Tony Finau hits a golf ball from one zip code to another. You wonder why he isn’t playing every week on the PGA Tour.
The Utah star of Tongan and Samoan heritage has the short game, the putter, the patience, the mindset and many of the other key ingredients to make it big.
But he’s still waiting.
On Tuesday, Finau tees off in the sixth round of the Web.com Tour Final Stage Qualifying School in Palm Springs, Calif. He has a chance to finish in the top 10 of the event. An outright victory would earn him part of a $510,000 purse.
That would load him up very well as a professional golfer.
Finau, the defending Provo Open Champion, is one of two native Utah golfers with a chance to win this event. Scott Pinckney, born in Provo, led the field Monday at 25-under par and will be the man to chase in Tuesday’s final sixth round. Finau is alone in fourth place at 21-under par after his only bogey of the round Monday came on his final hole.
“You have to tip your cap to Tony,” said Randy Dodson, publisher of Utah-based Fairways Magazine, who has followed Finau’s career since grade school.
“I think the Utah golf world was a little shocked that he turned professional so young. He has gone about it the right way for him, though. Now it looks like he will be on the Web.Com Tour every week. I'm happy for Tony and his young family. He has battled long and hard to get to this point. Good for him. He's a humble, confident kid and I believe that attitude eventually gets rewarded in this game.”
Finau entered Monday’s fifth round tied for fifth in the final stage. That he made it to the final stage of qualifying school ensures he has “status” on the Web.com Tour, which the PGA Tour now uses as its own qualifying measurement for a tour card.
As the 2013 year concludes, Finau has put all his talent on the line.
He began first-round play on the PGA West Stadium Course with a 69 last week. With alternating rounds on that course and the PGA West Jack Nicklaus Course, he then fired rounds of 67, 68, 68, and 67 on Monday at the Stadium Course.
This event is one grueling gauntlet.
It involves 152 players over six rounds. Finishing in the top 10 would elevate Finau's status from the rest of the field.
Also making the final stage — giving them conditional status — are former BYU players Zac Blair and Clay Ogden. Blair remains an amateur, but that could change if doors open professionally. He moved up 17 spots on the field Monday with six birdies and a 4-under 68, but was way back of Finau at 88th.
Pinckney, a former player in Utah’s Junior Golf Association, played at Arizona State after moving to the desert scene for high school. It was Pinckney and his family who invited and hosted Ireland’s Rory McIlroy to play in Utah when the current star was 9 years old and the two met at a junior event in Florida.
In 2012 Pickney split time between the European Challenge Tour and the European Tour. His best finish on the Challenge Tour came at the Kazakhstan Open, where rounds of 65 and 68 on the weekend helped him finish tied for seventh.
“All of the Utah pros who are playing in the Web.Com Tour Q-School final stage will have some access to tournaments during the 2014 season,” said Dodson. “Cutting a long story short, the higher they finish, the better playing access on Web.Com Tour they will have. Finishing in the top 10 is the first goal. Finishing in the top 45 is still good. It's a significant achievement for Finau, Ogden and Blair as far as where they will be playing professional golf next year."
Finau, however, is on the cusp of big things.
“A top 10 finish would finally put Tony in the position he has sought after for the last five or six years — playing professional golf with a real opportunity to end up on the PGA Tour,” said Dodson.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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