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Tony Finau talks U.S. Open at Pinehurst, how to hit better iron shots in Q&A

Tony Finau, PGA Championship
Tony Finau hits a tee shot during the second round of the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla. | Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Tony Finau believes his game is trending in the right direction heading into the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

Tony Finau arrives at Pinehurst No. 2 searching for his first major championship.

The 34-year-old has recorded 10 top-10 finishes in majors, with his last one coming at the PGA Championship in 2021, when he tied for eighth at Kiawah Island.

His best result came at Royal Portrush in 2019 when he tied for third at The Open. But now, Finau believes his game is trending in the right direction.

Since tying for second at the Texas Children’s Houston Open, Finau has not missed a cut. He also tied for 12th at Harbour Town and 18th at Valhalla.

If not for a final round 75 at Colonial, he would have fared better at the Charles Schwab Challenge but still finished in a tie for 17th.

Nevertheless, Playing Through caught up with Finau ahead of the U.S. Open to discuss his game and many other pertinent topics:

One-on-One with Tony Finau before the U.S. Open:

(Editor’s Note: This conversation has been slightly edited and modified for readability and clarity.)

Playing Through: What is the state of your game right now?

Tony Finau: I would say, mostly good. You know, I’d say most of the time, it’s good, and it can always be better. As we know, in the game of golf, especially professional golf, we’re never happy with where our games are, even when we’re playing well. But I’ve had some nice finishes over the last couple of weeks. I’ve played some really nice rounds and am looking forward to the challenge of Pinehurst No. 2 next week.

PT: What do you make of Pinehurst? And what do you think needs to go right for you to win at Pinehurst?

Finau: So I played at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2014, when Martin Kaymer won. That was my first and only time seeing the golf course, and I remember at that time just thinking how cool the place was.

I don’t know that I’ve ever played a golf course similar to Pinehurst No. 2. There’s no real bunkering, you know. It’s kind of a waste area all over the golf course. The greens are very undulating; if I remember correctly, almost every green is a turtle back green, which presents its problems.

So, I need to do two things well next week to win. Number one is driving. If I can drive it in the fairway, I can showcase my iron play, which has been really nice over the last couple of years. Then there is my putting, especially my lag putting.

I also need to hole putts inside of 10 feet.

I think those are going to be the most important things.

I’m probably going to use my putter a lot around the greens. It gives you options. That’s what I really like about this golf course. When you miss the green, you’ll never be two or three yards off of it. Because of the turtleback shapes, balls will roll into collection areas, and you’ll be 10 to 20 yards off the green.

I’m not really a guy that chips with an 8-iron or a 7-iron; I like putting and keeping the ball on the ground. So that’s going to be extremely important. And so those are two things I would look to for me to play well next week.

Pinehurst No. 2, U.S. Open Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images
A view of the 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2, with the clubhouse in the backdrop.

PT: You mentioned iron play being your strength. I’ve always admired your ball striking, so what advice would you have for an amateur player struggling to make good contact with their irons?

Finau: That’s a great question. The most important thing is that anytime you’re hitting a golf shot, and I know this will sound really silly, the most important thing is making solid contact.

So you have to start with the basics.

If you can make solid contact chipping, you can move back from there.

You know, my Dad used to call it an L-to-L motion. Basically, you take your left arm to 90 degrees on the backswing and then take your right arm to 90 degrees through the shot. Then you build from there.

You have to make solid contact. Once you get the feel of making solid contact, you can make the swing bigger and bigger, but you have to start small.

I learned how to play the game from the green, and went back from there. I was fortunate that was the case because I learned how to chip. Then, all the way up, I feel like I’ve always been able to get the back of the ball and become a very solid striker of the golf ball.

Fortunately for me, I learned how to chip at a young age. So I know—and not a lot of people want to hear this—but everybody who immediately pulls their driver out on the driving range is like drinking poison. If you’re starting golf, you must learn how to chip first and make solid contact with the small swings.

Once you can do that, move to a half swing, then to a three-quarter swing. Then, make your full swings. I think you’ll be surprised how solid contact you can make.

Tony Finau, PGA Tour, Charles Schwab Challenge Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images
Tony Finau hits an iron from the 14th fairway at Colonial during the first round of the 2024 Charles Schwab Challenge.

PT: Did you have an advanced scouting trip to Pinehurst? Or will you head to Pinehurst after the Memorial Tournament and prep then?

Finau: I’ll get in Sunday night after the Memorial. We'll do our work on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

You know, I think a lot of guys do take prep time to see the golf course and things. Again, I’ve only seen it once, but the way I have done it is, you really get to see how the golf course is going to play the week of. Three days prior has always been more than enough time for me to understand the golf course, and be ready to go by Thursday.

