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Tony Finau to his Presidents Cup opponents: 'Be ready for a dogfight'

Brian Sozzi

Tony Finau has a message to his international counterparts ahead of the Presidents Cup in Australia next month.

“Just be ready for a dogfight. I know they will be. We are going to win. They are going to win. It’s going to be a fun one,” Finau tells Yahoo Finance.

Finau was the first of four captain’s selections made by player/captain Tiger Woods this week for the Presidents Cup. The other choices by Woods included Woods himself, U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland and the always fiery Patrick Reed.

The choice of Finau for the team-focused event in early December at Royal Melbourne is hardly surprising. Finau is the 14th ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, finished the 2019 PGA Tour season with six top 10 finishes and ended in 7th place in the FedExCup ranking.

Above all else, the 30-year old father of four is very well liked on tour — that’s the type of positive intangible element in a team centric event such as the Presidents Cup.

Tony Finau of the United States lines up his shot during the HSBC Champions golf tournament at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Finau was one of the top performers in the losing U.S. effort against Europe in the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Yahoo Finance caught up with Finau to discuss his Presidents Cup entry and the tournament at large, which will find Woods’ U.S. team go toe-to-toe against fellow captain Ernie Els’ international squad. What follows is an edited and condensed version of the interview.

Yahoo Finance: What is it like to get that phone call from Tiger?

Finau: Super nerve-wrecking. It’s a tough deal to be number nine, you feel as though you played well enough to be on the team. But I could have very easily played my way off of the team in the fall. It’s hard not to have the rankings in the back of my mind because that was a big goal of mine. Getting the call was a huge sigh of relief and excitement. And to have that call come from my golfing idol, I mean this is a guy I grew up trying to emulate as golfer it was pretty cool for me.

Yahoo Finance: What did Tiger say to you?

Finau: He actually tricked me at first. I said hey what’s up Tiger. And he said hey, I am sure you know why I am calling. And I said well, I hope I know why you are calling. He said let’s get straight into it, do you want to hear the tough news. As soon as he said that my heart sank and was about ready to hang up the phone. Then he waits four or five seconds, there is silence, and then he surprised the heck out of me by saying welcome to the team.

So he played quite the prank on me. It ended up being funny because it was a good phone call. But at first I was quite frightened. I knew the call was going to go one of two ways. But all of that sadness turned to joy real fast.

JUPITER, FL - NOVEMBER 07: Presidents Cup U.S. Team Captain, Tiger Woods, announces his captain's picks at his restaurant The Woods Jupiter on November 7, 2019 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Yahoo Finance: Another strong year for you on tour. What does it mean for you to make this team?

Finau: It’s very satisfying. There has been a lot of work put into this. I have learned a lot. It has been a tough path, but there is a sense of accomplishment here. Just moving forward, I still feel like I am early in my career. I just started my sixth season. I feel like my best golf is ahead of me and I think a lot of the experiences I have had in the past led to my advantage. But to get that phone call from Tiger was something very special and one I will never forget.

Yahoo Finance: Everyone on the team seems to really want to play with you and enjoys playing with you. What do you think makes a good partner in these team tournaments?

Finau: Well I hope they like my game. I think it’s more so my attitude. I seem to get along with all types of personalities, I have always been that way. But all the 11 other guys on the team, I can see myself playing with any one of them. And to be able to hear that back from the rest of my teammates, well the feeling is mutual. It’s humbling. Whatever Tiger wants from me, my job is to be prepared. So this next month is all about the Presidents Cup. I know what we want to do as a team out there, it’s our job as players and captains to be prepared mentally and physically and make sure we are as sharp as possible.

Yahoo Finance: How is the preparation for this type of team event different compared to a normal golf tournament?

Finau: At this time of year it’s quite different because we have time to really prepare mentally and physically for this event. A lot of us aren’t playing until Tiger’s tournament [The Hero World Challenge in early December] and then there is the Presidents Cup. We don’t really have that prep time during a major championship and during the regular season because we are always trying to compete and play. We can’t really take a month off of playing tournament golf because of the grueling schedule around the majors now.

So it’s quite different. I think at Melbourne you are going to see some real special golf because guys are going to be sharp and fresh. And both of our captains expect that from us.

Yahoo Finance: How hard is it to be a playing captain like Tiger Woods will be at the Presidents Cup?

Finau: It’s truly remarkable. I don’t think anyone could have seen this four or five years ago just when Tiger was going through those injuries. It’s truly unbelievable. When I played with him at the Masters this year, to see him win there was something I will never forget. It was quite special to be able to witness that. Obviously I was on the short end of the stick there as I was trying to win my own green jacket. But to witness history and to see what he has battled through speaks to his perseverance and the type of person he is.

Tiger is the ultimate competitor. He is almost like he has something to prove when he honestly doesn’t. But that just speaks to his character and how great he is. He didn’t feel like he deserved to be on the team until he proved it to himself with his recent win. When we talk about the greatness of Tiger, to me he has built his legacy through his play this past year. To have him as a playing captain is going to be special.

Golf - Masters - Augusta National Golf Club - Augusta, Georgia, U.S. - April 14, 2019. Tiger Woods of the U.S. shakes hands with Tony Finau of the U.S. as he celebrates on the 18th hole to win the 2019 Masters. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Yahoo Finance: Is it different playing on a Presidents Cup team as opposed to a Ryder Cup team?

Finau: It’s a different tournament. But as Americans, we take pride in international team tournaments. This will be my first Presidents Cup so I am equally as excited as I was for the Ryder Cup last year. They have a great squad on the other side. We are the better team, and we are supposed to win. But that doesn’t mean anything when it’s time to play. We are on foreign soil, we are playing against an amazing team with great talent. They have four Australians playing on the team that know the course more than any of us do.

But we are going to be hungry to try and get a win.

Yahoo Finance: How does success happen at a team event like this? Is it all about momentum?

Finau: I think momentum is huge in sports in general. You are always going to go on runs. I am a huge basketball fan, love the NFL and college football. I am just a huge sports fanatic. When you watch sports teams play, there are always runs. There is always a change in momentum at some point in the game or match. And that includes in this type of golfing format. When you are playing as a team, you start to build momentum.

Last year at the Ryder Cup, we got off to a three-one start in our four-ball match. We were in control of the Ryder Cup after the morning matches. Then we didn’t one point in the afternoon matches. The momentum was fully on their side. We left that day down 4-3 and we knew we were behind the eight-ball. That momentum they were able to carry it into the end of the Ryder Cup and they won it.

Those types of things are huge in team play. So we will definitely be looking to get the momentum early in Australia.

Yahoo Finance: What’s your message to the international team?

Finau: Just be ready for a dogfight. I know they will be. We are going to win. They are going to win. It’s going to be a fun one.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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