his rookie showing.

Finau had a moment of glory Wednesday when he aced the seventh during the Par 3 Contest. After the hole-in-one, the 28-year-old started sprinting from the tee box in celebration, and then …

In the video seen around the sports world, Finau turned around as he was running and proceeded to dislocate his ankle and tumble before popping it back in place.

“The most embarrassing moment in my life,” Finau said, chuckling.

He had a high-ankle sprain, and it seemed he might have to withdraw. But an MRI on the morning of the first round revealed no significant damage, so he played.

Did he ever. Finau stunningly opened in 4-under 68 to thrust himself into early Masters contention, faded from there and stormed back Sunday with six straight birdies on the back nine for a final-round 66. The closing flourish moved him into a tie for 10th at 7 under. With the top 12 and ties earning spots in next year’s Masters, Finau already has qualified for the 2019 proceedings at Augusta National.

“Nothing is guaranteed. That’s something I’ve learned in life and in this game,” Finau said. “I had an opportunity this week and … I think I’ve taken advantage of it.”

Undeniable toughness

Here’s another certainty: Nobody will doubt Finau’s toughness going forward.

The 6-foot-4, one-time PGA Tour winner took an unusual path to pro golf, moving to the paid ranks at age 17 and turning down scholarship offers to play Division I basketball. That paid dividends when he earned his first PGA Tour title in 2016 at the Puerto Rico Open.

Finau received treatment throughout the Masters for his ankle, made adjustments in his set-up and played through pain spectacularly.

How did he so casually pop his ankle back into place?

“I’ve seen a lot of kids roll their ankle and lay down and roll on the ground like a stuck pig,” said Bob Lyman, Finau’s former basketball coach at West High School in Salt Lake City. “He reaches down, snaps it back in place and carries on. That’s pretty tough, I would say.”

(Lyman has been charged for reckless burning that accidentally led to a wildfire in Utah. He pleaded not guilty last year and awaits trial.)

Lyman marveled at Finau’s commitment in high school. Of course, that could have its downsides. At one point, Finau overworked himself so much that during a routine practice he dropped to the floor.

He was out cold for about a minute.

“About the longest minute of my life,” Lyman said, laughing. “I could see the future Tiger Woods career flashing before my eyes.”

Finau eventually came to, but it was decided shortly after that he would put his full focus back on golf.

Finau now looks forward to some rest, noting Sunday that he bet his foot was yellow and purple after walking the hilly Augusta layout.

In a way, he couldn’t have dreamed up the exposure any better with his Wednesday antics all over social media and his following heroics earning him instant respect. Finau was quick to note, though, that it became clear nobody knew how to pronounce his name.

“That’s probably the funniest thing. I don’t know why they think the A is silent,” said Finau, (pronounced FEE-now). “So hopefully I keep playing good enough golf that they’ll know how to say my name, at least.”

With more performances like this, it’ll certainly be tough for fans to stay unaware. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the April 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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