AUGUSTA, Ga. — If Tony Finau builds on his first-day momentum and winds up celebrating a Masters victory on Sunday, don’t worry. There will be no need for paramedics or an orthopedic specialist at the ceremony. He has learned his lesson.
Besides, if he does go crazy enough to dislocate his left ankle again, he has proven that he knows how to fix it. After one of his most exhilarating events turned into one of his most embarrassing moments, he popped his ankle joint back in place here Wednesday and then popped himself into instant contention one day later.
“I was really happy to be here and play,” he said, delivering it as if it were a punch line because he knew his audience was aware of his story, which was highlighted by a clean MRI report in the morning that allowed him to play. “Nothing short of a miracle if you ask me.”
Finau said it might have actually helped that his ankle was heavily taped and still sore because warding off the pain helped keep his mind off the pressure. He had a splendid round, shooting 4-under-par 68 and leading the tournament for a while. Lucky for him, he did not have a hole-in-one.
His ace in the Par 3 Contest Wednesday got him so excited that he immediately began sprinting toward the green. Halfway there, he realized his wife and children were still back on the tee so he turned toward them and began running backward. His body forgot to tell his ankle to change direction. “Probably not a great DB,” he said, referring to football defensive backs.
Maybe he has the making of an MD, the way he treated his own injury. Do yourself a favor and don’t look at the video. It’s gruesome. But it also shows his resourcefulness, straightening the joint with the casual air of someone putting on a shoe. “I saw where it was and I knew where it needed to be. Instinctively, you know, I just tried,” he said. “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.”
Athletes get pumped. That is what gets them going and keeps them going. Sometimes it knocks them out. Skier Lindsey Vonn once tore up her hand on a broken champagne bottle. Marlins player Chris Coghlan tore his meniscus while smacking teammate Wes Helms with a congratulatory shaving cream pie. Then there was the king of all celebration injuries, Kendrys Morales of the Angels broke his leg slamming into home plate after a walk-off grand slam.
In Finau’s case, the ace didn’t even really count for anything. Plus, it was not his first hole-in-one. It was his 12th. But, he added, “It was my first Par 3 Contest, my first Masters. I just took off.”
He was hoping to get a little more sleep Thursday than he got Wednesday, when he iced and elevated his foot and worried. It came in handy that he has a high tolerance for pain and very little capacity for fear.
When he was four, he started doing fire-knife dancing, an aspect of his Tongan/Samoan ancestry. It involves wrapping towels around knives attached to the ends of a stick. The towels are set on fire, and then everyone sees who can do the best tricks.
One slip and you can be in a world of hurt. He has had a few nicks, bruises and burns — none of which have kept the kid from Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood from becoming one of the PGA Tour’s longest hitters.
“I look at myself as a pretty mentally tough person,” he said, “and I think I showed that today in my round, just able to put my head down and just play.”
Nothing short of a miracle if you ask us.