Conversations with Champions: Tony Finau had ‘a little bit of don’t screw it up’ mindset en route to winning 2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open

“Conversations with Champions presented by Sentry” is a weekly series from Golfweek. This week: Tony Finau, winner of the 2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open.

He was the last golfer to win back-to-back on the PGA Tour. He can do it again this week at the RSM Classic, thanks to his dominate win last Sunday at the 2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open.

Finau blistered Memorial Park Golf Course with scores of 65-62-68-69 to win by four shots. He now has three wins in his last seven starts and four in his last 30.

But even after matching the tournament’s 54-hole record and holding a four-shot lead Saturday night, he admitted things didn’t feel tip-top come Sunday morning.

“I think I said it on air [on Golf Channel] right after I finished, when I teed off this morning I felt a little off, honestly,” he said. “It’s not easy sleeping on the lead. I just, I didn’t know if I had it in me, but you just take it a shot at a time.

“I was able to make some big putts on 8 and 9 just to kind of open up this tournament. Really pleased with the performance overall and especially my putting.”

Here’s everything Finau said after winning the 2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open.

Q: The 3M Open win was special where you had all your family in attendance, but what did it mean to you to have wife and son come out and join for this?

TF: “I think they see the hours put in and they’re very supportive. They always have been. My son’s like my biggest fan. He’s also my biggest critic. Anytime if I make a double bogey or something, he’ll be the first one to point that out, doesn’t matter if it’s a 65; what happened on this hole, you just made a 7. He’s my biggest fan, my biggest critic, it’s amazing to have him here. And of course my wife. You know, she’s been so supportive of my career since we’ve been married. They’re very special to have in my life, but especially just to be supporting me and to have them here with me this week.”

Q: Speaking of your family, did she come in just for the final round today?

TF: “Yeah, they flew in, I think they got here like when I made the turn or something like that. They got here like just in time to watch the back nine. Apparently she must have had a good feeling about today. I’ll tell you what, she felt a lot better than I did if that was the case.”

Q: You obviously didn’t make a whole lot happen on the back nine, but you obviously did not need to make a whole lot happen. Were you just trying to say don’t do anything stupid going in?

TF: “It’s a place I’ve never been before. I’ve never had an eight-shot lead on the final round on Tour. It’s an interesting mindset. A little bit of ‘don’t screw it up’, or maybe ‘if we hit some good shots we can extend this lead’. … I will say on 14 and 15 I got a little impatient. We were waiting on the group in front of us and I just felt like we had been out there forever. It literally felt like this tournament wasn’t going to end, like were we ever going to get to 17 or 18. I tried to muster up as much patience as I could. Think that short putt I missed on 15, I just didn’t take the time I needed to hit the putt and I missed a short one. But overall this was a special week. You know, I won this golf tournament from start to finish. I don’t know if I’ve done that in my career, maybe at Rocket Mortgage, but to have played that well for four straight days, that’s what it’s all about and all the hard work is starting to pay off, which is fun.”

Q: You were thinking thoughts out there today that you might not have been thinking five years ago, right?

TF: “No question. You know, when I say I don’t know if I thought I had it in me, I just, sometimes you just don’t know what the day’s going to bring. Those emotions you just have to fight throughout the day and I was able to fight them and just execute when I needed to. I definitely have the confidence to win and I showed that out there today.”

2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open

Tony Finau acknowledges the crowd after making a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the second round of the 2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open. (Photo: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

Q: How is this one different than the two during the summer?

TF: “Every one is special in its own way. I took quite a bit of time off over this fall. I wanted to be with my family and I knew after the Presidents Cup that I was going to shut it down until last week in Mexico. I committed to that, but when I did pick the clubs back up after a little break, I was eager to compete and that’s a nice feeling to have having played so many tournaments. This is my ninth season now. To actually have that real excitement to compete, I felt that over the last couple weeks. After missing the cut last week, I was disappointed but I was very eager to just get back out and play again, have that opportunity. I feel like I live a very blessed life. I can play whatever golf tournament on the PGA Tour I want. Obviously has a lot to do with my play, but I just feel very blessed. I approached it this week kind of with that mindset and things just went my way and it was a week to remember.”

