The Unraveling of Jim Furyk: Lessons learned from a season marked by failure

Jim Furyk
Illustration by Henk Dawson
Furyk had a tough season in 2012.

Golf can be a cruel game, even for the best players in the world -- or maybe especially for the best players in the world. For Jim Furyk, who was just a year-plus removed from his epic 2010, the game struck back in 2012.

No one paid much notice when Luke Donald birdied the first hole of a playoff to beat Furyk and two others at the Transitions Championship in March, because Donald won the title as opposed to Furyk or anyone else losing it. That would change. Vying for his second U.S. Open trophy, at the Olympic Club in June, Furyk was coasting until he arrived at the par-5 16th, where the USGA's Mike Davis had moved the tee up 101 yards. Flummoxed, Furyk snap-hooked his tee ball into the woods and made bogey; he eventually finished two behind winner Webb Simpson.

(Related Photos: SI's Best Golf Photos of 2012)

Furyk's meltdown at the WGC-Bridgestone in early August was even more shocking. Seemingly out of nowhere, the veteran made an ugly, 72nd-hole double to lose to Keegan Bradley. Then came the Ryder Cup, where captain's pick Furyk barely missed par putts on 17 and 18 to lose his singles match to Sergio Garcia as Team USA lost by a point. What can come from such an agonizing year? Furyk sat down to discuss failure, address his critics, and contemplate what's next.

Davis Love III said he told you that you were three swings from being a Player of the Year candidate. He said that's what his dad would have told him. Is that how you're thinking of 2012?
I'm thinking about it positively, but I'm not sure I'm thinking about it that positively. [Laughs] I know what he means, though. Here's the way I look at it: Amateurs come in at the end of the day, they sit down, they have a beer, and they talk about the two great shots they hit for two hours. Golf professionals come in and piss and moan about the two bad shots that cost them a 66, and were the reason they shot 68 or 69. Those two shots will keep them up at night, thinking about how they're going to get rid of them, so they can trust their swing the next day.

And that's how you think about it.
That's the way my psyche and my mind works. But there are times when you need to step back, you need to relax, and I think the point that Davis is making is that you can't always dwell on the negative. I had so many positive moments in the year, and did so many positive things. Under pressure I really struggled, at the U.S. Open making one bad swing. I still say that was due to the setup changing, and the doubt in my mind about where I was supposed to hit the golf ball.

(Related Photos: Notable Rules Incidents From 2012)

Have you spoken to the USGA's Mike Davis about the setup?
We talked about it, we're friends. I respect Mike. I think he's done a great job setting up the golf course. I took it as a major surprise where they put the tee that day, and no one knew where to hit it. I said that at the U.S. Open. I handled it very poorly, pull-hooked it over in the garbage, but he talked to me and said, "I like to set the golf course up where there's a shot a day where guys aren't expecting it, they don't have a yardage, and they have to make decisions on the fly." My point as a player is, I would like to know, Hey, we could use these three tees. We agreed on everything. I was showing him a player's perspective; he was showing me the setup perspective. There was really no right or wrong.

It sounds like what he wants and what you want are opposite things. He wants you to think on your feet, and you want to know where the tees are.
I think no matter what we do we're always thinking on our feet. If I know it's 248 to a particular tree, I'm thinking, Do I want to hit 3-wood and turn it off that tree? Or do I want to hit hybrid right at that tree? For me I made a bad swing because of the indecision. I tried to make an aggressive swing, and in hindsight, I should have played it much more conservatively. I haven't played a great par 5 where I've hit two hybrids and a wedge to it, I can promise you that. And I've never played a great par 5 over 600 yards. But that's opinion. I like risk-reward par 5s, like at Augusta where you have a chance of making 3 or 7.

After the Bridgestone, you said, "I've lost some tournaments in some pretty poor fashions, but I don't think I've ever let one slip away nearly as bad as this one." You called your fivefoot bogey putt an "awful" effort. What happened on that hole?
I struggled around the green. I butchered it up the hole and made 6 when the worst I should have made was 5 for a playoff.

The tee shot at Bridgestone missed left and hit a tree and bounced out. Was it the same sort of shot as the one on 16 at Olympic Club?
No, not at all -- the one at Olympic was way left, the one at 18 at the Bridgestone was, you know, eight yards left.

Another Davis Love quote: "You don't get to enjoy the good times unless you screw it up every once in a while in front of everybody." Does it give you some comfort to know that even Michael Jordan missed the game-winner sometimes?
No, I know that. I know that. [Long pause] I feel like I'm as competitive as anyone in the world, and I want to win as much as anyone in the world. But I'm just not a feel-sorry-for-me type of person, so I'm not sure where the rest of the interview is going, but this isn't going to be a let's-feel- sorry-for-Jim thing. That's just not me. Look, I got paid a lot at both events that I screwed up in front of a lot of people, and no one's feeling too bad that way for me.

No, no one's going to feel sorry for you. You've made more than $3.6 million this season alone, and you could be headed to the Hall of Fame.
The reason why I hash it out is to get it off my chest, like, All right, it's over with. The more you try to tight-lip things and ignore the fact that you screwed up, the more people are going to glaringly see that you screwed up. I want to be human about it. I talked about the U.S. Open at length. Bridgestone was worse because I feel like I should have won by five shots, but I didn't and I've got to get over it and I have. I feel like the rest of the world has got to get over it at this point, too, especially the ones with the pens and the tape recorders. [Laughs]

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