Right now, Tony Finau has work to do.
He’s in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, where he’ll play in the BMW Championship this week. He’s ranked fourth in the FedExCup after finishing second and tied for fourth in the first two FedExCup Playoffs events.
Preserve his position in the top five and Finau controls his own destiny at the TOUR Championship where the winner of the $10 million bonus will be decided. So the stakes are high.
Soon, though, a career year will be in the books and Finau will be back home in Utah with his wife Alayna and their four young children. And one of the ways he unwinds there is in the kitchen – in fact, he says if he weren’t a pro golfer, he’d be a chef.
Finau’s fascination for cooking began when he was 5 or 6 years old, the third oldest of seven siblings. He’s of Tongan and American Samoan descent, and Finau – an all-around athlete who once finished third in a national junior fire knife dancing competition — is quick to point out that Polynesians love to eat and have fun.
“So I grew up around all that and I was always in the kitchen with my mom; no matter what it was, I was always in the kitchen,” Finau recalls. “I don’t know if it was just being around her hanging out with my mom or actually just cooking, but man, I think cooking is an art and I really just enjoyed being in the kitchen, trying to whip some things together.”
Finau’s mother Ravena was an inventive and intuitive cook. Not only was she skilled at traditional Polynesian cooking, she was able to recreate dishes the family had at restaurants. One of Finau’s favorites was the Chicken Madeira he once had at the Cheesecake Factory.
“My mom was able to just look at what was on it, kind of taste it and the very next night she did her rendition,” Finau says. “That was probably my favorite meal that she made us. … But she did that with a lot of dishes — anytime we go somewhere she would challenge herself to either to make the same sauce or the same burger or whatever the case may be.
“And she did a dang good job with that. I’m not nearly as good as she was. I’m still getting to the point where the things that I’m good at cooking don’t need measurements and all those things, but while I’m still learning it, I had to call the measurements and maybe Google some things that I want to learn how to cook. And so I haven’t quite gotten to that level, but I’ve got some years.”
The 6-foot-4 Finau, who turned pro at 17, says he cooks at least three times a week when he’s home. He loves grilling steaks and ribs and brisket but his wife is partial to his chicken curry “so that’s one of my favorites to cook as well.
“And if my wife loves it, then then it must be pretty good,” Finau says.
His favorite meal to cook? Well, that’s easy.
“Sunday dinners are mine,” Finau says firmly, a big smile on his face. “Sunday’s a big dinner for Polynesians. Seems like we always get together, kind of a Sabbath dinner. So I’m always cooking on Sunday.”
He’ll get the grill going and throw on some meat and chicken. Then he makes a traditional Polynesian dish by boiling some taro or yucca, which are dense, starchy root vegetables similar to potatoes, and adding some coconut milk, mayonnaise and onions.
“Just let it sit and it’s going to be the right amount of tenderness,” Finau explains. “It can’t be too soft or it will kind of turn into a mash so you’ve got to cook it just the right amount of time.
“So I’m lucky enough I know how to cook it and it ends up being pretty good.”
Finau, who taught himself to play the guitar as a teenager by watching YouTube videos after hearing the song “Better Together” by Jack Johnson, is a big fan of cooking shows like “Iron Chef” on TV.
“I like the shows where they have to cook something in 30 minutes or 40 minutes,” he says. “It fascinates me because I do enjoy cooking and I know how tough it is to pick something that fast.
“So it’s pretty cool for me to watch.”
Nothing beat watching his mom cook, though. She was tragically killed in an automobile accident the day before Finau’s first child was born.
“I loved being in the kitchen with my mom and cooking with her,” Finau says, his voice growing softer. “Man, those are memories that I miss.”