Sports

Tony Finau and PGA Tour friends do Cedar Rapids a solid

For eighth year, top golf pros help Zach Johnson's great cause

CEDAR RAPIDS — If Zach Johnson doesn’t get a bunch of his pro golf buddies to come to Cedar Rapids on one of their off-days, there probably isn’t much of a Zach Johnson Foundation Classic.

The ZJFC raised an event-record $1.332 million this year, with a lot of people responsible for donating to the cause and wooing those donors.

Eighteen PGA Tour and PGA Champions Tour players joined Johnson at Elmcrest Country Club Monday. They golfed with amateurs, mostly from around here. Many paid handsome sums for the opportunity to play with some of the best golfers on the planet.

Eleven of the pros were transported by private plane from the PGA Tour’s event in West Virginia Sunday to Cedar Rapids. Among them was Tony Finau, who certainly couldn’t have been blamed had he chose to keep flying westward instead of stopping in Cedar Rapids.

Finau headed to his Utah home Monday night. In not too many days, he’ll turn around and fly to the United Kingdom for next week’s Open Championship in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Finau, 28, has a wife and four children at home. But he surrendered a day of free time to help Johnson’s noble cause, Kids on Course. That organization, funded by Johnson’s foundation, provides tutoring, mentoring and other forms of learning and enrichment in several Cedar Rapids Community School District schools with a high rate of in-need students.

“A huge part of our game is charity,” Finau said Monday before hitting shots at Elmcrest that show why he is the world’s 31st-ranked player.

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“Zach’s an incredible person and a great ambassador for our game. I’m still in the beginning stages of my own foundation (in Utah), and I’m trying to see how it’s done, to be honest.”

Finau is in his fourth PGA Tour season with one win. But his potential seems to be high-ceiling. His distance off the tee is among the Tour’s best, and he has a good short game, too.

What Finau did at the Masters in April was nearly the stuff of golf lore. He made a hole-in-one during the Wednesday Par 3 Contest at Augusta National. In celebrating as he ran down the fairway backward in glee, he slipped and dislocated his left ankle.

That was difficult to see, but not as much as what immediately came next. Finau popped the joint back into place himself. He finished the exhibition round, then surprised most by playing in the tournament the next day. He eventually tied for 10th-place.

“It hurt quite a bit,” he told a boy who asked him about it Monday at Elmcrest. “But you’ve got to fight through it, you know.”

Finau was a 54-hole co-leader at June’s U.S. Open before finishing fifth. His time is coming.

“I feel good,” he said. “I enjoy the big stages.”

He’s a soft-spoken, polite fellow, so Finau probably won’t bring bravado to PGA Tour events that often could use injections of charisma. But someone of both Tongan and Samoan descent from Salt Lake City is unlike anyone pro golf has seen.

And, based on the way Finau treated people here Monday, he seems like a good fellow who would be easy to cheer.

Johnson’s golf buds helped Cedar Rapids for an eighth-straight year. People with platforms are helping those who don’t have one, and that is good stuff.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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