Tour Confidential: Tony Finau’s rise, Justin Thomas’ career, summer trips
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Tony Finau’s rise, Justin Thomas’ career, summer trips and more.
1. Tony Finau proved his 2022 was no fluke, as he won the Mexico Open at Vidanta by three over Jon Rahm on Sunday. For years, Finau was the guy oozing with talent who didn’t pile up enough wins, but he’s now got his first of 2023 after winning three times last year and once late in 2021. What’s been the biggest change with him over the past year and a half?
Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@jess_marksbury): I don’t think you can overstate the value of confidence. It’s something even recreational players can relate to. Finau was so close for so long, and kept coming up short. Once he finally notched that breakthrough, the floodgates were open. The fact that he held the lead over multiple rounds with a chaser like Rahm makes Sunday’s victory even more impressive.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): I think we overstate and overuse confidence when it comes to a lot of things, but this is not one of them. Tony’s skillset was incredible before his streak of wins. His mindset was incredible, too. He just needed to pair the two down the stretch once, and it was going to make it easy to continue doing it after. Remember his quote from the Rocket Mortgage Classic last year? “A winner is just a loser who kept on trying.” Might have been quote of the year in 2022.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): The thing I appreciated most about this week’s win was his ability to hold a lead with the clear-cut World No. 1 (Rahm, who doubles as Finau’s frequent sparring partner) breathing down his neck. Beating up on one of the PGA Tour’s weaker fields feels a lot more legit when you outduel the tournament favorite. Yes, there’s still another step for Finau to take at the game’s biggest events. But he gets plenty of credit for this one nonetheless.
Jonathan Wall, managing editor, equipment (@jonathanrwall): I don’t think anything changed. Some guys just come close countless times and can’t seem to close — and then all of a sudden it clicks. The competition on Tour has never been better, in my opinion, so you simply can’t make mistakes and expect to close things out. I think Tony’s managing the mistakes and realizing he doesn’t have to force things, especially when he’s out front. Tiger was the best at doing this, and I think Tony did his TW impression in Mexico.
2. Rahm has dominated this year, with four wins and the second major title of his career, so how much more meaningful is this win for Finau knowing he held off Rahm (aided by a two-shot advantage to start the day) while playing in the same final grouping?
Marksbury: That’s got to feel huge for him. After Rahm’s course-record performance on Saturday, it would be totally understandable to feel a little spooked, even with a two-shot lead. But Finau kept the pedal to the metal. Taking down the World No. 1 is no easy feat. He’s got to be feeling good about his major chances going forward this year.
Zak: It definitely makes the win sweeter! I think Tony would probably like to bag another big event rather than beat Rahm and what was ultimately a pretty weak field, but we don’t need to parse out the meaning of it. Rahm is the king right now. You beat him, especially while playing with him in the final group? You’re ballin’. That’s why Nick Taylor’s solo second at Phoenix was still damn good for his confidence. He lost to Scheffler, but he beat Rahm from the same group. He’ll remember that even while we forget.
Dethier: It looks like I should have read Question 2 before answering Question 1, but yeah, it makes a significant difference. Finau’s game theoretically sets up well anywhere, so when he’s in the mix at Oak Hill in a few weeks, this will be useful to draw on.
Wall: It’s massive when you’re able to beat back a human cheat code and win by three. The way Rahm has been playing, it’s easy to get caught looking and worry about when — not if — he’s going to catch you. Tony’s been around long enough to know his game is good enough to win. I hate trying to predict Tour wins as a jumping-off point for major success, but I could definitely see this being the kind of W that nets hardware at Oak Hill.
3. Justin Thomas turned 30 on Saturday, and our Sean Zak profiled the Tour star and went deep on his career evolution and drive to accomplish even more in a recent edition of GOLF Magazine (and online right here). “Having two majors is great, but I want five,” Thomas said at one point. “Fifteen [career] wins is great, but I want 30. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but that’s the reality.” Well, since JT brought it up (kind of), how many wins and majors do you see him having by the time he turns 40?
Marksbury: I actually sent Sean a message to tell him how much I enjoyed reading that piece. JT is such an interesting player! I loved learning about the lofty goals he sets for himself. But, given how tough it is to win out there, I think one more major and 5-7 regular-season titles over the next decade would be a huge yet feasible addition to an already stellar career.
Zak: There is one thing holding him back from having more than 15 and 2 right now. It’s his putting. But I think the roller coaster with the flatstick will level out soon and we’ll see him go on a stretch of, say, five wins in three years. I think he bags two more majors by 40, and if the putting gets really good, give him a third. He’s just so singularly focused on tallying up those totals. Oh, he also has, what, a top 3 caddie on the bag? That continues to pay dividends we can’t see just yet.
