In a crowded field, David Feherty deserves credit for the best description of Jim Furyk’s golf swing: Like an octopus falling out of a tree.
But my favorite story about the intense, meticulous nature of 11-time PGA Tour winner Furyk, who beat Trevor Immelman on the first hole of sudden death to win the Wachovia Championship last weekend, came from his father and coach, Mike. Mike told me that as a kid, Jim was so into his sports (football, basketball, baseball) he couldn’t be bothered to sit and make a Christmas list. Fair enough. But he was also semi-pathological about schoolwork. “He wanted to make all A’s at school—and not just A’s,” Mike said. “He wanted to make all 100s. When he was in the fourth or fifth grade, his mother and I told him he didn’t need to be perfect. I said, ‘Don’t cheat me. I want to have a kid, not somebody who’s an adult in the fourth grade.'”
Furyk is still meticulous. It’s not that he and his wife Tabitha have found out the sex of their two children in the womb. (It cuts the list of potential names in half!) Plenty of people do that. More than once he’s gotten so lost in his pre-tournament focus that he’s forgotten to pack any pants, but, hey, it happens. No, meticulous is Furyk sending me a handwritten letter after a cover story I wrote about him appeared in print. That’s not unprecedented in the history of journalism, but in my 10 years of covering the Tour I’ve received exactly one letter from a player I’ve written about: Furyk’s. (Although I got quite a nastygram from a Colin Montgomerie fan.)
Furyk succeeds because, in cowboy lingo, he’s got more “try” than anyone else, except maybe Tiger. It’s why the two made an unbeatable team at the Presidents Cup last year—two wins, one tie—and will almost certainly be paired together at the Ryder Cup this September.
It’s also why at the only stroke play event in which Furyk and Woods both had their A+ games, the 2001 NEC Invitational, it took a lucky seven-hole playoff (lucky for the viewers at home) to determine the winner. Woods won, although not before the underdog had electrified the gallery by holing a bunker shot on the first extra hole. It was vintage Furyk.
When he’s at home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, he gets an early start and practices until 4 p.m. He keeps insanely detailed yardage books. His routine over putts features more changes of address than Larry Brown. But it works. Boy, does it work.
His W at the Wachovia came one year after a sudden-death loss to Vijay Singh at Quail Hollow Club, and only three weeks after being nipped by Aaron Baddeley at Hilton Head. Furyk, with his loop swing, is the hottest player in the world. Phil Mickelson held that distinction a month ago, but he tied for 35th in Charlotte, the second straight week he’s brought only his C game.
“I’m just playing poorly,” Mickelson said. “I think I might just need a little break and try to get refreshed before the U.S. Open.”
The year’s second major, which will be played at Winged Foot Golf Club outside New York, June 15-18, was mentioned more than once during the Wachovia, since it doesn’t take much imagination to envision Quail Hollow as an Open venue. The 2003 Open winner, Furyk is sure to be on the short list of favorites in New York. As with Woods, it’s getting to the point where he’s a favorite anywhere he plays. Furyk’s roster of titles covers the spectrum from early-season (2001 Mercedes Championship) to late (Vegas, three times, most recently 1999); from tight, small tracks (1996 Sony Open at Waialae Country Club) to big, broad shouldered ones (2005 Cialis Western Open at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club).
Furyk was asked on Sunday if he’s bothered that so many people feel he’s overachieving. “I was called an overachiever at Hilton Head,” he said. “I guess you could take it as a compliment or as a backhanded slap. I’d prefer to take things as compliments because I didn’t think that it was meant in a negative way. I would never consider myself the same as Tom Kite. Everyone always called him an overachiever, and every time I watch him he’s got a heck of a lot of talent, so I don’t get what that means: He’s not flashy, so therefore he must have overachieved to get what he’s done.”
Kite won 19 times, including one major, and for that he was sent to the Hall of Fame. Furyk isn’t there yet, but it’s beginning to look like he’s on his way. He’ll turn 36 on Friday, and said of his plans, “I’m not sitting on my rear end. I’m going to keep working, and I want to win a lot more golf tournaments.”
His next W could come in New York, but let’s not limit the loop. The Memorial comes two weeks earlier than the Open, and Furyk has won that one, too. Whatever the immediate future holds, the Hall had better get ready. Slowly, surely, amazingly, an octopus is making its way to St. Augustine, Florida.
Cameron Morfit covers the PGA Tour as a Senior Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE. You can read his column every Monday on GOLFONLINE. E-mail him your questions and comments at [email protected].