In early February, 2020, the world was a vastly different place. Despite being rampant in the far-east and making waves in the western world, few were predicting that Covid-19 would see billions of lives turned upside down and fewer still saw the pandemic lasting as long as it has.
No, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant was the leading story in world sports, and as the PGA Tour rolled into Phoenix for the Waste Management Open, tributes were plentiful. Among those leading the tributes was Tony Finau – something of a basketball prodigy in his youth before opting to focus on golf – who donned a Lakers shirt bearing Bryant’s name and number as he approached the famed 16th hole on each of the four rounds.
Leading after 54 holes, Finau’s search for an elusive second Tour victory – first, if we’re not counting PGA Tour events held opposite WGC’s – looked to have come to an end as Webb Simpson hooked his tee-shot into the lake at the par-five 15th while the big man from Salt Lake City split the fairway with a one-shot lead. A mixture of poor putting and bad luck saw Finau coming home in level par whereas Simpson birdied 17 and 18 – the latter an 18-footer with his opponent roughly half the distance. So, to a playoff it was, and lightning struck twice as the 2012 US Open champion rolled in an identical putt to capture his sixth PGA Tour victory.
Grace in defeat was quickly becoming an unfortunate trademark of the American with Tongan and Samoan heritage, but he took this to whole new levels on social media in the coming days. Englishman Sam Harrop – a golf fanatic with a passion for music – penned a parody cover of REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling in which he poked fun at Finau’s inability to close, even dubbing him a “human ATM” and posted it on Twitter.
As the video gained traction on social platforms, a friend of Finau’s forwarded it to the man himself and his reaction told you everything you need to know about the man who grew up hitting balls into a mattress in the basement of their Utah home. Rather than take offence at what could be perceived as salt being rubbed into a still-open wound, Tony replied with gushing praise but kindly requested a remixed version when he nailed down win number two.
Indeed, were it not for Finau’s endorsement, subsequent Harrop musical parodies such as Benny An to the tune of The Beatles’ Penny Lane or my own personal favourite about Victor Dubuisson set to Madonna’s La Isla Bonita may never have seen the light of day.
So, it was with great pleasure that I watched one of golf’s genuine good guys post a back-nine 30 at the Northern Trust at Liberty National before going on to oust Cameron Smith in a playoff to end a five-year winless streak. This was partly due to my liking for big Tony – and everything I have read or seen since then has only served to push him up in my estimations – and partly out of curiosity as to what Harrop and his piano may have in store for the remix that’s been 18 months in the making.
And true to form, he didn’t disappoint. Less than 12-hours after Finau’s ball found the bottom of Liberty National’s 18th cup for the second and final time, Sam had written, recorded and posted another re-working of the classic REO Speedwagon hit in which he joked that Finau’s last winning check was signed with a quill pen, referenced the superb closing-nine, and highlighted the Monday finish – Sunday was a washout in the Tri-State Area so the final round was postponed to a day later. And of course, to complete the circle, the now two-time PGA Tour winner was among the first to show his appreciation for Harrop’s work and delivery on his promise.
But now that that chapter is closed, the big question is where does Finau go from here? Nobody ever doubted his talent, but until he gave us reason to believe otherwise, his reputation was always that of a nearly man.
Well, with a strength of field rating of 814 – higher than every tournament apart from the US and British Opens, the PGA Championship and the Players Championship – the Northern Trust win showed us that he is capable of winning big.
Will this be a case of the floodgates opening?
Well, here’s hoping, because there are few players who deserve it more.