Friday, May 25, 2012
Kevin Haskin: Brothers chase golf dream together Posted: May 24, 2012 - 6:14pm
THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL
Tony Finau and his brother, Gipper, are separated by only 11 months. Tony is the Golfweek Tour's leader on the money list.
MAYETTA — With a fierce wind blowing hard enough at Firekeeper Golf Course to almost steer a mishit back into your face, Tony Finau could not get enough of the range.
The long hitter struck knockdowns, bombs and pitches to watch how the gusts affected his blasts. And, when he changed clubs, he could not help but stand his bag upright.
Then, clang ... the bag blew over.
“I keep telling him it’s not going to stand up, but he keeps doing it anyway,’’ said Gipper Finau, watching and shaking his head.
This is what you get when brothers pursue their golf ambitions together. In the case of Tony and Gipper Finau, they are playing this week in the Firekeeper Tradition, a stop on the Golfweek National Pro Tour.
They are young, separated just 11 months at birth, with Tony, 22, the oldest.
Yet already, their paths included incredible opportunities after each turned pro as teenagers in May 2007.
They competed together in the Big Break, played a round with Michael Jordan and received deals from Callaway. All after Tony competed in the Ultimate Game, where he faced a spot decision to turn pro as one of 12 finalists. A $2 million first prize weighed into that decision.
The money was too good. Tony turned pro, stayed in the televised event and eventually won $100,000 facing the likes of Kevin Streelman, Spencer Levin, Scott Piercy and Erik Compton.
“This was right at the end of high school and I was almost committed to BYU or USC,’’ Tony said. “I had a big decision. But at the time, the way things were going, I thought that was the best thing for me, and my brother came in right behind me. That was it. I made $100,000 and that was some good cushion to get my professional career started.’’
As with most golfers, careers take unusual twists.
While Tony has competed in a handful of events on both the PGA and Nationwide circuits, those opportunities are not yet permanent. So this week, he is again playing on the Golfweek National Pro Tour, along with Gipper, who made his return to competition after dealing with an ailment.
Gipper missed the cut after a second-round score of 80 put him 8-over for the tournament. Tony, the leading money winner on the mini-tour with two wins in three previous starts, birdied five of his last eight holes Thursday to card a 4-under 68 and move to 4-under for the tourney. The last round of the 54-hole event begins at 8 a.m. Friday.
What is intriguing about the Finau brothers, in addition to their youthful beginnings in pro golf, is that on a tour where opportunities are coveted, each already received that Big Break.
The show captured their background, relationship and talents. Tony advanced the furthest, reaching the finals.
“It was a lot of fun to be part of,’’ Tony said. “It’s something you’ll never downplay if you were on there, especially to be with my brother. It’s not exactly a golf format, if you will. It’s doing challenges.
“In golf, you usually have time to recover. If you hit it short-side, or into a bunker, hopefully your short game can cover for you. But this is different, a spot shot that becomes a one-shot deal. That’s why the nerves are a little different.’’
Like so many other competitions, the brothers could lean on — and also try to out-do — each other.
Growing up in Salt Lake City, it was Gipper who first turned to golf.
“We were in kind of a bad element and it was very scary,’’ he said. “But we lived right next to a golf course. So when I’d walk home from school, I’d stop by and hit some balls. That’s how it started and it’s been good ever since.’’
By the age of 6, Gipper was winning tournaments. That put Tony, who started at 7, a little behind.
“It took me three to four years to compete with him as a junior golfer,’’ Tony said. “It’s good. We both like to compete and play with each other, and we do something when we’re practicing.’’
Often, dinner is on the line. Jabs are traded over just about anything. Like handling a golf bag in a stiff breeze.
“I’m the one who kind of has to be the peacemaker,’’ Tony contends. “Being older, I’ve got to be mature and not so competitive.’’
Competition is keen enough on tour. So much so that the decision by the two brothers to turn pro so early is still scrutinized. Yet the experience of playing in high-profile events gives them a potential edge as they progress.
“I’m 22 years old, but I feel like a veteran,’’ Tony said. “I’ve been a pro now for five years. Some are amazed because that’s when guys are just getting out of college, but I feel like I’ve got a leg up on them because of the experiences playing at the top level.’’