ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Tony Finau chips to the 13th green during the first round at the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 5, 2018, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — By late Thursday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club, Tony Finau's previous 24 hours had included a little bit of everything: Pain. Embarrassment. Concern. Relief. Determination. Excitement.

The 28-year-old American with Samoan roots battled through a severely sprained ankle and shot a 4-under-par 68 in the opening round at the Masters. How he injured it was somewhat comical, albeit painful to watch. How he overcame it was downright extraordinary.

"You can't make that up," he said.

It was one of the best — and certainly the most unpredictable — stories of the tournament's first day.

some text
Tony Finau hits a drive on the 18th hole during the first round at the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 5, 2018, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Finau dislocated his left ankle celebrating a hole-in-one during the Par-3 Contest on Wednesday, then popped it back into place while still on the course. X-rays showed no fracture, and Finau had an MRI early Thursday to determine whether he could make his Masters debut.

Doctors cleared him to play, and his ankle was tightly taped as he headed to the practice range. No pain-numbing shots or pills. Just pure grit.

"I was just extremely happy that nothing was seriously wrong with my foot," he said. "Quite honestly, it was a pretty cool moment followed by probably one of my most embarrassing moments and a scary moment at the same time. It was quite crazy, all the emotions that I dealt with overnight, but I was more than ecstatic to just be walking to that first tee and be playing in my first Masters."

His swollen ankle didn't feel quite right, and he found himself compensating on certain shots. Simply put, he couldn't put his full weight on that foot — a huge concern for a guy known as one of the PGA Tour's longer hitters.

"The one thing we can't do is hurt it more," he said. "So the number-one thing for me was my health and trying to take care of the next few days and not just worry about the now. It definitely hurt at different points of the round."

It felt a whole lot better when he birdied five of 12 holes to get to 4 under. He missed a short par putt at the par-4 No. 14, or else his round could have been even better. Still, he got it right back with a birdie at the par-5 15th.

He was tied for second with Matt Kuchar, two shots behind leader Jordan Spieth. No one could have expected it after watching Finau gingerly climb into a golf cart after his exhibition ended early the day before.

some text
Tony Finau after putting on the 13th hole during the first round at the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 5, 2018, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The ordeal started when Finau's shot hit the back of the seventh green on Augusta National's par-3 course and spun back into the cup for a hole-in-one. He started running — a forbidden act on these hallowed grounds — toward the hole to celebrate the 12th ace of his life (though his first in front of his wife and children). His problem came when he turned and backpedaled. He landed awkwardly on his left ankle, which grotesquely displaced. He dropped to one knee and pushed the joint back into place.

"I saw where it was, and I knew where it needed to be," he said. "Instinctively, I just tried. If it didn't work, then I would have laid there and been even more embarrassed being pulled out on a stretcher celebrating a hole-in-one."

Finau credited fire-knife dancing as one of the reasons he was able to handle the pain and uncertainty during a restless Wednesday night. Popular in Polynesian culture, fire-knife dancing is exactly what it sounds like. There are knives attached to the ends of sticks, covered in material set aflame, and furiously spun around by a performer.

Finau perfected the craft — even dealing with a few cuts and burns along the way — well before his golf game took off.

"I look at myself as a pretty mentally tough person, and I think I showed that today in my round," he said. "Just able to put my head down and play."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT