Sunday, May 6, 2012

Finau brothers ready for U.S. Open qualifier after family tragedy By Dick Harmon, Deseret News Published: Saturday, May 5 2012 9:06 p.

The Finau boys are back.

Tony and his younger brother Gipper will be front and center Monday during the U.S. Open qualifying at Alpine Country Club.

It's been a long winter. The Finau brothers lost their mother, Ravena, in a late-November traffic accident near Elko, Nev., and after a period of mourning, have vowed to fight harder than ever in her memory.

Both have suffered some injuries and illnesses. Tony says the death of his mother brought on stress he attributes to some of the issues he's had with stomach ulcers. But that hasn't hindered him from tearing it up on Golfweek's National Golf Tour, where he won back-to-back titles in April.

Gipper will make his official 2012 debut on Monday.

You may remember the Finau brothers and their competition on the popular "Big Break Disney" on the Golf Channel several years ago. "Of all the professional things we've done, that's got us the most recognition by far," Tony said this past week while practicing at Provo's East Bay.

Tony, a truly gifted bomber off the tee, fired a 19-under-par to win the NGT Hall of Fame Classic and a 13-under-par to capture the Atlantic Open this past month. Trying for a third-straight winner's check at the Florida Open last week, he finished eighth.

That kind of play catapulted Tony atop that mini-tour's current money list with $46,950 in earnings this year, primarily for one month's work.

Monday's test at Alpine will be against tough competition, including former U.S. Publinks champion and former BYU star Clay Ogden. The duo is paired with Tom King at 8:40 a.m. Gipper tees off at 10:50.

"I'm playing really well and I've had a couple of wins. The swing feels great, the body feels great," said Tony.

So, what did he learn from his two NGT wins?

"Just how to compete at the professional level. How to win. That's the only way to learn how to do it is to do it, and once I've experienced that, it is now time to take it to the next level, which is the Nationwide and PGA tours."

Tony has qualified for the Nationwide's BMW Championships May 17-20 at Thornblade Club in Greer, S.C.

"Hopefully I can take advantage of that opportunity. I just think the more opportunities I get, one of these times I will break through.

"A top-25 finish gets you to the next event on the Nationwide Tour. I just put my name in for the exemption for the Nationwide event in Utah, and I feel comfortable with how that is going. I think I can make that happen. There are a lot of good things happening for me after a tough winter, losing our mom. It will motivate us even more."

Gipper said he is just trying to feel 100 percent physically after dealing with injuries.

"I've had to figure out some problems, and this qualifier Monday for the U.S. Open might be a lot to take on for a first time out, but I kind of need to find out what shots I have in my game."

Gipper plans on working the bag as caddie for Tony at Thornblade.

These siblings who now live in Lehi are an interesting pair to follow. They turned heads more than a decade ago when they picked up clubs as kids and did things beyond their age.

I remember playing in a tournament at Millcreek a very long time ago and Gipper sat on one of the tee boxes and challenged groups coming through to see if anyone could out-drive him. He couldn't have been more than 5-4 and 120 at the time and wasn't even in junior high. But the kid launched the ball like a rocket and it almost disappeared on the horizon.

Neither played college golf, choosing instead to turn professional.

Tony may be the most talented golfer with Samoan blood in the world.

Their mother was a jewel, a gem, a princess of a woman who loved all her children and was their greatest fan. She was often seen following her sons on golf courses all over the state when they were juniors and played the high school circuit. Her absence is a tragedy.

But in Tony and Gipper, her persona lives on. They are gracious, friendly, engaging young men with impeccable manners and charisma.

The Golf Channel saw it and tapped into it.

I hope it all pays off in the long run, Ravena. You did just fine with these sons.

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