How the PGA Tour’s Tony Finau Has Held on to His Monster Drive
The 33-year-old pro talks baby steps, banded workouts and ball speed
Tony Finau was a teenager, competing for his first time as a pro, when he rocketed a ball off the tee at 198 miles per hour.
That was 30-mph faster than the PGA Tour’s average ball speed in 2007. On one particular 380-yard par 4, Finau launched a ball over a creek and a bunker, setting it down perfectly on the green. The next time the young phenom teed off, there was a crowd.
Ever since that event, Finau has impressed fans with his raw natural power. But he’s also worked to become a more complete player; Tony Finau has spent years honing his short game and training himself not to too wild with the drives. The strategy’s worked: he won back-to-back PGA titles this year, while his long ball hasn’t missed a step.
We spoke with Finau about the banded workouts that keep him strong, what he uses to recover from a long day on the course and the origins of his supernatural swing.
InsideHook: When’s the first time you realized you had raw driving power?
Finau: I learned how to play the game of golf from the green back, which means I learned to putt and chip first. My dad taught me how to play, and he was a big believer of learning that way. I only got a few clubs at the beginning, and I don’t think he let me have a 6 iron until after a year. The last club I ever hit was a driver, and so I didn’t realize the natural talent I had with it until I had already been golfing for awhile. I then started to play with other kids when I was around nine or 10 years old, and saw that my drives were going about 40 or 50 yards farther than everyone else. I was hitting the ball 300 yards by the time I was 13 years old, which was a huge advantage over other kids when I was playing junior golf.
Who taught you to swing?
That was all from my dad. He taught me everything I needed to know when I started to play. He was a multi-sport athlete, he played cricket and boxed, and he used those body mechanics to explain to me what we were doing in golf. He was a visual teacher and would say if you’re going to punch someone, you have to start with your lower body and bring that power into your hands. Boxing was the main way that we were taught to use our lower body.
The first time I learned how to swing a club, it was indoors. I didn’t have the resources to pay for the range. My dad put up a mattress in our garage, which looked crazy, and we would hit balls into it. The last club that I picked up was the driver. Eventually we got to hitting outside and I saw how far that it was going. I learned everything that I needed to know from my dad in those garage sessions.
Did any of those balls ever ricochet?
It’s funny. Still to this day, if you got back to our place there are golf ball dents all over the garage door. Dents all over the walls actually. We were letting it rip up and down that garage.
What was the first time you got to show a big crowd what you were capable of?
The first one that comes to mind is when I was 17 years old and qualified to play a PGA Tour event in Milwaukee. I was on the driving range and as soon as I started hitting the driver everyone else stopped hitting. There were grown men coming over asking for the numbers after I hit a ball. This included the professionals — some movement or element of my swing was mystifying people. Now that I’ve done the PGA Tour nine times, I understand how uncommon of a moment that was, where everyone gathers around on the range. I never forgot that moment, but now I know exactly how special it was during my beginnings.
Do remember some of those numbers that you were hitting up to at 17 years old?
I was doing 200-mph speed on the range, maybe more. I think I had the record ball speed on the course at 198 miles-per-hour when we were actually playing . That stuck for a long time, until Bryson DeChambeau came around at some point and broke it a few years ago. So that record stood for about 15 years after I set it as a teenager. I also drove a 400-yard hole that week, which became a bit known for being my hole. They put up stands behind this specific hole which they hadn’t done before, because I drove it all the way to the green the first couple of days. The hole is 400 yards, and goes over water, which can make a lot of players nervous. Everyone else was just laying it up with their 3 wood right in front of the water, taking the easy way out.
I just kept pulling out my driver every time at that hole. There was once that I didn’t, and it was just to mess with the crowd because they were all expecting me to drive it all the way to the green again. I pulled out one of my irons and they all started groaning and booing me, because they had walked over there to see the monster tee shot. Once we had had our fun, I pull away the iron and took out my driver. They all started cheering and I drove it right onto the green. The route was a little downhill, but I was still flying it 350 yards sea level. Keep in mind I was still a teenager when all of this was going down. But that was also kind of my secret, because I probably wouldn’t take that kind of a risk these days on the course.
So once you had that incredible showing, and eventually join the PGA Tour, how did you go about cultivating your performance off the tee?
I felt like I always had the right body for the amount of speed and power that I wanted off the tee. The first thing I really wanted to get detailed in was the mechanics of my swing. I had all of this power, but that doesn’t matter if you aren’t hitting the ball straight. I had the benefit of being around these PGA pro players very early on in my career, so I saw what it took first hand. I noticed was how many fairways I was missing and how many fairways where getting hit by the guys I was playing against. So that is when we started to invest more time in all of the swings at all of the distances, to make sure the ball was going where I wanted it to every time.
Can you describe what parts of the body start to hurt after a full day on the course?
There are definitely people who don’t understand the toll the game of golf takes on the body. It can sound weird to them that I’m sore all over after spending the day walking around and swinging a club. But there’s no question that after a full day of rocketing balls down the fairway you start to feel stress on a lot of your joints. I’m talking about the knees and the elbows…from what goes into those swings. Parts of your body are moving at hundreds of miles per hour, sometimes in different directions, to get the torque that you need. There’s a reason that golfer’s elbow exists. There’s also a lot of wear and tear on the lower back.
One element that some people don’t think about protecting enough is the feet and legs. For anyone who has experienced a golf tournament, even as a fan, you have a good idea pf how much we’re having to walk in one day. It’s usually somewhere between five and eight miles, all on very uneven terrain. That’s not just one day either, it’s six days a week. During this time we’re going up slopes and through rough grass. So it’s not just the distance, it’s the way our feet are landing on those surfaces, which can start to build up.
Can you describe what you do to recover during a tournament week?
I’m proud that I’m one of the few in the game that hasn’t had any real injuries, and I credit that fact to my recovery regimen. A big reason for that has been Hyperice, in which I’m an investor. I faithfully use their products. They’re great especially when I’m not able to see a massage therapist or chiropractor, which can be tough to schedule when you’re competing. I mentioned how the long days can wear on the legs, and I’ve enjoyed the Normatec boots at the end of the day to bring me back. On a tournament week, when I’m done with the boots, I’ll take the Hypervolt and go over my neck, lower back, legs and feet as I watch some television. There’s a ton of travel involved with the Tour, so the Hypervolt Go has been great to take on the flights to keep my legs loose. Luckily, I learned how important it is to focus on recovery early on.
Do you have any clothing or gear that you believe in to have on while you are playing a full day of golf?
I’ve always had a comfort-first mentality. Right now I’m wearing the Air Jordan 1 golf shoe. They’re not only comfortable, but the best looking shoe out there. I’ve been wearing them this whole season, and plan on wearing them for more seasons to come. I’m a fan of the color options and the vintage look.
During competitions what kind of training do you do to stay ready to bring your best?
I bring a trainer out on tour with me, but his main focus is my recovery work. I’ve learned a lot of movements from him, but browse around online for new exercises. I’ve created a program on my own, built out of what I’ve seen online and through interactions with trainers. I try to stick with movements that I believe are going to benefit me on the golf course. I’m not looking to bulk up and I’m not looking to run a four-minute mile. I’ve put the program together mostly on my own.
I’m a big fan of exercises from Erik Phillips who is the performance coach for the Utah Jazz, and have learned a lot from him. Coach Joey D is someone a lot of people in the golf industry are familiar with, and I like a lot of the movements he puts out there. Kolby Wayne is another trainer who I follow and like to see new exercises from, because he works with some of the best players in the world.
I really like using bands whenever I can for workouts, and I bring them with me when I travel. The majority of the ones I have are from SKLZ. I have the whole range from lower to higher weight with greater resistance. I try to stay away from using huge weights, especially free weights, because I can accomplish everything with the bands without as much risk of injury. They are also a great way to expand your muscles while strengthening them.
Everything is clearly working because the drive has been on point, and you have been racking up some great wins. How has the drive been feeling lately?
I was hitting my G425 Max driver really nicely for two weeks in a row, and that set me up for back to back wins. Last year I was driving well when I won in a playoff at Liberty National against Cameron Smith. I had been in a bit of a winning drought at the time, but I got into the playoff, where the 18th hole tee shot is really tricky. I ended up piping a 310 yard tee shot right down the middle, right when I needed to. I got lucky that his next hit didn’t go where he wanted it to, but I feel like the fact that my drive was so great couldn’t have helped how he felt going into that moment. I’m really excited to see what I can do next, and how far I can take this drive.
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