Dethier: Eek, I hate that we’re reducing Thomas’ next decade to two numbers — that feels like the same sort of binary decision-making that already plagues him. But maybe that’s the point: If JT is measuring himself this way, why shouldn’t we? The over/under on JT future majors has to be set at 1.5. Marksbury went under and Zak went over. I’ll join him there with the belief that his putting will come back into the light for a few top-tier years. At age 40, he’s the owner of 24 PGA Tour wins and four majors. Solid haul.
Wall: I mentioned it in my first answer, but I think the competition is making it damn near impossible to dominate on Tour. JT is still one the top talents on Tour, but as he creeps closer to 40, he’s going to need to lean more on his short game and putting as new bombers enter the arena. And as Sean already mentioned, the putter has been a massive question mark recently. If he can get the flatstick hot, I think a couple of majors and six Tour wins is very feasible.
4. The PGA Tour is merging PGA Tour Latinoamerica and PGA Tour Canada to form the PGA Tour Americas, which will include a beefed up schedule and hand out 10 Korn Ferry Tour cards at the end of the season. Previously, those tours played a lighter schedule and handed out five Korn Ferry Tour cards each. A needed change? A good change? What do you think?
Marksbury: I like the idea of consolidating. Putting the two pools of players on the same schedule and courses going forward feels like a good move.
Zak: It’s a no-brainer. Streamlined. I know players on the lower rungs of pro golf haven’t been thrilled by the stop-and-go nature of the Canadian tour the past few years, but this will make it all very straightforward. You want in on the KFT? Here’s your path. It’s one of the only paths. But it’s a good one! A fair one. Good luck.
Dethier: It’s a little bit different. It changes the dynamics some. And it definitely doesn’t feel as though these guys are getting more opportunities as a result. But this change codifies the two tours — Canada and Latinoamera — as the Double-A of professional golf. That’s helpful. Also, guys who play well can zip to the final stage of Q-school and play their way all the way to the big Tour just like that! You’d just better be going low.
Wall: I’ll agree with Dylan that it clears up the designation for Latinoamerica and Canada. I always wondered where they sat in the pecking order, so this certainly makes it easier to call it pro golf’s Double-A. I think the clarity and clear path to the big Tour is something that was sorely needed. The guys who ply their trade on Latinoamerica and Canada spend a lot on travel to live out their dream. Giving them a clear road map for promotion makes the dream more attainable — provided they can go crazy low.
5. GOLF unveiled its summer trips package last week, naming some of our favorite go-to resorts, courses and more to hit up over the next few months. Quick, what’s your favorite summer golf getaway you’ve ever been on and why? (Bonus points if it’s an under-the-radar spot our readers might not be as familiar with.)
Marksbury: I can’t help but name two! First, because it’s fresh in my mind, I have to give a shout-out to Terranea in Palos Verdes, Calif. I visited for spring break with my family, and it was absolutely fabulous. Golf, accommodations, dining, setting, activities, all top-notch. I’ll be writing about the experience soon, but I already can’t wait to go back. And one of my first-ever premium course visits as a kid was to Edgewood in Lake Tahoe. I was only 11, but I still remember the sense of awe I felt to this day. It’s been far too long since I’ve been back, but I can’t wait to plan a Tahoe trip with my own kids one day so they can experience it too.
Zak: It’s not exactly original, but Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has some of the best value and variety of courses you will find in the entire country. I remain spellbound by Greywalls. Sage Valley is fantastic. You’ll want to play Sweetgrass twice. Then there’s Timberstone — forest golf. Need to get back there soon.
Dethier: I grew up going to visit my grandparents in Maine for a couple weeks every summer, so I still associate northern Maine with summer paradise. And if you zip your way up the Maine coast — as we did a couple summers ago — there’s high-character golf galore. Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport, just south of Portland. Belgrade Lakes, inland but not much. Booth Bay Harbor, swankier and meticulously maintained but not without Maine charm. And then Kebo Valley, near the gates of Acadia National Park! I’m looking up tee times the minute I finish this entry.
Wall: I spent every summer going to Hilton Head with my parents, and it’s honestly one of my favorite memories growing up. We stayed across the street from Harbor Town and played pretty much any and every course where we could secure a tee time. It’s tough to beat a morning tee time at one of the many courses on the island, followed by an afternoon spent on the beach.