To do what players must do in order to make it to the PGA TOUR and then sustain their position is nothing short of amazing. But it’s what those TOUR players don’t have to do – but choose to do – that make them even more impressive.
Playing on the PGA TOUR will make for memories to last a lifetime, but giving back and impacting those in need can enhance or even extend a person’s lifetime.
As hard as Tony Finau works to maintain and improve his position on TOUR, those efforts are matched, if not exceeded, by his actions which originate from the heart. As a result of that drive, Finau is the horsepower behind the Tony Finau Foundation.
The stated mission of the Tony Finau Foundation is to empower and inspire youth and their families to discover, develop and achieve the best of their gifts and talents through the game of golf, educational funding and core family values.
On Saturday night, Finau backed that mission up with action at The First Tee of Utah’s “Beyond the Green Gala” at Cottonwood Country Club in Holladay, Utah. Many times, with the word “action,” there is an implied necessity or even mandate. Nothing about Finau’s Saturday night involvement was mandatory. When asked to be the keynote speaker and take part in presenting the chapter’s annual Billy Casper Award Youth Humanitarian Award, Finau was all in.
“It was an incredible night, a wonderful Gala,” Finau said. “The giving out of the Billy Casper Award was incredibly special. I think the award is so special because, to me, Billy Casper was not only one of the greatest players of all time, but his humanitarian efforts were even more amazing. So, it was really special to be able to carry on his legacy and be a part of that.”
Utah Governor Gary Herbert, along with Casper’s widow, Shirley Casper, presented this year’s award to 14-year-old Kayla Long. Kayla, who has been a part of The First Tee for five years, is an Eagle-level participant in the chapter and a standout when it comes to volunteer efforts.
“Tony is beloved in Utah golf circles,” said Paul Pugmire, Director of The First Tee of Utah. “It was special to have him with us because the evening was more than time with one of the best players in the world, it was like a reunion. Tony started his remarks by noting all the people in the room he knows — people he played with in junior golf, people who have helped him along the way, people who have always cheered for him. But for some of our younger kids, this was the first chance they had to interact with Tony.”
“It was really special to be a part of the evening and see how excited Kayla was to get the award,” Finau said. “But to see everyone involved with The First Tee of Utah shine so bright throughout the night made it even more special. We were there to honor and help the kids in The First Tee program, so all those smiling faces made it, overall, just a great event.”
Having aligned itself with The First Tee of Utah, the Tony Finau Foundation not only provides financial contributions to the chapter, but assists through other efforts, including the offering of that invaluable commodity one’s time.
Following the evening’s formal festivities, Finau participated in a meet-and-greet session.
“The First Tee has nine core values they base their principles on and teach, so I was able to speak to a lot of those and then meet a lot of the chapter’s members,” Finau said. “I know it meant a lot to me, so I can only hope it was as special for everyone else, too.”
The annual “Beyond the Green Gala” raises funds to support The First Tee of Utah’s programs, which cover the entire state of Utah. The chapter, which reaches 25,000 kids annually, introduces them to the game of golf and The First Tee’s Nine Core Values.
Programs are offered at 10 golf course program locations and through The First Tee National School Program, which includes 38 Utah elementary schools. The First Tee of Utah is planning for six additional program locations this year.
“Tony’s willingness to give of himself and his time to make our event special was a really big deal,” said Pugmire. “The kids were so excited to meet him, and the adults were just like the kids. One of the highlights of the evening was how Tony stayed to take pictures with people. The line formed almost immediately. Tony made the night special for everyone there.”
When a PGA TOUR member like Tony Finau plays well, he might get a trophy. But when a person like that gives well, everyone within his reach will reap the most meaningful reward.
“Many of us knew Tony when he was a Utah golfer. Now he’s a global star who is from Utah,” said Pugmire. “But he has remained authentic, approachable and respectful to everyone. It’s easy to look at him as the top-10 player in the world that he is and see just that. But when he was talking about how he used perseverance, one of The First Tee’s Nine Core Values, to carry him through tough times, he was able to connect with the kids and adults alike in ways few people can.
“Tony is a great example to everyone to keep working hard and to keep believing in themselves. And now some of our kids have a new understanding of how somebody can be great on a global scale and kind at a personal level. We are deeply grateful to Tony and respect him even more than we already did.”