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Pro Golfer Tony Finau Talks Faith, Family, and the Ankle Incident That Almost Kept Him from the 2018 Ryder Cup

by | Sep. 27, 2018

Famous Mormons

As Tony Finau prepared to tee off at the seventh hole during the 2018 Masters Tournament’s Par 3 contest, a man working at the tee made an observation to the 29-year-old golfer, “You know, it’s funny, we haven’t had a hole-in-one this year. Every year we have one. Every year somebody makes a hole in one.” 

Everything leading up to standing at that seventh hole felt like a dream for Finau, who first tuned in to the Masters Tournament in 1997 as a 7-year-old. It was the year Tiger Woods won his first major championship in iconic fashion, and young Tony sat in front of his television screen in awe. 

“I don’t know what drew me to the game or drew me to play golf,” Finau says. “But I know it had a lot to do with seeing Tiger in the ’97 Masters. . . . I convinced myself that that would be me someday, slipping on a green jacket. Fast forward 20 years and that time finally came [to play in the Masters]. So everything that week was like a dream to me, one that I never wanted to wake up from.” 

An (Un)lucky Break

As he stepped up to tee off at that seventh hole and heard the remark about holes-in-one, Finau didn’t think much of it. Hitting a hole-in-one was statistically improbable, as Finau has only hit 12 holes-in-one of all the Par-3 holes he had ever played. He was just happy to be there. 

So when he finally swung his club and the ball rolled straight into the waiting hole, Finau was ecstatic. 

“The thing about a hole-in-one is that it’s so rare,” Finau says. “You don’t really know what your reaction is going to be—it’s such a spontaneous reaction. . . . Honestly, in a spur of the moment thing, I just took off running, so excited, and as I’m running, halfway to the hole, I think, ‘I wonder how my family’s reacting to this.’” 

In an effort to share what he describes as one of the greatest moments of his life, he turned around. He saw his family going crazy and the entire course in a state of absolute euphoria. That’s when it happened: Tony Finau’s ankle snapped beneath him. 

“The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘I hope nobody saw,’” Finau recalls, smiling. “I didn’t know how bad it was yet. I was able to kind of punch it back into place, and I was like, ‘I hope nobody saw what just happened, because this could be the most embarrassing moment of my life.’” 

As it turns out, the cameras were rolling, and Finau’s ankle snap was heard ’round the world. Finau says he doesn’t blame those who laughed at his misfortune though, because he probably would have done the same. Finau quickly popped his ankle back into place and was miraculously able to compete in the rest of the week’s events. As a result, what could have been devastating for Finau became inspiring for spectators across the nation.

Between Finau’s finishing the Par-3 contest on Wednesday afternoon and his arrival for his tee time on Thursday morning, the Finau family witnessed what they consider a small miracle.

“I could barely walk on [my ankle], and I knew two things needed to happen,” he says of that stressful evening. First, he knew needed an MRI, and second, he knew needed a priesthood blessing. So that night, his father and three of his uncles laid their hands on his head and gave Finau a blessing.

“In the blessing, my dad was able to pronounce that if I had the faith, everything would be okay,” Finau says. “My ankle was going to be fine and I’d be able to play. . . . I know Heavenly Father was there for me for sure. The blessing was a real blessing, and what I was able to accomplish I felt like definitely came from a higher power than myself.”

During the rest of the tournament, Finau birdied (scored one under par) six of his last seven holes to finish in the top 10. 

“It was such a special week,” he says. “I walked off the 72nd hole, and I felt like I had won the tournament. . . . [After] everything that had happened, and to be able to play like that and finish like that, I felt like a champion walking off the green, which was pretty special for me.” 

A Father First

According to his wife, Alayna, Finau’s desire to see his family’s reaction to his hole-in-one is consistent with how he has always prioritized his family and his career. 

“He’s a really good guy,” Alayna says—something that is easy to believe when you see how he waves at the grown men who fawn over him when he drives past them on the golf course. “He always tries to make time for us, and I think that’s what I love the most.”

Alayna is striking, even without makeup and dressed down. She was an NCAA D1 volleyball player when the couple met, and Tony, who had begun to gain some recognition as a young golfer, found it refreshing that she had no idea who he was. They met at a New Year’s party that she happened to be in town for from California.

Six years of marriage and four children later, life has taken the young couple on a crazy ride—one that for Finau has sometimes meant more time away from his family than he wishes. 

With a 7-, 6-, 3-, and 2-year-old who adore their father, it’s not hard to see why he misses being at home. “I’m not part of 70 percent of their life, it seems like,” he says. “I try to be there as much as I can. FaceTime is nice, but being there in person is a lot nicer, and I don’t have that time with them. As great as it is to play this game for a living, and I’m definitely blessed, probably the tough part is being away from family.” 

