[PHOTO: Icon Sportswire]

Should Tony Finau go on to win this week’s PGA Championship, he might just cost his peers a few more dollars in their annual budgets. Everyone will be running out to hire their own “process coach”.

Maybe that’s just another term for sports psychologist, but he didn’t say sports psychologist. He said process coach. And whatever this guy is doing for the long-hitting Utah tour pro, it seems to be paying some immediate dividends. Finau opened the 106th PGA at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky with a six-under 65, his best start in 32 major appearances as well as his best opening round of the year.

“I just added somebody to my team that I kind of have him as like a process coach, someone that allows me to have a process and have expectations that I can manage,” said Finau, talking about how he has dealt with what has been a bit of an off year thus far. “I think that’s been helpful. He’s been someone I could bounce ideas off, and he’s been a great addition, I think, to my team.”

He sort of sounds like an off-course version of a caddie. Or a strategy guru. A muse perhaps. Necessary? Finau thinks so, and only Finau matters. The early returns bode well.

The last time Finau opened any tournament with a 65, he won last year’s Mexico Open at Vidanta for his sixth PGA Tour title. He held off Jon Rahm when the Spaniard was No.1 in the world and in the midst of a ‘Rahmpage’ that included his fourth win of the year at the Masters. And wouldn’t you know it, Finau also started with a 65 in his win previous to Mexico in the 2022 Houston Open.

We’re processing a hint of a trend.

Ranked 30th in the world, Finau hasn’t been hanging around leaderboards with his customary regularity, though he did finish T-2 in what amounted to his title defence at Houston in late March.

“Results-wise, I haven’t played the golf that I know I’m capable of, and sometimes it can get frustrating, leaving tournaments a little disappointed and kind of searching,” said Finau, 34, who finished T-52 last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, a signature event on the PGA Tour. “I’ve always been very hopeful. I never feel like I’m far off. I never believe I’m that far off. I think today was just one of those days that I’m just able to show some resilience.

“Coming into this week, probably not in my greatest form going into a major championship, but that resilient attitude I think is huge when you’re playing big tournaments. You’ve got to believe that you can play well.”

He certainly played well to begin his 10th start in the PGA, going around Valhalla without a bogey. That enabled him to be among a small group that kept the sprinting Xander Schauffele within sight. Though Finau hit only eight fairways, he found 16 greens in regulation and ranked third in Strokes Gained/Putting. His effort on the greens was huge; he ranks 160th in putting for the season.

“It’s nice to be in front of most of the guys after one round,” Finau said. “Who knows how the guys are going to play in the afternoon, but I know I put myself where I need to be to allow myself to play good golf moving forward. As far as patience, yeah, as they say, patience is a virtue. It’s something that I’ve tried to have throughout my whole career, throughout my life really, and I’ve definitely had to use every… muster up every ounce of patience this year. Things just haven’t gone my way I’ve felt like.

“But again, I always play – I never feel like I’m far off. I’m a very hopeful person, a very faithful person that you just keep stacking up wins on days, and they’ll start to go your way eventually. It was nice to just get off to a nice start today.”

Finau’s best previous start in the PGA came in 2020 at Harding Park when he opened with a 67. He ended up with his best finish in the championship, a tie for fourth. Can he improve on that this week? We’ll have to let the process play out.