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How Tony Finau once risked losing his chance at making the PGA Tour in the name of honesty

by | Sep. 12, 2021

Tony Finau was named to the United States 2021 Ryder Cup team on Wednesday but he was also the guest on this week's All In podcast. Finau is one of the premier golfers in the world, recently notching his second PGA Tour win, but there was a moment in Finau's career where it seemed he had a choice to make between honesty and risking everything he had worked toward. He shared this experience as he illustrated how the game of golf has taught him the value of integrity.

Listen to the full episode in the player below or by clicking here. You can also read a full transcript here.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Jones: Tony, you said once that you would like to have a Golf Academy someday, and that you want to teach kids not only about the game of golf, but what the game of golf teaches you. And you specifically said that it had taught you two things: integrity and honesty. How would you say that golf has taught you to develop those two attributes?

Tony Finau: I've got a great honesty story. In 2014, I was on the cusp of getting my PGA Tour card. I was playing on this tour called the Korn Ferry Tour, and I hadn't quite locked up my card. It was the last term of the year, and I needed to place [in the] top 25 to get my card. We get into the third round to the 14th hole and I give over my shot and my ball, and I slipped my club behind the golf ball, and my ball  just barely moved. Of course nobody is going to see this except for me.

[But] the rule in golf is if you cause your golf ball to move, whether it moves up, down, side to side, whatever. . . that's a penalty shot. In that circumstance, that's a hard pill to swallow. I had just went through how many years of mini-tour golf? I'm on the cusp of becoming a PGA Tour player, and now I'm faced with this decision on, are you going to tell the truth, or are you going to let this slip by because you want to accomplish your goals and your dreams? You know, this small little thing, right?

But it's been instilled in me since I was a kid that telling the truth always comes first, being honest always comes first. And so I called that shot on me, I call my competitors over and I say, "Hey, you know, I caused this golf ball to move. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to call a penalty shot on myself," I place the ball [and] I end up finishing that round. I end up having an amazing Sunday and I play and I get my PGA Tour card.

And so that one shot didn't end up costing me anything. But to me it was more that I was able to sleep that night knowing that I just did what was right. And that's what I think we need in life. And golf has taught me so much about that and about who I am. 

I started my foundation in 2014, The Tony Finau Foundation, and we've gotten so much support from Utah, it's been amazing. But my goal eventually with the foundation is to have a center where we can teach kids values, not only in golf, but in life and that's what I was lucky to have. And golf is a great vehicle for that.

I think there's so many great lessons to be learned in golf. Patience and perseverance, but honesty and integrity are two things I think that the game teaches you and that something that I would love to just continue to instill in this next generation. 

Telling the truth has got to be the hardest thing to do in life, but when you're faced with those types of decisions, I've learned so much about myself in those situations where you've always got to tell the truth, you've always got to be honest. And wherever the chips fall, that's what's supposed to happen because you just did what was right.

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