Tony Finau shot a four-under-par 66 on Friday at the British Open and found himself in familiar territory. He was once again a contender for a major golf championship and knew that people would be wondering if it would end with another near-miss result.
The sport’s biggest prizes are the four major titles, and Finau, in the past three years, has come close to winning each one: He took third place at the 2019 British Open, tied for fourth at last year’s P.G.A. Championship, tied for fifth while playing with Tiger Woods when he won the 2019 Masters and finished fifth at the 2018 U.S. Open.
Altogether Finau, 31, has finished in the top 10 at a major 10 times. The lack of a victory, however, has not dimmed Finau’s disposition in the least.
One of the few golfers of color on the PGA Tour — Finau, who was raised in Utah, is of Tongan and Samoan descent — he is a popular presence at tournaments with fans, and in the players’ locker room.
Tall and athletic with an easy smile, Finau boomed prodigious drives that wowed crowds for years before Bryson DeChambeau set a new, implausible standard for driving distance.
Finau’s golf prowess is more than power, however, as he exhibited with deft pitches and imaginative iron play on Friday, which led to six birdies and a two-round score of four under par that vaulted him up the leaderboard. He was tied for 17th place, seven strokes behind the leader, Louis Oosthuizen.
While weather conditions will be fickle at coastal Royal St. George’s in southern England, Finau has the experience, and seemingly the game, to stay in the hunt. He tied for ninth at the 2018 British Open and tied for 18th at the event five years ago.
“I love links golf,” Finau, the world’s 17th-ranked men’s golfer, said after Friday’s round. “I wish I got to play it more often. It takes so much creativity.”
But Finau is abundantly aware that fans and the golf media will judge him by the times he has not claimed the top spot at a major tournament. He has one PGA Tour victory, the Puerto Rico Open in 2016.
Finau’s perspective on these outcomes is different from most. He remembers 14 years as a golf pro, half of which he views as a hardship, the other half as a rewarding success.
Raised on municipal golf courses, Finau turned down college basketball scholarships to turn pro in golf when he was 17. Seven years later, he finally earned a spot on the PGA Tour. This spring, after he finished second at the Genesis Invitational and tied for second at the Farmers Insurance Open, Finau was asked if those results were some of the most difficult he had endured.
He shook his head.
“I went through seven years of playing mini-tour golf, I know what it tastes like when you don’t even have a place to play and aren’t making any money,” he said. “Taking second on the PGA Tour is tough, but not when you compare it to what life is really like outside of the PGA Tour.”
Finau added: “People are making a big deal about me not winning. People want me to win and expect me to win, and that’s great. It’s life and it’s has just made me tougher. I want to win, too. But to do that, I have to keep putting my name near the top, shut out the noise and play as well as I can every time I’m there.”
He planned to approach the final rounds of the Open this weekend similarly.
“I always look at my life and my game as a glass half full,” Finau said, his attitude enhanced no doubt by the more than $23 million he has earned as a pro golfer. “I feel like I’m getting more and more used to being in the spotlight and to playing consistently well in those situations. Life is a great teacher.
“I’ve had a lot of close calls in major championships. To be able to finally cap one off and do it as the champion golfer of the year at the Open Championship would be extremely special.”