PARIS - When Tony Finau joined his American team mates for dinner at the Versailles Palace this week he could have been excused for pinching himself to make sure it was not just a dream.
Admiring the ornate decor while tucking into lobster and sipping expensive wine, it was perhaps the moment the 29-year-old realised just how far the boy swinging battered irons his father plucked from boot sales had travelled.
On Friday he made debut in the Ryder Cup, hitting the opening tee shot at Le Golf National after having been handed the 12th and final place on captain Jim Furyk's team to tackle Europe.
"I'm extremely proud of where I am," Finau, one of seven children born to Tongan and American Samoan parents, told reporters. "Basically (I came from) very humble beginnings. Golf is an extremely expensive sport. I didn't come from a lot, but my parents sacrificed a lot for me to compete."
After playing with other people's cast-offs Finau's father Kelepi, who worked as a baggage handler at Salt Lake City's airport, bought him a set of matching irons when he was nine and they lasted him almost through high school. "Before that my dad was at the pawn shop, garage sales, getting us wedges and all kind of clubs. So that was a big," Finau, who played college basketball, said.
Having turned professional aged 17 Finau initially struggled and it took him six attempts to get through the fiercely competitive Web.com Tour Q-School - finally earning his place on the PGA's development tour in 2013.
He has not looked back since and although he has not added to his sole PGA Tour victory, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, he has become one of the most consistent players on the circuit. He is also the fourth longest hitter.
"When I finally got through, I knew the opportunities and the window for getting to the PGA TOUR and competing at a high level was finally available to me," Finau, whose wife Alayna joined him at the Ryder Cup opening ceremony on Thursday, said.
"Those six years were tough. Mini-tour life isn't a glamorous life, professional golf life," he said. "If you're not on the PGA Tour, it is very tough financially. I was married, and my wife and I had our oldest son already. So those were some tough times."
The six foot four Finau finished sixth in the FedEx list this season with 11 top-10 finishes earning him a cool $5.6 million in prize money and a Ryder Cup spot. "It's cool to look back and reflect on where I've come from, and now, part of this Ryder Cup and this team, is pretty special for me and my family," Finau said.
"I'm soaking it all up. And that's the advice I've got from some of the older guys, is enjoy it, because it does come to an end. This is my first of hopefully a handful, but this experience is pretty cool for me already."AFP