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The ripple effects of Tony Finau’s success | Opinion

Tony Finau’s victory in the 3M Open Championship on Sunday checked plenty of  boxes for the likable PGA Tour star with Utah roots.

He’s extended his own professional profile and reach. He further inspires a generation of Polynesian athletes. He’s cemented himself as one of the world’s top golfers, period. 

That’s the beauty of his come-from-behind win in Minnesota this past weekend. The win increased his season winnings by 50%. He entered last week’s event in Minneapolis with $2.7 million in 20 events, which included a pair of runner-up finishes. His check Sunday was $1.35 million.

“The great thing is that he increases his time of exemption on the PGA Tour,” said Sirius Golf Radio host Bobby Casper, son of legendary Hall of Famer, Billy Casper.

“Just with his last two wins, he’s four years plus now. He’s also well inside the top 30 in the FedEx Cup at No. 17, which will get him into the Tour Championship. That will get him into all the major championships for 2023. He also moved to No. 16 in the World of Golf rankings and jumped up in the Presidents Cup rankings to No. 7, putting him on a roll toward the Ryder Cup next year.”

Casper predicts that with last week’s win, Finau is a sure bet to play in the Presidents Cup if he needs a captain’s pick. The top six on the list are guaranteed spots and the next six players are captain’s picks. This gives him two wins in his last 22 events. 

 “I expect many more to come,” said Casper.

Lila Galea’i and Kerstin Fotu, collegians at BYU with Polyneisan heritage, look to Finau for inspiration and so far he’s provided a textbook in how to achieve in a game ordinarily enjoyed by athletes from country club backgrounds

Galea’i is the most dominating women’s player in Utah at present, with an eye on defending her state amateur title at Ogden Country Club next month. Fotu, whose father grew up in Tonga, where Finau’s father is from, is grateful for Finau’s example, humility and hard work.  

The win by Finau makes both these star athletes proud. Finau claims both Tongan and Samoan heritage.

Tony Finau, center rear, poses for photos with his family after his win in the 3M Open at the Tournament Players Club in Blaine, Minn., Sunday, July 24, 2022. The Utah native is an inspiration to those in the Polynesian community.

Abbie Parr, Associated Press

Galea’i knew Tony before he turned professional. He married her first cousin, Elena.

“So, ever since they married I’ve known Tony,” said Galea’i. “He has been around in the family for a long time. He’s just such a great guy and super down to earth. It’s just amazing to see the impact he’s had on the PGA and all of us. I mean, specifically Polynesians.

“In general, I just feel like he’s impacted all of us just because of how far he’s gone. He talks about his journey of making it to the PGA. I just find I’m super, super grateful for his example, because without it, I think a lot of us Polynesians wouldn’t have the chance to believe in ourselves. I just think the support that he gives me especially is super heartwarming, because it shows he believes in me, too.”  

Finau has messaged Galea’i after her wins and even losses, congratulating her and consoling her. That kind of connection has been powerful.

Fotu says if one understands the poor circumstances most Tongans grow up in back in the islands like Tony’s father did, they would then understand just how far he has come. To see that inspires her, providing a road map for what can be done, regardless of where one is from.

Both Galea’i and Fotu are long off the tee. They’ve been big stories since youth golf and high school and now they are enjoying success in college. Fotu plans on joining Galea’i at the state am in Ogden and will play in the Utah Open at Riverside Country Club.

“He makes me want to work harder,” said Galea’i.

“He is an inspiration to me and it was awesome to see him win last Sunday,” said Fotu.

“It’s just pretty amazing to see Tony succeed. He came from literally nothing and his dad did what he could to raise him to play golf. It is pretty inspiring to every Polynesian athlete and every Polynesian kid, in general, to see what he has accomplished. It’s like thinking maybe that could be me.”

Joel Tuialeva, a former bishop in the Tongan ward in Utah County for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, remembers Tony’s father, Kalepi, from when he lived near him in Hawthorne California. Tuialeva’s father was Kalepi’s bishop and Tony’s grandfather, Sione Finau, was a temple worker in the Los Angeles temple.

“These are Christ-loving people who are humble and labor with faith and sacrifice. To see Kalepi’s sacrifice for his family, for his children and Tony doesn’t surprise me. I remember when Tony and Elena were first married and they’d show up every Tuesday in the Provo temple because they were asked to make a weekly visit by the stake,” said Tuialeva, who is in Hawaii attending his 50th class reunion at Kahuku High on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Tony is a great athlete and a tremendous example. I knew his father and know him better than I know Tony. Kalepi was a great athlete in Southern California and a great basketball (player), as were his brothers. It is so inspiring to see Tony become the man and example he has become, knowing his family roots. These are good people. I’m so pleased and grateful to know people like this. No Polynesian ever made it in golf. Now you see them all over every golf course.

“I love seeing people, my people, do so well through their hard work and faith. Tony has a lot of young people follow him and he is inspiring them to do good things.”

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Lila Galea’i competes against Berlin Long in the final round of the Utah Women’s State Amateur golf tournament at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Galea’i won on the 19th hole. Galea’i looks to Tony Finau as a role model.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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