By Matthew Ritchie
LOS ANGELES — A trip to the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California, widely regarded as one of the best destinations on the PGA Tour, normally conjures up pleasant sensations for players and visitors alike. But for Tony Finau, the scenic overlooks and pristine fairways hidden in the hills bring back the memories of disappointment and failure at the 2021 Genesis Invitational, where he lost a dramatic two-hole playoff to Max Homa.
The circumstances surrounding his Riviera heartbreak, punctuating a three-tournament stretch of runner-up finishes in early 2021, would be enough to rattle a player once they step on a course again. Finau, brimming with his trademark optimism and smile following his practice round Wednesday morning, refused to let that moment define his future rounds this weekend.
“You know, I lost in a tough playoff last year, but there are great memories,” the 32-year-old Utah native said by the green on hole 18. “I like this place a lot, it’s probably my favorite course on tour. So much golf has been played between last year and now, it’s part of what we do. It’s good to have those types of memories.”
The 2022 season has not been particularly kind to Finau. In seven events this season, he’s only notched one top-25 finish, at the Hero World Challenge, which is an unofficial event. In official tour events, his best finish is tied for 19th, a far cry from the eight top-10 finishes and one victory the previous season. He also failed to make the cut the previous two tournaments this season, shooting even at both the Farmers Insurance Open and Waste Management Phoenix Open.
But within his overall slow start this season, there are pockets of brilliance that speak to a potential to break out of this slump. Last week, he got off to a blistering start in his second round in Phoenix, sinking three birdies in the first five holes. In the final round of the CJ Cup in October, he delivered a bogey-free, seven-under-par round, attacking greens with precision. Remembering rounds like these, as well as his 64-shot final round at last year’s Genesis Invitational, is paramount for Finau.
“You have to try to (remember the good rounds) in this game, especially as much as we play,” Finau said. “At the end of the day, you try and be as positive as you can — no matter the highs and the lows. Every week you have an opportunity in front of you to do something special and change the course of your career. And I’ve got another opportunity this week to do that.”
This weekend, Finau relishes the chance to change the narrative surrounding his success at the Riviera, which he said he believes is one of the truest tests of skill in the golf world. Even with the lack of hazards on the course, narrow fairways and sand traps are strewn about the course, creating a daunting challenge for the best golfers.
Riviera has some of the most difficult greens to hit, with the venue holding the third-lowest greens in regulation (when a golfer hits the green in two fewer strokes than par) percentage last season. He said he recognizes this unique challenge, paying extra attention to his short game in recent days.
“I haven’t putted and made as many putts as I would have liked, but it’s not that the stroke hasn’t felt good,” Finau said before heading straight to the chipping green after his round. “Hopefully this is a week that the putts start to fall and get some momentum. Putting is a funny thing, it’s a whole different game than ball striking.”
No matter the result this weekend, Finau remains unsullied with his prospects for the rest of the season. His mid-table finishes are not failures, just lessons for the future as he trudges on in 2022. Even the lost playoff against Homa in 2021, full of agony and heartbreak, didn’t break his spirit, showing the quality he cherishes the most. It’s one that will stick with him as he tries to win this year’s Genesis Invitational.
“Resiliency could be the most important thing, overcoming and adapting to obstacles, not only in golf but in life,” Finau said. “That’s what it’s all about. No matter where I’ve been, you always feel like you can do better and overcome. That’s where resiliency comes in. It’s damn near the most important thing we deal with on tour.”
Matthew Ritchie is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @mkrwrt.