The Finau Brothers Go (Very) Deep
Wednesday - July 01, 2009
What does a 370-yard tee shot look like? I have no idea. And I was there, a mere five feet from where it was launched on the practice tee at Turtle Bay. Not that a visual reference was entirely needed. Just the sound of Callaway impacting Titleist was enough to know something violent just happened and the end result was going to be impressive.
While the press release claims that Tony and Gipper Finau “have been called some of the best American golfers under the age of 25” - a highly speculative evaluation at best - there is no question about their skill off the tee or the obvious athleticism both possess. Born 19 and 18 years ago respectively to a former BYU-Hawaii volleyball player and an Olympic boxer for Tonga, the pair put on a hitting display rarely seen on the North Shore outside of a Kahuku/Farrington football game.
In town to announce their three-year deal to represent Turtle Bay Resort, the two worked their way through the short irons until sufficiently loose enough to let the drivers out of the bag. What resulted was a display of power that left former UH football coach June Jones shaking his head in disbelief while vocally expressing his surprise as the balls kept flying higher and farther. And this was just a few days after the two Salt Lake natives drove the par-4s at Hokulia while playing in Jones’foundation tournament.
The brothers pushed their opening shots to the 330-yard mark. From there, the distances got even longer - 340, 350, all dutifully recorded with a laser range finder. Then Tony ripped one, saying with a mixture of braggadocio and humility, “That has to be 360.” To his disappointment, and to the amusement of Gipper, it was merely 355 yards. Back and forth they went, poking fun at each other
Then Gipper did it - 370 yards, all carry from a club with just 6.5 degrees of loft. Turning to his brother, he dropped the club, flexed and flashed the bright smile that is a Finau family trait.
Even with the support of Jones and his friends (including Rush Limbaugh), who donated $20,000 to pay for the brothers’ Q-school costs, and two-time major winner and golf commentator Johnny Miller, who told the pair they already possess a professional game, there is no yellow brick road to PGA success. Long is the list of talented teens who collapsed under the weight of expectation and inexperience. But the Finaus feel they have an advantage.
“We have each other,” says Tony. “Growing up, we’ve always been able to play at a high level, and having each other to compete against is a bonus.”
Just as helpful will be their athletic talent. Jones says they could transition to his area of expertise with little problem. Tony, at 6 feet 4 inches tall, “could play quarterback for me right now.” Gipper, 6-foot-1, would be a slotback in the Ryan Grice-Mullen mold. According to father Gary, Gipper ran a 10.7-second 100 meters and has a 42-inch vertical leap.
In the end, simple distance won’t be enough. Those who have seen them play, or who have played with them, say Tony and Gipper have a complete game that just needs time and tweaking. They also appear to have the mental side of the game figured out.
Both exhibit a natural combination joyful enthusiasm and professional determination. They became professionals at the same time to take advantage of greater marketing opportunities and have already tasted success. Tony finished eighth in “The Ultimate Game” in Las Vegas, pocketing $100,000. He also made the cut in the 2007 Milwaukee Open. Three years ago, Gipper became the youngest person to make the cut in a Nationwide Tour event and was the medalist in the Monday qualifier after shooting 63.
In the end, Tony and Gipper’s success will rest on their ability to play their best against talented professionals with years of experience in the world’s biggest pressure cooker. But hitting it long is a great way to start. Though it will be hard for Gipper to match his personal best on the PGA tour.
On a flat course, downwind in the high altitude of Utah, Gipper says he ripped a drive 565 yards - leaving a putt for double-eagle!
Impressive, regardless of the conditions.
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