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Self-belief finally brings Finau back to winner’s circle

Jersey City, NJ, USA

Professional golfer, Tony Finau, who is of Tongan heritage, won the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open on Monday, 23 August, surpassing world no.1 Jon Rahm who was leading on Saturday, and beating Cameron Smith in a playoff in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA. The win is Tony’s first since he took out the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, and he now leads after the first of three events in the FedExCup Playoffs.

Tony Finau celebrates his playoff victory with a fist pump on the 18th hole green during the final round of THE NORTHERN TRUST, the first event of the FedExCup Playoffs, at Liberty National Golf Club on August 23, 2021 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Photo: Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images.

By Chris Cox/PGA TOUR

For 1,975 days, Tony Finau never wavered.

When the press went from praising him to questioning him, he never blinked. Same, too, when his most ardent fans moved away from their predictions of golf greatness and instead began to question whether he had what it took to win on Sundays.

But for Tony, nothing ever changed. He knew all along what it would take to win, just like he knew all along he had those attributes in hand.

“Well, you know, I continue to believe in myself. That's the bottom line,” Finau said. “It's more massive I think for just my sense of accomplishment for myself. I've worked extremely hard, not only on my game; but on my body to put myself in these types of positions and eventually I knew it was going to happen.”

To Finau’s credit—and maybe his relief—it did eventually happen. And it happened on perhaps one of the biggest stages of them all. His furious final-round rally at The Northern Trust, (in Jersey City, New Jersey) the first event of the FedExCup Playoffs, was enough to deliver him a playoff victory over fellow Presidents Cup participant Cameron Smith after overnight leader and World No. 1 Jon Rahm faltered down the stretch.

The win, his first since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, moved him to No. 1 in the FedExCup Standings and delivered him without question the most significant moment of his still-burgeoning career.

Jon Rahm of Spain hugs Tony Finau following Finau's playoff victory during the final round of THE NORTHERN TRUST, the first event of the FedExCup Playoffs, at Liberty National Golf Club on August 23, 2021 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Photo: Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR

“It's hard losing, and it's hard losing in front of the world,” Finau said. “I've done it already a couple times this year; in playoffs it's happened to me. That made me more hungry. That's what it does. If it doesn't discourage you, it makes you more hungry. You guys keep (asking) me, ‘When are you going to win again?’ It makes me more hungry.”

Fair or unfair, the 31-year-old has been the poster child of most every “What If?” and “What Happened?” storyline over the last five years. Though countless other players on the PGA TOUR have found themselves in the same position—close, but not quite good enough—it’s been Finau who has borne the brunt of the criticism.

Of course, much of that is a credit to his own vast skillset. Prior to this year, Finau ranked inside the top 10 in driving distance in four of the last five seasons—the lone exception coming in 2019-20, when he finished 13th—and he has ranked inside the top 20 in scoring average each of the last five years. In all, he’s been a mainstay atop the Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green category since 2017, finishing an average of 14th on TOUR over that timeframe.

He's had 40 top-10 finishes since his triumph at the Puerto Rico Open—seven this season alone—eight runner-up finishes (only Louis Oosthuizen has more) and appearances on both Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams.

He has seemingly had it all. Except, of course, for a win.

“That's how it is in sports. When you don't seal the deal, as time goes on, they don't give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “So I knew for me, I needed to prove people wrong by winning. That's the bottom line and that's what sports is all about.

“I knew that I was a closer; the way that I play on Sundays tells me that I'm a closer, and when I look at my scores, I've made clutch putts. Just sometimes this game is funny. The guys get away with shots or whatever the case. I feel like I've got the short end of the stick for the most part coming down the stretch and having a chance to win a golf tournament.”

Let it be a message to everyone from Finau’s PGA TOUR brethren to your average golfer at your local golf course – The outside noise and narratives mean little when it comes to one’s own success. Unwavering self-belief and confidence are what matters most.

Just ask Tony.

“I haven't had the wins to maybe have that type of confidence and belief, but you just have to,” he said. “I had to believe I can go out there and beat (Justin Thomas) today, and I can beat Jon Rahm. I have to believe that, and I did, and I continue to do that, and that's the only reason why I'm sitting here today as the champion.

“I continue to believe in myself no matter where the chips fall and try and do my best.”