It came as a surprise when Tony Finau mentioned he and Rory McIlroy go back to when the duo were just nine-years old.
The now pair of 30-year old’s competed in junior golf alongside each other in Salt Lake City, Utah where Finau grew-up.
Finau is now a member of the European Tour and competing this week in his very first BMW Championship.
And with McIlroy recently being presented with a third PGA Tour ‘Player of the Year’ award, I asked Finau why McIlroy is so popular on the Tour, not only among his peers but also the vast majority of American fans.
“First of all, Rory is an incredible golfer,” said Finau. “He’s an incredible player. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of talent. I think everybody likes winners, so I think that’s a start.
“But he’s got a lot of charisma. He’s got a great attitude about him. I don’t know if it’s the Irishman in him being very jolly kind of thing and I think we all take a liking to that.
“I’ve known Rory since I was nine years old and played junior golf with him in Utah and around the States, so I’ve known him for a long time and he hasn’t changed one bit, and I like that about him. He’s always been very gracious and again I think as Americans, we like winners, but we also like nice people, and Rory fits the bill on both of those.”
Finau, who was a USA rival in last year’s 2018 Ryder Cup showdown in France, admits McIlroy has been a source of inspiration to the American, who is currently the World No. 12 having gone so close at last year’s WGC – HSBC Champions in losing a play-off for what would have been a second Tour success.
“For sure. When I saw Rory’s success early in his career, winning majors early on, early on in his career and I wasn’t even on Tour yet, that was some extra motivation for me,” said Finau.
“I competed against him as a junior, and obviously his game excelled at a lot faster rate than mine did, but to be able to see that firsthand, someone that I played against, gave me maybe some extra inspiration for sure. It was pretty cool to see him for the first time.
“We actually also played on the 2004 Junior Ryder Cup against each other, so I saw him there, and yeah, it was cool to be on The Ryder Cup last year and kind of chalk it up a little with him. It was pretty cool.”