For Alayna, loneliness can be the greatest challenge, and she says her faith plays a huge role in her ability to handle the demands of her husband’s career. 

“It strengthens me because I’m by myself a lot,” she explains. “Prayer has been a big help for me because instead of thinking negatively, . . . I find myself praying a lot for strength for our family because it’s not easy. It [has] definitely strengthened me and my testimony and my patience with my kids and my family. But I know it’s all worth it.” 

Whether together or apart, the gospel plays a key role in the Finau family. Alayna serves in her ward’s Primary, and Tony has been a Young Men advisor in his ward for 11 years now—a calling he enjoys, as he says he is the product of great parents and great Church leaders. He credits them for preparing him for the world he is now very much in. 

“A lot of people, I think, admire me and are inspired by me because of the way I am, but I don’t know any other way to act. That’s who I am, and I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not,” he says. 

The Influence of Good Women

Tony Finau also attributes much of his good character to two women.

“She’s a saint,” he says, speaking of his wife, Alayna. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without her because of the support that I have from her. Anything that pertains to what I have to accomplish and what I do in the game, she supports 100 percent.” 

The other source of his goodness is a woman whose presence is now only felt, not seen. 

It was on November 27, 2011, while Finau was spending the night at his brother-in-law’s house, that he was awakened by a banging on the door at 4 a.m. with the message that his mother and two of his siblings had been involved in a car accident while driving back from Oakland, California. Finau joined with his father, his grandmother, an aunt, and some of his siblings in singing a hymn and offering a prayer together before they began driving in the direction of the accident. They soon received word, however, that his mother, Ravena, had not survived. 

Ravena’s death was a blow to the family, but Finau says that his mother often still supports him, specifically when he is in one of two places: In the temple and on the green.

“When [Alayna and I] first got sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, it was after my mom’s accident. I felt the presence of my mom, and one of the best experiences I have is when I go to the temple and I know that she’s there,” he says. “Every time I’m on a golf course, it’s hard for me not to remember her because she was at every event growing up. She watched every tournament, she drove to every event.”

He especially remembers her favorite saying. “She’d always do this thing where she’d say, ‘Stay strong, play strong, and be strong.’” 

Though Finau is grateful to continue to feel his mother’s presence in his own life,  in the years since her passing, it has been difficult knowing that his children will not have his mother’s physical influence in their lives. 

“The longer I live and the more I experience life, I understand how rare someone like her is,” he says. “She’s the most loving and Christlike person that I’ve ever known, and it’s nice to have someone like that in your life so that you know how to act when you face trials and tribulations.” 

A Disciple of Christ in the Ryder Cup

On Sunday, September 23, 2018, Tiger Woods secured his first golf win in five years, sending the U.S. Ryder Cup team to France with new life. Tony Finau was named the last member of the Ryder Cup team after being selected by the captain earlier in September. Life seems to have come full circle for Finau, who now competes with Woods instead of just watching him on television.

And while it might be easy for Finau to feel intimidated on a team with golfers he has idolized for years, Finau says with a quiet confidence that he believes he already has what it takes to be at the top. 

“I’ll continue to work hard on the course and let the Lord take care of the rest. If that’s how it’s meant to be for me to win a green jacket, I’ll continue to work as hard as I can to accomplish what I want to on the course, and if that means two or three green jackets at the end of my career, that’ll be great,” Finau says in reference to the green jacket awarded to the winner of the Masters Tournament. “If it doesn’t mean that, that’s okay too. I feel like I have the skills and talent to become the best player in the world at some point in my career, and that’s what I’m chasing.” 

Even with this goal in sight, there are some things that are more important to Finau than any type of golf accolade or honor, including allowing the light of Christ to shine through in all he does. 

“I take a lot of pride and honor in being a member of the Church but more so just being a disciple of Christ,” Finau says. “We’re all disciples of Christ, and we take upon us His name when we enter the waters of baptism. It’s our responsibility and it’s our duty, and it doesn’t matter who you are. I’m a professional athlete, and I love playing the game of golf. Since I do have that type of platform to reach others, I want them to know who I am and who I represent. If they think I’m a good person, hopefully, they know where that comes from. That comes from not only the gospel but also from just learning of our Savior Jesus Christ and who He is and trying to have that light shine through to others in the best way I can.”

Lead image by Jed Wells


Morgan jones 08512

Morgan Jones

Morgan Jones comes to LDS Living after writing for the Deseret News since 2014. She published more than 480 stories and served as Senior Web Producer prior to her departure from Deseret News. Jones is a passionate storyteller and loves having the opportunity to share stories that deserve to be told.

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