POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 16, 2011
He's 6-foot-4, 190 pounds and 21 years old. It's easy to imagine Tony Finau in a college football uniform as a free safety or wide receiver.
You can bet June Jones has thought that, too.
Jones, the former Hawaii and current SMU football coach, is one of Finau's biggest fans. He also is an expert at making football players out of raw athletes in their early 20s. He did it with Ikaika Alama-Francis, who now is a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. But Jones learned early on that Tony and his brother, Gipper, are totally dedicated to golf.
"No, he knows," Tony said with a smile after turning in his scorecard following yesterday's second round of his first Sony Open in Hawaii. "He knows we're golfers. He's helping us pursue our dreams because of his love for the Polynesian people."
Finau shot back-to-back 71s to miss the cut by plenty. But he showed flashes of brilliance on Friday and again yesterday, mostly fueled by his long drives; 300-yards-plus is routine for him.
He hit a pitching wedge 135 yards into the hole for an eagle on the 423-yard No. 3, which drew the attention of the Golf Channel.
At the 18th, Finau put himself in position for another eagle with a 335-yard drive and then a second shot from the rough that left him a 15-footer. He didn't miss by much and tapped in a 1-footer for birdie.
Finau also carded two other birdies, but will have to become more consistent with his putter to avoid the black numbers and the weekend off in future tournaments.
AND JONES — a former junior golf champ who once considered trying for the Champions Tour — is convinced there is plenty of pro golf ahead for him.
"He's special; he's going to be very good," said Jones, who is also a huge supporter of Gipper.
The Finau brothers met Jones through Kevin Kaplan, who is the executive director of the June Jones Foundation. He invited them to play in his inaugural celebrity tournament at Hokulia on the Big Island.
"He also helped us get the contract with Turtle Bay," Tony said of Jones, who is in town and followed him around the course yesterday. "He's meant a lot to us and continues to support us."
THE BROTHERS were born and raised in Utah and are of Samoan and Tongan ancestry. They have many relatives on the North Shore, including Tevita Finau, who was an all-state football player at Kahuku.
"My brother and I played volleyball, basketball and golf in high school and came close to a state championship in basketball," Tony said. "But the other sports were more for recreation."
While Finau toured Waialae yesterday, Haloti Ngata, Troy Polamalu and Chris Kemoeatu competed in the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game. Polynesians have made major impacts in football, dotting nearly every NFL roster and often dominating the action. Not so much in golf, and Tony embraces the idea of being a role model.
"Most definitely. We got made fun of a lot when we were kids. People told us golf was a girls sport. But we stuck with it because it's a great game," he said. "Polynesians are known for football, rugby, physical sports. I'm glad to show that golf is a game for athletes, too. Tiger Woods helped show it's a game for people of any race."
It won't be in football, and it won't be today at the Sony Open. But don't be surprised if you see the Finau brothers playing on Sundays in the near future.