The most popular fan in golf made the scene last week at Baltusrol, coming full circle in a moving journey of friendship and compassion. You might know David Finn from the times he’s been seen posing at trophy ceremonies with Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose and many others, or maybe you saw the selfie with David that Rickie Fowler Snapchatted last week. or recall the 2012 Sports Illustrated feature that he figured in. David, 23, is a New Jersey native who was born with a mitochondrial disorder that has left his limbs shriveled and his mouth unable to form words. But a broken body can’t suppress the powerful spirit within. David’s bright blue eyes convey intelligence and an eagerness to connect. He has a beatific smile and a honking laugh that supports a sophisticated sense of humor. On the PGA Tour many players and caddies have come to know and love David, drawn in by his palpable life force.
“What a smile that kid has,” says Jim (Bones) MacKay, Phil Mickelson’s caddie. “You can be having a really bad day but as soon as you’re around David he instantly cheers you up. He provides a lot of perspective for a lot of people.”
John Finn is an avid player and a high school golf coach, and he and his son have always enjoyed watching the game together on TV. When the 2005 PGA Championship came to Baltusrol, about 45 minutes south of the family home in Ramsey, they knew they had to be there, even though it wasn’t easy navigating David’s wheelchair on the grounds. During a Tuesday practice round David was behind the 14th green when Mickelson came through. After putting out he walked over to David and said, “Hi, buddy, thanks for coming. Here’s a souvenir for you.” He laid an autographed glove in David’s lap.
Says John, “So many people don’t know how to act around the severely disabled. Pity is the worst possible emotion. The glove was a wonderful gesture, but what made that moment so meaningful was that Phil treated Dave like a normal kid, which is all he wants.” The Finns followed Mickelson throughout the week, with Phil often acknowledging him with a smile or gesture. At the trophy ceremony Mackay hustled over to say his boss was wondering if David would like to have a picture taken with the Wanamaker Trophy. The moment was recorded by the Newark Star-Ledger: Phil has the trophy in one hand, and the other is placed tenderly on the left shoulder of David, whose head is thrown back in ecstasy.
Over the years MacKay has sent David enough high-grade signed memorabilia that his bedroom looks like a wing of the Golf Hall of Fame. Bones has become so close to the family that David’s Facebook page is called “Golf Fanatic to the Bones.” Fellow caddie John Wood, who packs for Matt Kuchar, is also a family friend and last week stopped by the house. Wood has been so moved by David he wrote a song for him, “The Ballad of the Golf Fanatic to the Bones.” MacKay and Wood have helped pave the way for the Finns to attend 46 more tournaments since the ’05 PGA. The return to Baltusrol was particularly emotional because over the winter David’s health took a turn for the worse and on a couple of occasions he was fighting for his life. David had a tracheostomy in March and now needs a ventilator to aid with his breathing, meaning heavy equipment now must be maneuvered along with his wheelchair.
But last week, even with all the rain, David wouldn’t be denied. During the Tuesday practice round he reveled in a serendipitous reunion with Mickelson on the 14th hole and later nabbed a picture with the man of the moment, Beef. On Sunday afternoon David watched the finish while resting comfortably in the clubhouse, its walls lined with yellowed newspaper clippings of some of the game’s greatest moments. Through his good cheer and palpable love of the game, David is now a part of golf’s story, too.