As everybody knows, golf can be a weird, weird game with all manner of ups and downs.
Nobody knows that better than Mr. Finigan Tilly.
In 2018, Tilly competed in the prestigious South Beach International Golf Championship. Result: He missed the cut.
In 2019, Tilly came back to play in the South Beach event. Result: He missed the cut.
In 2020, Tilly figured that try No. 3 might be the charm. Result: He missed the cut.
OK, Tilly, this is getting a bit monotonous. It’s about time to call it quits with this tournament.
There’s obviously no quit in this Tilly guy. He is perseverance epitomized and he decided to return a fourth time, probably for more punishment.
Wait, wait, wait. Finally, after four years, his futility came to an end: He made the cut.
Wait, wait, wait again. Story not over. It only gets better.
Not only did Tilly make the cut, he won the 2021 South Beach International championship, defeating many of the world’s top amateur golfers.
To put Tilly’s performance in perspective, we find it necessary to quote the esteemed Bill Murray from the movie Caddy Shack that it’s “a Cinderella story.”
And just to make things more surprising, this kid (well, he’s actually 23 and a graduate student at Cal-Berkeley) has that delightful name. How often do you find somebody named Finigan Tilly roaming the fairways? Heck, roaming anywhere? Not often. You seemingly would be more likely to find the name Finigan Tilly in a children’s book, probably about a sorcerer, rather than being the moniker of a young adult whacking golf balls.
Asked about missing the South Beach International cut for three straight years and then going out and winning the title, Tilly responded quickly:
“I wasn’t surprised I won.”
Possibly the biggest surprise was in Tilly not being surprised. However, he contended he had reason for that assessment.
“I felt like my game was in good shape, and I also did not put too much pressure on myself. And then I went on a run.”
Tilly quickly admitted with a smile, “No doubt this is the biggest tournament I’ve ever won.”
Did Tilly ever consider not coming back to the South Beach event – one of the top 10 amateur tournaments in the world – after struggling mightily in his first three visits?
“No, I’ve always enjoyed playing in this tournament,” Tilly said. “I definitely wanted to come back. I didn’t want to miss it no matter what.”
This year, the two tournament courses – Miami Beach Golf Club and Normandy Shores Golf Club – treated Tilly like an old friend rather than trying to perform their usual intimidation job on him.
Tilly had rounds of 64-65-70-69 for a 15-under-par 268 total over the four-day event. Finishing second at two strokes back at 270 was Clay Amlung (United States), with Jose Ballester (Spain) third at 271 and Sam Bairstow (England) in fourth at 274. AJ Ewart (Canada, and Barry University) and Matthew Sharpstene (United States) tied for fifth at 275.
At the start of the final round and being in the final group, Tilly admitted, “I was nervous on the inside, but not on the outside. I was trying to focus on the process.”
From the start, Tilly did just that by making four birdies on the first six holes.
However, there was one shot in the final round that allowed bad thoughts to creep into Tilly’s head.
On the ninth hole, a 228-yard par-3, he was just off the green.
“I was only about 20 yards away from the pin and I was going to chip it close to the pin,” Tilly recalled. Inexplicably, he skulled the easy chip shot and it raced past the pin and he was still 20 yards away for his third shot. He took a double-bogey on the hole.
A shot like that and the ensuing double-bogey could lead to a meltdown for many.
Tilly refused to let that happen.
“The bad shot and double-bogey bothered me,” he admitted. Then, with a smile, he added, “Until I reached the next tee.”
Tilly’s chip shot certainly wasn’t well-played but the mental maneuvering certainly was.
Watching every step and every shot of Tilly’s trek to the South Beach championship was his father, John Tilly.
As you would expect, father and son do occasionally play against each other.
“He doesn’t give me enough strokes,” John Tilly said.
The entire field in the South Beach International would have to wholeheartedly agree.