PT: What do you make of this year's schedule with all these signature events bookending majors—like the U.S. Open sandwiched between the Memorial and the Travelers Championship? Do you think that some of these majors sneak up on you a little bit?

Finau: Yeah, a little bit. I think that every event means so much now. I think there’s more emphasis on the Signature Events than ever before. There’s an emphasis on major championships and playing well just because of how they’re set up. If you don’t finish in the top 50 at the end of the year in the FedEx Cup, you won’t be playing in the Signature Events next year.

So, every tournament means so much.

And I do think, in a sense, the majors kind of creep up, like this week. But we have Signature Events and Majors right next to each a couple of times throughout the year. So it’s nice to play all the big events, but it also puts an emphasis on playing well in them. You can’t just be playing average golf. There are a lot of great players, and you gotta have your best stuff every week, but it’s a great challenge.

PT: Obviously, 2024 has not been the easiest of seasons in professional golf, specifically on the PGA Tour. The last couple of weeks have been unimaginable, but shifting towards a more positive mindset, what has been your favorite moment of the season thus far?

Finau: No question. I think there are always great stories and great takeaways. Over the last couple of weeks, as you mentioned, the passing of Grayson Murray has not been easy on the PGA Tour family. We are truly a family out here—a brotherhood, and anytime we lose one of our own, it is always tough.

But if I’m looking on the bright side, some great things have happened over the last few weeks.

Robbie MacIntyre winning with his Dad on the bag at the RBC Canadian Open was incredible. I’m a big fan of Robbie MacIntyre.

I’ve known him for quite a while, and his dream was to play on the PGA Tour. I talked with him in Europe in 2018 while playing at a European Tour event. He expressed to me then that his lifelong dream was to play on the PGA Tour. So, to see him win with his Dad on the bag last week was just incredible.

Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Farmers Insurance Open Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau at the 2024 Farmers Insurance Open.

Xander Schauffele winning his first major championship the week before, having the drama come down to the 18th hole, was an incredible moment for the game.

I also thought The Players Championship this year was as exciting of a tournament as I’ve seen in a very long time. We had the number one player in the world coming down the stretch, doing his thing. Scottie shoots 64 on Sunday and then you had three other guys with a chance. Brian Harman had a putt on 18. Wyndham Clark had a putt. Xander had a putt. It was just an exciting finish at TPC Sawgrass.

PT: Speaking of Scottie Scheffler, what do you make of his play this year? And where were you when you discovered that he got arrested?

Finau: Well, I had just woken up. I didn’t have a morning tee time for the second round of the PGA, so when I woke up, it was obviously all over the news, and I was just in bed in my hotel. A very unfortunate situation, but I am happy that all the charges were dropped on him. I just thought it was a very unfortunate miscommunication.

But Scottie is an incredible player.

I think he’s a generational talent. He’s already shown that over these last couple of years. He’s just scratching the surface of who I think he really is. A lot of people are saying, ‘He’s on this incredible run.’ Well, I don’t know that it’s a run more than this is who this guy is.

He’s an incredible golfer.

He’s got a great head on his shoulders.

He’s got his priorities, and they seem to be intact. He knows who he is, and that is a crazy combination when you’re as talented as he is. It’s quite special to witness, honestly.

Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler, The Masters Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler during a practice round ahead of the 2023 Masters Tournament.

PT: Can you touch on your relationship with American Express? And how you will have the Mo’ Bettah logo on the belly of your bag next week? What does it mean for you to represent Utah at the U.S. Open?

Finau: I’ve been a proud Amex ambassador for over five years. They’ve committed to backing small businesses and communities for a long time, and for them to support Mo’ Bettah, which is my favorite restaurant in Utah, means the world to me.

If you are ever in Utah, you have to check it out.

But they now have restaurants in Nevada, California, Texas, and Oklahoma. But to get the exposure they'll get next week, being on the belly of my bag, means everything to me.

It’s a Hawaiian restaurant, and Hawaii holds a very special place in my heart. I love Hawaiian food. I even have a Finau favorite plate on the menu, and the proceeds from that go directly to my foundation.

So, just good vibes all around.

PT: Quick follow-up to that. What is on the Finau plate?

Finau: We have teriyaki steak, teriyaki chicken, three scoops of white rice, and two scoops of macaroni salad with a little bit of lettuce on the bottom. You can have more teriyaki sauce on the top, but it’s a healthy portion. I can’t even finish my favorite plate, and I’m a big eater, so it’s a healthy portion.

Beginning on Jun. 10 at 9 a.m. ET, fans can enter for a chance to win a Tony Finau U.S. Open prize package, which includes a Nike hat, polo, and golf shoes, a Tony Finau autographed Pinehurst pin flag, and a $150 USGAShop.com Gift Card.

To enter, fans can visit go.amex/golfentertowin during the week of the U.S. Open and until the conclusion of the final round on Sunday, Jun. 16.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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