The Week Grip — Tony Fin-OUCH
Welcome to the tenth installment of the Week Grip! Click here for earlier posts, and follow along throughout 2019.
Fucking up your ankle absolutely stinks. I know from experience. I severely sprained my right ankle playing soccer my senior year of high school, when I hit a shot just about as hard as I could with my laces, only to have my shooting foot slidetackled milliseconds after hitting the ball. The combined force of my foot plus the tackle bent my foot backwards to the point where it felt like my heel hit my calf.
Shot went top corner, not a big deal.
I was on the shelf for a good 6 weeks, had to wrap the hell out of it for months afterwards before every basketball practice and game, and went to physical therapy regularly for a good long while. And still, that ankle remains swollen.
I’ve had ankle issues ever since then, on both sides, and just picked up another beauty last night playing (what else?) soccer. This one was probably my fault — tried to make a tackle from behind a kid, stuck my right foot in and he cut to the right and planted directly onto my the inside of my ankle, rolling it hard to the outside. We were already up big and it was late in the game, so I probably should have been smarter and stayed out of that one. But sometimes, you get wrapped up in the moment. And now my ankle’s wrapped up in the Ace bandage.
Why all the talk about ankles and their roly-poly ways?
Because before we get into the hype and hysteria brought on by the SEASON OF CHAMPIONSHIPS ©, we need to discuss Tony Finau.
Specifically, we need to discuss Tony Finau, and his ankle, at last year’s Masters. The guy got himself ALL wrapped up in the moment during the Wednesday Par-3 Contest.
WARNING: IF YOU GET SQUEAMISH, THIS MIGHT NOT BE YOUR CUP OF TEA.
Honestly, my personal version of Hell is having to watch slow-motion videos of people rolling their ankles while the 1–877-Kars-4-Kids jingle plays on a loop. KAY-AY-ARE-ESS Kars for Kids. I’d rather skydive into an erupting volcano.
Once you’ve cleaned up the last meal that you’ve inevitably regurgitated upon viewing those photos, direct your attention to the words. Tony Finau locked up a TOP TEN in his FIRST goddamn MASTERS TOURNAMENT after DISLOCATING, AND THEN RE-LOCATING, HIS LEFT ANKLE.
This is absolutely bonkers on so many levels, and deserves an oral history at the least, if not an entire ESPN 30 for 30.
“What if I told you… that the biggest twist of the 2018 Masters would happen… before a single ball was struck?”
Honestly, though, the story is crazy from beginning to end. If you need a chronological refresher on the facts of the case, check these out:
Despite Injured Ankle, Finau Stays in Field
Tony Finau is one tough athlete, and nothing was going to keep him from his appointed first date at the Masters…
Tony Finau caps wild Masters Week with '19 berth
Tony Finau's Masters week began with a bang, a hole-in-one in Wednesday's Par-3 Contest with his family by his side. It…
But rather than rehash the entire story, let’s take all the facts of this ordeal and try to rank them according to how unbelievable they actually are.
Tony Finau-Related Occurrences at the 2018 Masters, Ranked by Level of Ridiculousness
10. Getting an MRI taken on Thursday morning at University Hospital in Augusta, having said MRI analyzed by a top radiologist to confirm he could do no more damage by walking/playing on it, then having that diagnosis confirmed by a top foot/ankle specialist
- Honestly, this is the most sensible thing that happened during this entire episode, with the caveat that it’s still crazy that he got the MRI on the morning of his first round! Verdict: Better late than never
9. Gutting out a 74 on Friday and 73 on Saturday
- There are only two reasons this is even mildly surprising. The first is that he actually played at all, and the second is that he didn’t shoot 80+both days. Verdict: Gritty, full stop
8. Making a hole-in-one during his first par-3 contest
- The Par-3 Contest began in 1960, and there were 80 aces made in the first 56 years of competition. In 2016, players made nine aces, which smashed the previous record of five. Rain forced the contest’s first cancellation in 2017, and Tom Watson rolled back the years to win the event last year, when three aces were made, including one by Jack Nicklaus’s grandson G.T. All in all, making a hole-in-one is here very rare, even with the longest hole only measuring some 155 yards. Verdict: Awesome in a vacuum, meh in context
7. Playing the final two holes of the Par-3 contest after dislocating and relocating his ankle
- I don’t think this is as incredible as some other things on this list. If he had pulled out of the contest with two holes to play, directly after clearly fucking up his ankle, he would have become a subject of merciless internet ridicule. Plus, I’m sure he was running on adrenaline at that point, and he only had to make two more short walks and two half swings with wedges to finish out the day. Verdict: Gritty, but unsurprising
6. Playing his first round at the Masters less than 24 hours after dislocating and relocating his ankle
- On the soccer podcast Men in Blazers, one of the hosts often refers to his brain as being made up of 100 delegates. On almost every two-sided issue, his delegates are divided, with some number supporting one side and the remaining number on the other side. In this case, about 65 of my delegates are firmly on the side of being totally unsurprised that Finau competed in the first round of the 2018 Masters. Yes, he racked his ankle the day before. But he had medical professionals give him the OK to play, he had access to any type of pain management he deemed necessary, and this was his very first Masters. I’m inclined to believe that he fully intended to gut out the first round no matter what, and if he shot an 87 and was left in complete agony then he would have regretfully WD’d after Thursday. The other 35 delegates, however, are screaming at me to look past my laptop, where my own ankle sits encased in ice and an Ace bandage. If I were forced to play 18 holes across the flattest course I could find right now, I’d be a complete wreck. Never mind that I only rolled my ankle, it was two days ago (not yesterday), and Finau played Augusta, well-known as the hilliest course that the pros play all year. Verdict: Gritty, and slightly more surprising
5. Sprinting towards the green after making his ace, then turning backwards halfway through to backpedal towards said green
- I get that the excitement of making an ace in your first Par-3 Contest is overwhelming, but Finau’s jubilant jaunt would have been newsworthy even if it had gone off without a hitch. This is Augusta National, for Bobby Jones’ sake! Any patrons (don’t call them “fans”) caught in a light jog will be summarily expelled, so to see Finau high-stepping down the lush hillsides of the House that Clifford Roberts Built was jarring, to say the least. (Note the pun — jarring, because he made an ace… it’s a stretch). Verdict: Skating on thin ice
4. Making a truly impressive up and down from left of 18 green on Thursday to shoot 68
- If you didn’t already watch this, skip to 1:47 and watch Finau’s approach, chip, and putt on 18:
- He can barely move onto his left side on the approach, so he hangs back and pulls one left into the grandstand. It’s understandable — he’s on the final hole, his adrenaline has been pumping for five hours, and the massive hills have been murder on that injured ankle. After yanking that ball left, and trudging up his final hole of the day, Finau would have been fully excused for making a three from there. The fact that he got up and down from a tight lie left of the green, with people literally one foot from his ball, and all the nonsense of the past day and a half swirling around in his head, is an incredible testament to Finau’s ability to concentrate and execute. Verdict: Baller
3. Popping his ankle back into place in front of God and everyone
- To most people, this might seem like the most unbelievable part of the story. And it’s pretty wild that it all unfolded so quickly that the cameras couldn’t cut away, which allowed us to see the entire dislocation, crumple, and relocation in glorious high definition. HOW-EVAH! This isn’t the most ridiculous part of the story, because we’ve heard of someone popping a bone back into place before at this very golf course. Wait… is that? Could it be?? Verdict: Is that the Big Cat’s music?!
2. Shooting a 6-under 66 on Sunday, including making six birdies in a row from 12–17, to get in at -7 and tie for 10th.
- It’s a toss-up between this and # 1 for the craziest part of the entire story, and I feel like Finau’s Sunday charge gets extremely overlooked. Everybody focuses on the ankle popping, and with good reason, because that video is gross as hell. But no one should forget that Tony Finau started his final round at -1, came to the 12th hole at that same score, and then ripped off six straight birdies to finish the tournament at -7 and clinch himself both a Top 10 and a spot in the 2019 field. Verdict: Easily the best 9 holes played in 2018.
1. Literally dislocating his left ankle halfway between the tee box and the green, with thousands of people watching live (including his wife and four children), and who knows how many more on television
- To the best of my knowledge, no golfer has ever dislocated their ankle playing in a professional tournament. Did I do any research to back that up? No. But I’m sure if there had been precedent for this kind of injury, we would have heard about it in the wake of Finau’s incident. That, combined with the fact that Tiger once casually popped his wrist back into alignment, makes the actual ankle dislocation rank higher in terms of ridiculousness than the self-relocation. And why, again, everything golf-related goes back to Tiger. Verdict: Uncharted waters