AUGUSTA, Ga. — Since becoming a regular on the PGA Tour eight years ago, Tony Finau has gradually worked his way up to become a top-15 player in the world. He has played in two Ryder Cups, two Presidents Cups and has nine top-10 finishes in major championships, including four top-fives.
However, for a long time, the Salt Lake native had the rap that he couldn’t win. His only victory in his first six years came at the Puerto Rico Open, a lesser PGA Tour event, in 2016.
He finally broke through with a win at The Northern Trust tourney in New Jersey in August 2021 with a playoff win over Cam Smith. Then a year later the floodgates opened as Finau won three times in a four-month stretch with wins at the 3M Open, the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the Houston Open.
As he approaches his sixth Masters tournament this week, Finau’s confidence is sky high and he’s on many experts’ lists as one of the top 10 golfers likely to win.
He played a practice round at Augusta National on Monday afternoon with defending champion Scottie Scheffler and perhaps picked up a few tips on what it takes to win.
So what is the difference in Finau’s game over the past eight months?
Let’s ask the man who knows his game as well as anyone — his coach, Boyd Summerhays.
Summerhays, who has worked with Finau for several years and was once the No. 1 junior player in America in the 1990s, cites three main reasons for Finau’s winning ways of late — wedge play, short putting and confidence.
“His wedge play has gotten a lot better,” Summerhays said. “He’s taken that super serious, to be able to hit softer wedge shots with less spin, which has gotten so much better over the last 18 months.”
Then there’s his putting.
“The biggest thing is you have to make putts to win on Sundays and putts that are inside 10 feet,” he said. “He’s always been a great lag putter statistically, but it’s the shorter putts that are the ones that keep the rounds going. He’s been in the top 12 in putting throughout those eight months and that’s why he’s been winning.”
When Finau broke through with the playoff victory against Smith at The Northern Trust after losing his three previous times in playoffs, it gave him the belief that he could win.
“The confidence comes from winning,” Summerhays said. “It’s pretty obvious it would give him confidence, that’s five times where he’s gotten the job done coming down the stretch. He has the confidence knowing that if he can get in the hunts on Sunday it will be a different story knowing that not only is his ball striking a strength but his short game is, too.”
Summerhays says Augusta National is Finau’s favorite course along with Riviera and Torrey Pines and said it fits his game well.
“I always felt like (Augusta) was great for him because it plays to his strength,” he said. “He’s an incredible iron player and his driving speaks for itself. His lag putting has always been great and you’re going to get in some really weird spots at Augusta. He doesn’t three-putt often and he can take care of the par-5s for the most par. If you don’t three-putt more than once or twice you have a chance to win.”
Finau has finished in the top 10 three times (T-10 in both 2018 and 2021 and fifth in 2019 when he played in the final group with eventual winner Tiger Woods). He also tied for 38th in 2020 and tied for 35th last year.
Since the start of 2023, Finau hasn’t had many high finishes, but he’s been very consistent, finishing in the top 25 in every event with a tie for seventh at the Tournament of Champions and a tie for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.
Still, his confidence is high heading into this week’s tourney.
“My game’s the best it’s ever been leading up to Augusta, so I’m excited about that,” he said.
Tony Finau, left, and Scottie Scheffler walk to the 15th green during a practice for the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, Monday, April 3, 2023, in Augusta, Ga.
Mark Baker, Associated Press