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The story of Tony Finau's 10-year anniversary as a professional golfer starts with his West High School graduation and covers a lot of checkpoints along the way, taking him into another major tournament this week.
How did he make it to Royal Birkdale Golf Club in England? The easy answer is he's No. 64 in the Official World Golf Ranking, giving him a spot in the British Open field. How he reached that level is a complex story that could start or end just about anywhere. As Finau stood outside the clubhouse at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington last week, watching his brother Gipper and some friends play in the Web.com Tour's Utah Championship, his mind went to the 2013 season.
That's when he entered five Monday qualifying tournaments for Web.com Tour events, shot exactly 67 each time and never made it into the field. "It was just a testament to me how good you have to be and how persistent you have to be if you want to make it to this level," he said.
So he played his way onto the MacKenzie Tour in Canada, where he often shared a hotel room and a car with four other golfers, trying to save money. And those examples came from the end of his mini-tour odyssey that began in 2007 at age 17. The first few years of his life as a pro golfer were even tougher.
"I feel like I'm just a well-rounded person, because I have a lot more experience than the other guys. … It taught me a lot about myself and the perseverance you have to have," Finau said. "At the time, it was tough, but I look back on it as growing pains for me. I can appreciate where I've been. Now that I'm playing at a higher level and have had some success on the PGA Tour, I can respect those moments."
That attitude explains why Finau tied for No. 2 with Adam Scott in Golf Digest's recent ranking of "Good Guys" on the PGA Tour (Jordan Spieth is No. 1). Players were judged by members of the tour community, based on their treatment of fans and tournament workers and being role models. As a father of four children, the Salt Lake City native remains grounded.
Finau is scheduled to tee off at 3:53 a.m. MDT Thursday, appearing in his first major tournament of the year. His tournament victory last year was not worth a 2017 Masters invitation and he barely missed qualifying for the U.S. Open.
But he's back in the British Open, thanks to his world ranking. Finau played well in last July's event at Royal Troon in Scotland, shooting 67-71-72-74 to tie for 18th place after spending most of the tournament in the top 10. "I found out that my game could travel, more than anything else," he said. "I'd never played true links golf before. … I think my game is suited to that kind of golf."
Finau also is in the field for the PGA Championship next month, and his performances in the majors could boost him in the PGA Tour's Fed-Ex Cup standings. Five top-10 finishes have enabled him to rank No. 27, just about ensuring that he'll be in the field for the first three FedEx Cup Playoff events. And if he remains in the top 30 through mid-September, he'll qualify for the Tour Championship and earn a berth in all four majors in 2018.
"I've really enjoyed just playing more consistently this year," said Finau, who has made seven straight cuts since mid-May. "I played well last year, I got a win, but the overall consistency wasn't really there. So I'm proud of the way that I've played this year. Going into the playoffs and the major tournaments, I do like where my game's at. … Hopefully, it could be a big summer for me."
Finau's win came in the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, staged opposite a World Golf Championships event, so he didn't qualify for the Masters. Zac Blair and Daniel Summerhays, the other Utah high school products on the PGA Tour, are playing this week in another opposite-field tournament, the Barbasol Championship in Alabama.
Blair is No. 113 and Summerhays is No. 121 in the FedEx Cup standings. In mid-August, the top 125 players will retain their tour cards for the 2017-18 season (beginning in October) and will advance to the first playoff event.
Finau has no such worries. He has earned $1.9 million this season, bringing his three-year total to $5.8 million. "I've always believed in myself and my ability," he said. "I never doubted that I'd be where I'm at. I took about as tough a path as anybody you'll see or any story you'll hear about on tour, but I feel like this made the person I am today. And hopefully, I'll have a long-lasting career, because of what I've been through."
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Finau's record in major tournaments
Year Event Site Scores Finish
2015 U.S. Open Chambers Bay 69-68-74-71 T14
2015 PGA Whistling Straits 71-66-69-71 T10
2016 U.S. Open Oakmont 72-75 MC
2016 British Open Royal Troon 67-71-72-74 T18
2016 PGA Baltusrol 77-70 MC