KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) – Tony Finau has been in Hawaii long enough to become a motivational speaker.

For football, not for golf.

Finau arrived three weeks ago to spend time with his wife’s family near the north coast of Oahu. His good friend, an assistant football coach at Kahuku High School, has asked Finau to talk to the Red Raiders before they play for the state title.

The stories he shared seemed familiar. It was about staying hungry and working hard even in the lean years and crushing the losses. Finau knows this as well as anyone.

He also doesn’t apologize or complain about careless criticism.

“That’s how it is, and that’s why I signed up,” Finau said after going more than five years without winning at the Northern Trust.

Kakuhu defeated Saint Louis, 49-14, for his first state title in six years.

“I was clear when I spoke to them. I said: “I’m definitely not going to tell you how to play football because I would be out of my way,” Finau said on Wednesday. “A lot of these young men let me know that they consider me a Polynesian athlete and how I behave. They made it known that they loved him.

Finau, of Tongan and Samoan origin, measures 6 feet 4 inches with a wingspan of 6 feet 8 inches. He could at least pass for a football player.

“I just tried to explain to them some of the things that – my life experiences – have helped me stay humble and hungry throughout my career,” he said. “I think they enjoyed it and I hope some of them take it with them throughout their lives and their careers.”

This brings him to the Sentry Tournament of Champions with a renewed sense of pride.

Finau was in Kapalua a year ago with an asterisk. Due to a year shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the criteria have been changed for the start of the new year reserved for winners by adding anyone who has reached the circuit championship.

Finau was one of 16 players who fell into this category.

“It was a different feeling for me,” Finau said. “To be a champion and to be here is great. This is one of those tournaments, when you win a golf tournament that you look forward to this week. Just playing with all the guys who won is special ground.

Finau’s enthusiasm for a week in paradise is matched by Jordan Spieth, who started his career believing he would be a regular at Kapalua. It ended when he failed to win in 2018, and the next two years, when his game got so derailed that he almost fell from the top 100 in the world.

Spieth arrived a week earlier, playing on the Maui coast in Makena, traveling for the first time with his wife and 6 week old son, Sammy. He won the Texas Open, his first title since capturing the 2017 British Open at the Royal Birkdale.

It only takes one victory to get to Kapalua. Spieth could have had more, failing to convert his chances at Phoenix and Pebble Beach, Colonial and the British Open.

“If you had told me what last year was going to be like this last year, I would have said I’m obviously very happy,” he said. “But I can also look back and say that I really would have liked to win three or four events, given how many times I had a chance on Sunday.”

He’s talking about getting back to his DNA, and for the first time in years, he feels he’s finally coming back in the right direction. There is excitement in his voice.

“For me maybe it’s different from a lot of guys,” Spieth said. “For the first time in years, I feel like I have some momentum.

Finau can understand, which doesn’t win any easier for one or the other.

Finau notched eight second places – including three playoff losses – and 39 top 10 between winning the 2016 Puerto Rico Open and winning over Cameron Smith in the playoffs at Liberty National last August.

“I know how difficult this second challenge has been and I put a lot of work into improving myself, so that’s where my attention will be focused,” he said. “You never know when your week is going to be, but being properly prepared each week is the most important thing and that’s all I can do. “

There is no lack of preparation. Finau was not on the North Shore to deliver a speech to the Kahuku Red Raiders.

Finau has a relationship with Turtle Bay and played there often during his two weeks on Oahu in a lot of wind and rain, all of which Hawaii has to offer.

The pursuit of victory doesn’t get any easier. The joy of the game has never left him, even following reviews that he should earn more.

“We didn’t really know we signed up when we were kids. We just wanted to play golf, ”he said. “But that’s what goes with it. There are expectations when you get to a certain level. There are expectations that come from trying to be a great player and trying to be a great winner. You take them into account. strike and carry on no matter what.

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(This version corrects the spelling of Kahuku)

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