By Andrew Both
(Reuters) – Tony Finau’s ancestral roots lie not too far from Melbourne in the South Pacific but he bleeds Red, White and Blue and could not be more motivated to play for Tiger Woods at this week’s Presidents Cup.
After falling just short of making the United States team automatically, Finau was selected as a wild card by Woods to round out the powerful line-up to take on the Internationals at Royal Melbourne.
The affable 30-year-old might be making his Presidents Cup debut but he is no stranger to representing his country having acquitted himself well, albeit in a losing cause, against Europe at last year’s Ryder Cup.
After winning two of his three matches in that fiery Paris cauldron, the Presidents Cup should be a less stressful experience but Finau says the presence of a golfing great as team captain has added an extra layer of pressure.
“Having Tiger be captain, we’re very determined as a team to bring the Cup back,” Finau told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“I think there’s more pressure there than what’s come before. Not that Tiger is putting that pressure on us, but we want to win it for him in his first captaincy, and playing as a playing captain is a special time.”
Finau is on the record as crediting watching Woods win the 1997 Masters as the moment when it dawned on him that “someone with a bit of color” could make a career playing golf.
To date, Finau has only one PGA Tour victory but he has been a near constant presence on leaderboards in major championships for the last couple of years, including a tie for fifth at this year’s Masters and third place at the British Open.
He has one of the shortest, quickest swings on tour — so quick you can miss it if you blink — and generates enormous power, as an average drive of 309 yards last season attests.
Finau may not be able to unleash his biggest weapon too often around Royal Melbourne, where precision is more important than power, but he certainly has the shotmaking skills to adapt to his surroundings.
He has never been to Australia but has heard nothing but rave reviews of Royal Melbourne and is keen to suss out the sandbelt course and come up with a gameplan.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how many times I’m going to be able to hit driver and if not, am I going to be able to sting that two-iron out there quite often?” he said.
“I can hit it low with my driver and play my two-iron pretty effectively in the wind. Keeping the ball down and putting it on the ground, I’ve had success on links doing that.”
Born and raised in Utah, Finau grew up well aware of his heritage and there are scars on his arms that serve as a reminder of the days when he would perform Samoan fire-knife dances to pay for travel expenses for junior golf tournaments.
“I started doing that before I played any sports,” he said.
“My dad was 13 when he moved to States with his parents from Tonga and my mom was around the same age when she moved from Samoa.
“I was born an American but my roots are back in the South Pacific.
“My grandparents made a great sacrifice, sold just about everything they had to get their family here for a better living and most importantly a better education. “I am where I am because of that kind of sacrifice.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both, Editing by Nick Mulvenney)