Latter-day Saint Tony Finau focuses on his golfing goals with the same intensity he summons trying to sink a putt on the 18th green in the final round of a PGA tournament.
“I want to win major championships and become the best player in the world — and those goals seem to be within reach,” he stated recently and matter-of-factly to the Church News.
And if you watched the lifelong member go about his business during the 2018 season, you would know such lofty ambitions are not far-fetched. This past season doubled as a resounding statement to the golf world: Tony Finau is a major talent capable of winning at any time.
For fans and golf writers, he joins the short list of pros known simply by their first name: Tiger. Phil. Rory. Bubba. Jordan. Sergio. And now, Tony.
Finau’s unforgettable year included three top-10 finishes in major championships — the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open. And his success was rewarded with a coveted spot on the United States 2018 Ryder Cup team.
Affability and preternatural golf skills have made Finau a fan favorite. When he injured his ankle in freak fairway accident on the day before the Masters, photos of his badly bruised foot spread across social media. But by his final round that weekend at Augusta, his name was found ascending the leaderboard, earning him new admirers.
Finau’s a young man — still a year shy of his 30th birthday. But his gospel beliefs and devotion to his family instill in him an older man’s maturity and perspective.
“I feel like I do a pretty good job of smelling the roses along the way and just enjoying the moment,” he said.
Despite playing on an injured ankle, he was able to relish his debut at perhaps golf’s most storied tournament.
“I really enjoyed my finish at the Masters — it was arguably the best performance I had all season,” he said. “It was quite the feat accomplishing what I did despite being a little handicapped.
“That was special for me. It was a boost for me and my career — playing that well and knowing that I can compete at a high level.”
Representing his country in the Ryder Cup “was the crown jewel of the year.” The American side returned home from Europe without the Cup, but Tony played well, finishing with a winning record and impressing with his team play.
Rooted in faith
Tony Finau is 14th in the official World Golf Ranking. He expects to one day be the very best.
But golf is what he does, not who he is. His understanding of the gospel offers him eternal perspectives that reach far beyond the sport's premier events. He is a father, a son and a husband. He and his wife, Alayna, are the parents of four children.
“Everything I do is deeply rooted in my faith and especially in Jesus Christ,” he said.
Those sacred convictions — his combined loyalty to family and faith — “has helped me in times of trials and also kept me humble when I’ve been blessed to play well. They help me with both spectrums.”
The professional golfing world is hyper-competitive. A player can win a major tournament one weekend and miss the tournament cut a few days later. Finau said he loves the competition and wants to win each week. But he feels no conflict between his athletic ambitions and his religious beliefs.
“I find that my upbringing in the Church and my relationship with God are huge benefits to me in helping me become the kind of person that I want to become.
“Again, it’s all rooted in my faith.”
The PGA tour schedule can be brutal, with tournaments happening most weeks on golf courses across the United States. When not on the golf course, the competitors are likely at a hotel or at an airport. For families, it makes for an untraditional life.
But Tony and Alayna work together while raising their children.
“I enjoy the challenge of being a father…. I try to do my best to be there for my children,” he said.
He believes in the oft-repeated adage that no amount of professional success can compensate for failure at home.
“It will be a great accomplishment if I become the best player in the world,” he said. “But if my children can grow up with great core values and become great people and do good things and are happy, then, man, that would bring me great joy.”
He is grateful he’s not parenting alone.
“(Alayna) is an incredible supporter and partner. She is everything to me. It’s pretty remarkable what she is able to do to sacrifice on my behalf… She is the cornerstone of our family.”
Proud of his beliefs
The hundreds of thousands of golf fans visiting Finau’s Instagram page are welcomed with this bio:
"PGA tour player, food lover, husband. Father of 4 beauties. Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Including his Church affiliation in his bio was an easy call. “It’s a huge part of who I am and I’m never ashamed of it or afraid to proclaim it…. I’m proud to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Many visitors have commented on his religious beliefs. Most are positive. Some are negative. No matter.
“I hope that if others see me as a good person that they will know the source of that,” he said.
Four years ago, Finau established the Tony Finau Foundation with a mission to empower and inspire young people and their families to discover and develop their gifts and talents “through the game of golf, educational funding and core family values.”
And this Thanksgiving week, he once again hosted "Tony’s Turkeys" in his hometown of Rose Park, Utah, feeding over 1,000 people from the community he still considers home.
“I grew up in Rose Park, which is a less-privileged area. There were a lot of gangs and drugs and things like that. So I knew if I ever had the opportunity to give back, that I would.”
Again, his gospel roots teach him the importance of looking out for those in need. “I’m just trying to do my part.”