Golf Channel: Lehi’s Tony Finau Focuses on Fatherhood and Augusta National

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Tony and Alayna Finau started their family with Jraice and Leilene “Neenee,” born 11 months apart. Then came Tony and Sage. The oldest was 4 when the fourth baby was born. This family photo was taken at Alpine Country Club, not far from the family’s Lehi home.

Now that Tony Finau is a top 25 golfer in the world, he plays fewer tournaments and spends more rounds with his four children, ages 3 to 8. They play Apples to Apples and Concentration in their Lehi home (and also their Arizona digs this winter). When something goes wrong for one of the kids during the game, Tony will say, “That’s very unfortchut!” His shortened version of “unfortunate” sends the three boys and one daughter giggling.

“That’s like our family word!” Tony laughs.

But truthfully, Tony has been very “fortchut” the past decade as he’s won millions and acquired fame as the young Polynesian golfer who was in the final round of the Masters with Tiger Woods last year at Augusta National.

His young playmates — along with his favorite meal at Mo’ Bettahs and his Crumbl Cookie fondness — bring joy and meaning to this 30-year-old father who grew up in Rose Park without enough money for clubs or green fees.

As he prepares for this year’s Masters, he’s still getting used to flying private planes — and he is sticking to his routine of praying for consistency in his thoughts and FaceTiming his family for hours at night if he’s not the one tucking them in.

Tony is motivated as a father and a philanthropist. The foundation’s next event is a Golf Classic fundraiser during a PGA Korn Ferry weekend in June, where a foursome pays $10,000 to participate. Funds go toward projects including the holiday season initiative where the foundation outfits more than 5,000 kids with beanies, gloves, coats, hoodies and other winter necessities.

The Green Jacket

The only tournament Tony grew up watching in his low-income area of Salt Lake City was the Masters. And this April, Tony has his sights set on adding his very own green jacket to his Lehi closet.

“When preparing for any major championship, I have to make sure I’m mentally, physically and emotionally sharp,” Tony says. “It’s important to put the practice hours in. You have to make sure you’re in a good state to make a run at the jacket. I had a great opportunity to do that last year playing in the final group with Tiger. I saw firsthand what it takes to win there, and that will serve me well moving forward.”

Although Tony isn’t superstitious or exact on timing, he has a routine that prepares him to tee off. He gets to the course two hours early. Ninety minutes before teeing off, he’s with his trainer. About 45-60 minutes before his round begins, he arrives at the range to warm up.

“But I would say my biggest ritual is to make sure I say my prayer before I play, and that is done before I get to the golf course,” he says. “As long as I do that, all is well.”

He doesn’t necessarily ask God for a hole-in-one or a first-place finish.

“I pray for strength to be consistent in my thoughts and to enjoy the moment — to have fun,” he says. “I don’t pray for success. In sports, success comes from the work.”

Tony tries to remember that prayers should focus on gratitude, and not just requests.

“I’m truly grateful for what I get to do, and expressing that to the Lord is very important. It doesn’t matter how I perform, but having that attitude has served me well because it gives me the perspective I need to go out and perform and know that whatever happens, I’ve put my best attitude and effort forward.”

Tony says being a father and a husband are the most important roles he has. “It brings me joy to see how much our children love us, care about us, and look up to us. Taking care of them is a responsibility I cherish more than anything in my life,” he says. The most common thing Tony says to his four kids is a Tongan phrase that means, “Are you good? Are you OK?”

The Family Man

Tony and Alayna (ages 30 and 29, respectively) got married young and began their parenting journey together with “Irish” twins. They rely on each other as they are raising Jraice, Leilene “Neenee,” Tony and Sage (now ages 3 to 8). The family started flying private planes last year, but in the early years Alayna avoided planes entirely if given the option.

“When Tony was getting himself established on the tour, he played a bunch of events and was gone a lot,” she says. “When we had our fourth baby, the oldest was 4. Traveling wasn’t an option for me, so it was tough. At times I felt like I could have used more support. But I tried to keep Tony in tournament mode and didn’t want to tell him I was struggling with the kids. I didn’t want him to worry.”

Eventually, Alayna got the routine down and figured out how to get four kids out the door and on the sideline to cheer on their dad, who always cheers them on as well.

And as Alayna was on the road with her husband more, she spoke up.

“Once we started spending more time together, I opened up to Tony about the things I was struggling with and he was so good about it,” she says. “He told me he doesn’t always need to be in tournament mode. I thought I was helping him stay focused by not talking about the difficulties, but he has been a wonderfully supportive husband and dad. He is there for us.”

Earlier in their marriage, Alayna was seeing messages in the media about “women empowerment” and envisioned herself going back to school or getting a job.