Q: Going back to what you said about maybe just things were a little off today, how did you kind of combat that when you got to the golf course, got into your warmup and then out on the golf course as well?

TF: “You just try and talk yourself into positive thoughts as well as, as good as you can. I had a little bit of a short warmup. I had to go to the restroom in the middle of my warmup, so I didn’t get to hit as many balls as I think I would have liked. But I knew I was playing well and I thought just in my mind I had it at the end of the day, if I just keep hitting good shots, I’m going to be really hard to catch. I really calmed myself down there right through the middle of the front nine, hit some fairways and made some putts for birdie and then I was just kind of on my way.”

Q: You led the field in both driving accuracy and greens hit. Where did this rank for weeks as far as feeling in control of your ball?

TF: “Yeah, probably the best driving week I’ve had in my career, at least that’s how I felt. Yesterday for the first time in my career I hit all 13 fairways, 100 percent of fairways in regulation. I’ve never done that in my career, so definitely drove the ball. And it’s a lethal combo when I feel like this is the best putting week I’ve had as well. So you combine those two and you can get kind of a runaway win like I had. It’s very encouraging for me as I move forward throughout the season.”

2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open

Tony Finau hits a tee shot on the tenth hole during the final round of the 2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open. (Photo: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

Q: I saw you were 40th in driving distance last year. Is that a continuous theme of dialing it back a little to have more control?

TF: “I never looked at anything as dialing back, it’s just more of accuracy. I’ve become a very precise, precision player. I always have enough in the tank when I feel like I need it. On a golf course like this there were a couple times that I can open up a little bit, like notably on 16 today there was a hazard on the right about 295, I just give it a little extra to make sure if I push that ball, the one mistake I can’t make is hit it in that water, so little things like that. But it’s a luxury to have speed. At the end of the day, it’s always been a luxury for me. So being as precise as I am now off the tee, it’s a fun game hitting from the fairway a lot. I didn’t hit a lot of fairways growing up. I hit it very, very far, but that occasional hook, duck hook or slice was right around the corner and it’s nice to have the type of control that I had over the driver this week for sure.”

Q: Three wins in your last seven starts. … is this the most that all parts of your game have been clicking in your career?

TF: “This is definitely the most all parts of my game have been clicking, but I would say I’ve played a lot of good golf for a while. I didn’t have a lot of  wins to show for it, but I’ve pieced together a game and that’s what you have to do out here. You know, with my experience, again as I alluded to, trying to be more of a precision player, because I don’t lack speed, so learning how to drive it in the fairway, working on my wedge game, working on my putter, those are all things that I worked extremely hard on. And I feel like I’ve been a very solid player for a long time, but it’s exciting for me that I’m getting better and that’s all I can ask of myself is try and get better in the areas that I really need to. And then remember why you are where you are. I think I don’t go too far away from the DNA of my game and how I see the game and I think I’m kind of bearing the fruits of how I see the game now and I’m able to hit the shots that I can see, which is pretty cool.”

Q: In a similar vein, mentally, is this the best you’ve felt knowing that you have the ability to finish off these tournaments?

TF: “I’ve always felt like I’ve been very mentally strong. Sometimes I feel like once my game matches up to my mental attitude, I feel like I can be a great player. I feel like I’ve been a good player, showed some — showed some brilliance in spurts, but being consistent, to be consistently great takes a full game both mental and physical and I feel like honestly my physical game is starting to match up to my mental. I’ve always been tough, I’ve always been strong mentally. Having a game that matches that is I think a great combination and I’m starting to see that with myself.”

Q: Tony, you were holding that trophy up quite a few times getting a lot of pictures taken and you can tell the crowd really appreciated you, you’re a real good champion, but could you feel the support of the crowd and the gallery all day?

TF: “It was very overwhelming in my favor. I heard a lot of chants, Tony chants. It’s pretty humbling really. I’m a little bit obnoxious [sic] to it sometimes when you’re out there playing because I can’t open up and acknowledge everybody because I’m trying to stay as in the moment as I can. But it is pretty humbling to hear I have so many fans, especially here in H-town and it was special to have those fans out there cheering for me.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek