Getting Over the Hump.

This week I have chosen to write about two men who are paired together for the first and second rounds of this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. Two men who are both top-twenty talents in the entire world of golf. Men who seem to always find themselves near the first page of the leaderboard heading into the final round of a golf tournament. And lastly, two men, who to this point, have not won nearly as much as they should have in their careers.

Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau are household names on the PGA Tour. Rickie is notorious for his Sunday Orange, his epic fashion, and his smooth and efficient putting stroke. He is probably a top 3 most popular player in today’s game, and at every tournament you see dozens of little kids wearing Puma hats and orange shirts to show support. Tony Finau is one of the most unique players on tour. He hits the ball a country-mile, has a massive 6’4 frame that allows him to look the part of an NBA shooting guard, and his Hawaiian ties only add to his polarizing nature.

What makes Rickie and Tony even more similar is the way they play golf. Both players have eerily similar demeanor’s on the course. Calm, minimal emotion, and stoic reactions are commonplace for both as they make their way around golf tracks throughout the country. They both are capable of making birdies in bunches, and extremely low rounds on the biggest of stages have come from both.

A Deeper Look

Finau and Fowler are not exact equals in terms of career accomplishments to this point. Rickie has won 5 PGA TOUR events, been on multiple US Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams, and been right there in multiple majors spanning over at least the last 7-8 years. He won the PLAYERS, has finished second at the Masters, and in 2015 he incredibly finished within the top 5 in every single major.

Tony Finau is only one year younger than Rickie, but despite their closeness in age, Rickie has had a presence on tour for longer than Finau has. With that said, within the last 5 years Finau’s career has really taken off. He has made one Ryder Cup team as well as a Presidents Cup team, he was in the final group at the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock, and he does have a win at the Puerto Rico Open.

So while Rickie is a more accomplished player than Tony thus far, only one year separates them in age. They both have emerged as elite players with very few weaknesses. And they continue to stack together high finishes without collecting enough trophies. These two should have more than 6 tournament titles between them. Rickie should have at least one major, and you could argue that Finau could have won one with better finishing play. So what has kept them from winning more? Below, I examine one area for each player that I believe is holding them back.

Tony Finau: The Flatstick

Finau is one of the best ball-strikers in the world. His short yet powerful backswing makes him one of the longest players out there and his tee-to-green stats are near the top year in and year out. The reason he doesn’t win enough? His putting on the weekend. Just look at this year already. Tony played with Marc Leishman on Sunday at the Farmers. Both entered the tournament at -8, and both were within striking distance of leader Jon Rahm. Leish made a charge and ultimately won the golf tournament; Finau stagnated and ended up finishing in a tie for 6th place. Finau missed multiple short putts throughout the round, including four within 8 feet. In order to go low on a Sunday and make that charge you simply need to be able to consistently roll in those short putts. Too many times, Finau has failed to apply pressure on leaders because he misses a shortie that breaks the rhythm of his round and sets him back.

Rickie Fowler: Lack of Aggression on Sunday

Rickie’s track record when he is the 54 hole leader of a golf tournament is not pretty. Why does he not close it out at a better rate? I believe it is because he tries to hold onto leads instead of hunting pins and looking to expand his leads. It always puzzles me how Rickie can literally tear up a golf course on Thursday and Friday and then all of a sudden on the weekend he is aiming for the middle of the green and not giving himself enough good birdie looks. Most of Rickie’s most memorable performances have come when he is coming from behind and he knows he needs to maintain that same hunter mindset. The 2015 PLAYERS and the 2018 Masters are the two that really come to mind where he only had one thing on his mind, making birdies. One resulted in a trophy and the other ended in a solo second finish. Rickie needs to calm down and keep that aggressive approach whether he is in first, fourth, or eighth entering a Sunday.

Can they flip the script?

Is it possible for Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau to remove the labels currently placed on them as non-closers? I believe they can, and I am hopeful we will start seeing it in 2020. I have boldly predicted Rickie as the 2020 PGA POY and went on record that he will win a major this year. He has no weaknesses in his game and he has said that he is at a point in his career where he knows it is time for him to start putting away tournaments. I’ve backed you as long as I can Rick, time to go earn your stripes.

For Finau, he simply has to knock the darn door down and then I think he will loosen up and go on a run. His only win was in Puerto Rico, in a field that didn’t feature a single player ranked in the top 50 in the world at that time. Getting a legitimate win against the world’s best will go a long way in strengthening Tony’s confidence. Ironically enough, Tony has played some of his best golf at the biggest events, but he has yet to do something truly special. Go make it happen Tone.

Ultimately, I believe that these two players are both due to have big years and change the narratives that have followed them thus far. They are class acts that give all the right answers in pressers and social media, but is time to see some nasty out of them and more of that killer instinct. Time will tell what unfolds. And you darn well know I will be watching.

Cheers as always,

Mike

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