“Tony reminded me that I’m doing a lot to take care of our family, and it helped me see clearly what the right role is for me right now,” she says.

Although she isn’t his coach or his caddie, she is a supportive partner. And that’s how she plays on Team Finau.

“Anything he needs from me on the family side, I support him,” she says. “He misses us when he’s on the road, and in the past I didn’t want the kids to miss school so I would resist going out with him. But I’ve learned that some things that seem small to me are big for him, so the kids and I try to be there for him emotionally and physically.”

The couple doesn’t necessarily bond over a shared love for golfing — unless you count Top Golf, which Alayna enjoys. One big milestone for the young couple came in the form of a garage instead of golf.

“I had always wanted to have my own house, so when we built our house in 2017 in Lehi I was like, ‘Wow! This is real!’”

They both say Lehi will be home no matter where golf takes them. Tony’s dad lives down the street and other family members are nearby — as is Tony’s home course of the Alpine Country Club. 

“No matter what, I always want to be announced as being from Lehi, Utah,” Tony says.

Alayna and the kids will all be at the Master’s staying in a house and enjoying the company of family and their extended golf family.

“The Masters is so fun! We love it,” she says.

Alayna’s career as a golf wife has evolved just as Tony’s has. In the beginning, she was nervous and drained after watching a round of golf.

“After two to three days, I was more exhausted than if I’d stayed home to take care of the kids,” she says. “Especially if he was in contention, I was emotionally drained.”

Tony became her coach. He reminded her that she couldn’t control much from the sidelines.

“This game will eat you up,” he told her. And it was.

Now she is “totally chill” out there, but her son is taking his turn feeling the feels.

“Jraice will be crying and Tony will see him from out on the green, and I’ll try to tell my son to be calm for daddy,” she says.

Alayna rarely takes pictures or videos during tournaments (except for a few she sends to “Tony Finau Spot”). She’s living in the moment and realizing she’s not in control of anything — except her emotions.

“It’s a nice stroll for me at each of the tournaments,” she says.

The Tony Finau Foundation hosts a charity fundraiser at Top Golf, which is a fun-filled evening made possible by Tony and his family “who have a drive to do good and give back,” says Kelepi Ofahengaue, vice president of the foundation.

Life Father, Like Golfer

When it’s a tournament weekend and the family hasn’t joined their favorite golfer, at least one of the family TVs displays the tournament the entire time. Jraice begs to miss school so he can see daddy tee off. Mom says no, but as soon as he jumps in her car after school, he grabs her phone and checks the score.

“He’ll follow the shot tracker and wonder what happened here and there,” she says. “I say, ‘Son, I don’t know but we can talk to dad later tonight.’ He and Tony talk through each round way more than Tony and I do.”

Jraice’s name is a call-back to Alayna’s growing up years in Hawaii where she and her three sisters were known as the Four Aces — combined with a shoutout to one of Alayna’s favorite cousins named Jray.

The logo for the Tony Finau Foundation (seen on the back banner) includes a “V” shape at the bottom to honor Tony’s mom, Vena, who died in a car accident at age 47. One of the foundation’s initiatives is to supply hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to families in the areas of Salt Lake near where Tony grew up.

I Believe

Tony carries the flag for his Polynesian heritage, his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his fatherhood to four children, and his Utah residency.

“I love the support from the Utah contingent, if you will, and from the members of the church,” he says.

Although many Sundays find Tony on the golf course, he manages to maintain a church calling. The same church calling.

“I was in the Priests Quorum as a 16- and 17-year-old, and then when I got called up to be an elder, I got called right back to be a Priests advisor. So I’ve been a Priest since I was 16, and I love it!”

And the boys love him.

“If Brother Finau is in charge, it’s usually related to golf. I have a simulator at my house, or we do Top Golf or mini-golf.”

Other Courses

Tony has traveled the world with clubs and a caddie, but his favorite restaurant is around the corner from his Lehi home: Mo’ Bettahs.

“That’s my spot! And I crave it more often than I feel comfortable saying,” he smiles.

His regular is the Ekolu Special, with a mix of teriyaki and Katsu chicken, white rice and mac salad. “That’s my order, and I call it a day,” he says.

Alayna cooks dinner a handful of times each week, but at least twice a week the family talks about what they feel like eating.

“We’ll look at Yelp and GPS and find dinner spots, breakfast spots and dessert spots,” Alayna says.

And when they’re out, the selfie requests follow.

“Right when I see people coming toward us, I offer to take the photo for them. I’m the designated photographer!” Alayna laughs.

Along with the supportive fans, the Finau family also loves Utah for its family activities.

“I can keep my kids busy all day in Utah,” she says. “We love the Museum of Natural Curiosity, the dinosaur museum, and all the splash pads around here.”

