Turtle Bay signs brother act Holes in One
Kono, Kim win openers
Charity will distribute $1 million
By Bill Kwon
A press conference at Kahuku announcing the signing of two Polynesian athletes with former University of Hawai'i coach June Jones in attendance. Gotta be about football, right? Wrong. Golf.
The Finau brothers — Tony and Gipper — look like they could suit up for the UH or BYU football team. Tony is 6 feet 4, 200 pounds, while Gipper is 6 feet, 175. Instead, they've signed on as golf professionals representing the Turtle Bay Resort.
The three-year agreement announced Tuesday is a win-win situation for both parties:
For the teenage pros from Salt Lake City, it'll give them a home base to practice, play and train as they aspire to make it on the PGA Tour. For Turtle Bay, it landed two of the hottest young prospects in golf. And two guys who fit right in with the North Shore community.
"We couldn't be more excited to be part of both Tony and Gipper's development as professional golfers," said Bob Boyle, Turtle Bay Resort's vice president and general manager.
"They're a good fit because of their Polynesian backgrounds," added Matt Hall, Turtle Bay's director of golf, who first saw the Finau brothers in 2005 at the Westfield PGA of America Junior Championships in Ohio. Even then, Hall knew they had a bright future in golf. "It is a question of when, not if, these two will make it on the tour," he said.
They already have glittering credentials. Gipper won the Utah state high school championship and became the youngest player to make the cut in a Nationwide Tour event the week of his 16th birthday two years ago. Tony, a year older, won the Utah State Amateur and played on two U.S. Junior Ryder Cup teams. In his pro debut, he competed in the Ultimate Golf Game at Wynn Las Vegas, winning $100,000.
Tony also made the cut in the 2007 Milwaukee Open. And it was there, while hitting booming 300-yard drives at the practice range that caused the PGA pros to stop and watch, they met Jesper Parnevik, one of the interested bystanders. Parnevik was so impressed that he invited both to play in the Scandinavian Masters.
"That's the thing about them," said Hall. "Everyone who has come in contact with them has nothing but high praise for them, not only on the course but off the course as well."
They've played junior golf events in Hawai'i, and their mom, Ravena, is a former volleyball player at BYU-Hawai'i.
"To come to Hawai'i and stay connected to Polynesian people is great. We are all close to each other, it's like family," said Gipper.
So, let's meet the Finau brothers, who are half Samoan and half Tongan but 100 percent Polynesian-American. Theirs is an unconventional golf story.
"We have no golf history in our family, that's the funny thing," said Tony. "Gipper started golf first when he was around 6 and winning everything. I kind of followed him, really. He started it all and we never looked back."
For the first three or four years, Tony chased his brother. "It took me a while to come close to competing with my brother," he said.
So you're better now? "Can't say. He's right here next to me," Tony said with a laugh.
Both plan to enter the first stage of the PGA Qualifying at the same site in Texas this summer. They hope to make it a brother act all the way through the rest of their golfing careers.
They realize that there are no Polynesian golfers on the PGA Tour and want to be the first. They've got the game — length and touch around the greens — to make it happen. And the confidence to go with it.
Tony thinks his strength is the ability to think his way around the golf course, managing his game. "If my putting is on, I feel I can putt with anybody."
Says Gipper, "Confidence. I'm a really confident player, so I take a lot of risk with my driver. I really trust myself with a difficult shot."
Except for a late uncle, who was a club pro in Florida, the brothers had no real Polynesian role models as youngsters. Tiger Woods was Gipper's choice because "he never stopped winning, so I kind of idolized him like everybody else."
Well, except for Tony.
"Tiger is great and all the juniors look up to Tiger. But I always seemed to like Ernie Els, Big Easy," said Tony, who has the same linebacker build as Els. "Physically, I kind of swing like him. I like to be more laid-back out on the golf course and just have a fun time. When I feel relaxed, I seem to play better. And I always love his demeanor on the golf course."
With the Finau brothers on board, Turtle Bay has four touring professionals, including LPGA's Dorothy Delasin and Japan's Kiyoshi Murota, who plays on the senior tour.
In Hall's grand scheme of things, he hopes all four will play in the Hawai'i State Open in December. Turtle Bay Resort has signed a three-year deal to host the event and asked and got four sponsor's exemptions in negotiations with the Aloha Section PGA.
"That would be awesome," said Gipper. "We've never played any professional tournaments out here."
He and Tony hope to be card-carrying PGA Tour members by then.