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Finau close to achieving PGA dream

At age 24, Tony Finau is close to achieving his dream of playing full time on the PGA Tour.

Yet Finau isn’t an overnight success story – he’s spent the past seven years grinding it out on the mini-tours and regional series, trying to reach his goal of playing for the big money.

“Now that I think about it, all that got me ready for this,” Finau said Tuesday at River Run Country Club, the site of this weekend’s Chiquita Classic. “The full experience – the traveling, playing the tournaments, all of that – it really taught me, ‘Do I really want it or not?’

“That’s the bottom line: Was this what I wanted to do? Playing the mini-tours is tough … but you do all that because when you get your chance like I’ve had this year, you hope it’s going to pay off.”

Finau – the only half-Tsongan, half-Samoan player on the Web.com Tour – has earned his PGA Tour card for 2015 by finishing eighth in season earnings on the PGA’s developmental tour. He has one win – the Stonebrae Classic in Hayward, Calif., last August – and three other top-five finishes in 16 events.

The big-hitting Finau – he’s eighth on the tour with a 308.2-yard driving average – can assure himself of a high seeding priority for next year’s PGA events with a win or strong finish in the Chiquita Classic, the second of the four Web.com Tour Finals events.

Yet there was a time when Finau had other options besides golf.

The 6-foot-4 Finau was also a terror on the basketball court, leading Salt Lake City West High to back-to-back state championships as a junior and senior. That got him plenty of college offers, including from NCAA Division I programs Utah and Utah State.

Finau turned them down; instead, he turned pro in 2007 at age 17 after a surprise eighth-place finish in the “Ultimate Game” tournament in Las Vegas, earning $100,000. Finau also made the cut in his first-ever PGA Tour event, tying for 70th place at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.

“I knew I never wanted to pursue basketball – I always wanted to play professional golf,” said Finau, whose cousin is ex-Duke star Jabari Parker, now a rookie with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

“When I was 12 years old, I won the Junior Worlds. I saw my name on the same trophy as a guy like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els … I’m thinking, ‘Why can’t I get to the PGA Tour like these guys did?’ I knew then I wanted to play golf for a living. I pursued it, and I pursued it hard.”

Field changes: Two players – Jason Gore and Fabian Gomez – have withdrawn from the Chiquita Classic, dropping the field to 130 golfers.

Gore, who has one PGA Tour victory, the 2005 84 Lumber Classic in Farmington, Pa., opted to miss the Chiquita Classic to rest up for the remaining two Web.com Tour Finals events. He is ninth in earnings and is assured of earning a PGA Tour card for 2015.

Gomez, of Argentina, also earned his PGA Tour card after finishing 23rd in earnings list during the Web.com Tour’s regular season. However, Gomez was forced to withdraw from last week’s Hotel Fitness Classic after injuring his wrist during the first round.

Wednesday’s schedule: The pros will play their final pro-am of the week at River Run, with the first groups teeing off at 7 a.m. Among the players participating are majors winners Trevor Immelman and Y.E. Yang, and PGA Tour winners Jonathan Byrd, Chad Campbell, J.J. Henry, Rod Pampling, Dicky Pride, Vaughn Taylor and Johnson Wagner.

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