Two Paths Diverged

Private planes and big cities are a far cry from Tony’s Rose Park childhood and Alayna’s young years in a small Hawaiian town. They haven’t outgrown their awe and their gratitude.

“I never imagined myself traveling the world and having amazing experiences,” she says. “Golf has allowed us to build relationships on the road. The golf world is super awesome, but our lives are nothing like I pictured when I was a little girl.”

Pom Poms For Everyone

Tony’s graduation from West High School wired him to cheer for nearby University of Utah. But his large Polynesian family spreads across all Utah universities, and he considers himself an advocate for sports around the state.

“We have so many great athletes and schools here, but if Utah is playing BYU — I’m going to cheer for Utah!” Tony says. “Outside of in-state rivalries, I cheer for all of them. BYU’s basketball team is playing awesome and beat Gonzaga. I’m keeping tabs on that. My uncle Kalani is BYU’s football coach. But outside of football, he’s also a helluvah family man. I respect that.”

The foundation teaches kids a goal setting program, modeled by Tony himself — who is working toward a goal to play in the 2020 Olympics.

Laying the Foundation

Tony created the Tony Finau Foundation before he was taking calls from Golf Digest or playing in the final round of the Masters with Tiger.

“I want to help people, and I’m doing it in a way I understand and in my own space,” Tony says. “I genuinely felt it was my time to reach out and have Christlike love for others. At the end of the day, that’s what I want my legacy to be.”

When Tony’s parents, Kelepi and Vena, were younger, they dreamed of having a foundation to solve some of the problems they saw in their community. Now Tony’s father takes the lead with the Tony Finau Foundation. The logo for the nonprofit includes a V to honor Vena, who died in a car accident at age 47.

“The foundation honors the legacy his mom left us,” Alayna says. “It’s a huge part of our family because not only are we giving back, but we are teaching our kids values and life lessons as they grow.”

Tony quotes the popular LDS hymn, “Because I have been given much, I too must give.”

“That’s exactly how I feel. I’ve already been blessed with so much, and it would be selfish to not give back in return,” he says. “My foundation has helped many kids, and it brings me so much joy. It’s cool when you feel like you’ve paved the path for kids and their families. To me, it’s not about the numbers or the who or the how — if we help others recognize and have charity in their hearts, we’ve done our job.”

Tony the Tiger

Tony Finau’s 30 years have landed him on the green in unlikely ways.

  • 1997: Watched his first golf tournament on television at age 7 — the Masters featuring a win by Tiger Woods.
  • 2006: Won the Utah State Amateur Championship.
  • 2007: Graduated from West High and turned professional (on the same day). He played on mini-tours including the Gateway Tour, NGA Hooters Tour and National Pro Tour.
  • 2011: Mother, Vena, died in a car accident at age 47. Tony started wearing green (her favorite color) on the last day of tournaments.
  • 2013: Competed in the PGA Tour Canada, making seven cuts in eight starts.
  • 2013: Finished tied for third in the Web.com Tour qualifying school.
  • 2014: Competed in the Web.com Tour, earning his PGA Tour card with an eighth-place regular season finish and a 12th-place finish in the finals.
  • 2015:Tied for 14th in his first major at the U.S. Open.
  • 2016: Won his first PGA Tour tournament at the Puerto Rico Open, beating Steve Marino in a sudden-death playoff.
  • 2018: Placed 10th at the Masters.
  • 2018: Finished sixth in the season-long FedEx Cup and earned $5.6 million in the 2017-18 season with 11 top-10 finishes.
  • 2018: U.S. team captain Jim Furyk selected him as a captain’s pick for the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris. Finau went 2-1 in match play.
  • 2019: Played in the final group at the Masters, finishing fifth.
  • 2019: Played on the U.S. team at the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia.
  • 2020: Took second in the Waste Management Phoenix Open to Webb Simpson in a sudden-death playoff.

Tony’s Fore Favorite Utah Golf Courses

  • Thanksgiving Point. “And it’s not just because I’ve lived in Lehi for a dozen years. Architecturally, it’s the best we have.”
  • Victory Ranch
  • Riverside Country Club. “It’s always in great shape. The new superintendent has done wonders for that golf course.”
  • Glenwild

Tony’s 2 Favorite Golf Holes in Utah

  • No. 1: Rose Park Hole 1. “It’s a short Par 3 with the parking lot to the left. We’ve had so many fun games played there, and I have fond memories on that teebox.”
  • No. 2: Thanksgiving Point Hole 4. “It’s a downhill Par 3, and from the tips it’s about 200 yards. It has a beautiful view with I-15 to your right and Jordan River behind the green, so you’re shooting down a beautiful view. If the sun is setting, the glow is right behind the green.”
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