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What’s in a number? For 17-time winner Jim Furyk, it’s 50

PALM HARBOR, FLORIDA - MARCH 22: Jim Furyk of the United States look son from the 17th tee during the second round of the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Golf Resort on March 22, 2019 in Palm Harbor, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Longtime PGA Tour mainstay approaches pivotal birthday with more victories in mind 

By Chris Cox / PGA TOUR

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA – Jim Furyk’s residence in downtown Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood is roughly 30 minutes north of the World Golf Hall of Fame. But the PGA Tour mainstay has made only two trips to the museum in his storied career.

The first visit came in 2012 to see his good friend Phil Mickelson inducted into the Hall. The second came four years later, when he contributed the hat, ball and glove from his record-breaking round of 58 at the Travelers Championship.

A third—and permanent—trip to the Hall of Fame seems inevitable. 

Spanning nearly three decades on Tour, Furyk has amassed 17 career victories—including a major championship at the 2003 U.S. Open—and more than U.S.$71 million in career earnings. Throw in a pair of sub-60 rounds for good measure, and the Pennsylvania native appears to be a lock to join his pal Phil in eternal enshrinement at the World Golf Village. 

“I have (thought about it) because I get reminded about it a lot in interviews with the media,” Furyk said, laughing. “What I can do in that scenario is just keep playing well, and hopefully it all works out. I haven’t been there that often, but it really is an amazing place. I didn’t want to stand around and smell the flowers, but it would be a great honor if one day that would happen.”

Reflection

Always the cerebral player, Furyk hasn’t taken much time to stop and reflect on all of the accomplishments he’s accumulated over his lengthy Tour career. He thinks about the misses far more often than the wins, he said, namely those two-shot defeats in 1998 at the hands of Mark O’Meara at the Masters and Open Championship.

But as the clock begins to tick down toward its next phase, the good memories are beginning to flood back.

“Surely more than they did 10, 15, 20 years ago,” he said. “As a young player I never stopped and smelled the flowers. Even after wins, it was a short-lived excitement and then back to work. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve appreciated it more.”

On May 12, Furyk will celebrate his 50th birthday, a number in golf that has long been viewed as the celebratory rite-of-passage that sees one career end on the PGA Tour and another begin anew on PGA Tour Champions.

Furyk is looking forward to one day embracing those challenges against Bernhard Langer and Ernie Els. He’s even bringing a tournament to Jacksonville’s Timuquana Country Club in 2021, the Constellation Furyk & Friends, with him.

All that being said… he’s still waiting for that final fulfillment on the Tour he’s called home for 27 years. 

He’s not ready to hang it up just yet.

“No matter how much success you’ve had, you always want a little bit more,” he said. “There’s time for reflection down the road. I think that’s my nature, and everyone’s nature, to some extent. But I surely wouldn’t have imagined as a rookie on Tour that 17 wins and 27 years later I’d still be out here playing.

“I’m excited about what I’ve accomplished. But I still feel like there’s a little bit more left in there.”

The results bear that out. Though he missed his last three cuts before the PGA TOUR was indefinitely postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic, the Payne Stewart Award winner carded a tie for 17th at the Safeway Open and a tie for 23rd at The RSM Classic during the fall portion of the schedule. 

But nothing showcased his trademark resolve quite like the 2019 Players Championship, where Furyk put together a gutsy, final-round 67 to finish solo second, one shot off eventual winner Rory McIlroy. He squeezed into his hometown event as the last player in the field—thanks to his high finish the week before at the Honda Classic—and ended up with his best result since the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

At TPC Sawgrass’ 72nd hole, Furyk stalked an approach shot that landed inside three feet. He tapped in for his fourth back-nine birdie and nearly stunned the golf world in the process before McIlroy maintained order with birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 to clinch the victory.

“I haven’t put myself in the heat with really a good opportunity to win a golf tournament in a while, and I missed it,” Furyk said afterward. “I missed the nerves, I missed the excitement, the cheers, and I think the emotion you saw on 18 was just I was proud of the way I played.”

That weekend put to rest any lingering questions about the state of Furyk’s game. Though he had been plagued by injuries in the years that preceded it—a nagging shoulder problem left him on the shelf for six months, in 2017 and 2018, which led to him missing the FedExCup playoffs for the first time in his career— his stirring performance on the Stadium Course proved he could still compete with the best.

“Amazing. I was talking to Tiger (Woods) about him yesterday in the locker room, and it’s incredible,” Jhonattan Vegas said at the time. “I mean, a guy at 48, contending at this course with these type of conditions? It’s not like the ball’s rolling forever and it’s playing short. It’s playing long and tough, and it shows the character of Jim Furyk and that’s kind of what hes done all through his career. [I’m] happy for him.”

The current pause in play has almost forced Furyk to “stop and smell the roses,” whether he wants to or not. Over the past few weeks he’s reflected on that very first win—at the 1995 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, when Michael Jordan had returned to the NBA after two years playing baseball and Woods was still a year away from winning his first PGA Tour title—and the last, two decades later at the 2015 RBC Heritage, when it was Jordan Spieth’s turn to captivate viewers.

Furyk credits much of that first career victory, where he beat Billy Mayfair by one stroke, to the previous season’s Northern Telecom Open. It was there, in Tucson, that he posted the first of 188 career top-10 finishes and propelled him into the player he is today.

“I was a rookie on Tour when I first put everything together, when I had my first top-10 and chance to win, and finally felt like maybe I belonged,” he recalled. “That’s the first time I thought, ‘Maybe I can make a career out of this.’ As a kid, it’s more of a dream, and it’s something you hope is possible and you put a lot of time and effort into it, but I don’t think you ever really know until you get there and arrive. 

“This game can be mean at times, and it can get taken away really fast. I’ve remembered that throughout my career and always tried to work hard.”

ST SIMONS ISLAND, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 22: jduring the second round of the RSM Classic on the Plantation course at Sea Island Golf Club on November 22, 2019 in St Simons Island, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

No one has questioned Furyk’s work ethic over the years. And yet, he will never be mistaken as a player who works himself into the ground trying to repair his game when it’s not at its best.

That’s partly one of the secrets to his longevity. He strives to never forget why he plays the game, and he tries not to tamper too much with what’s worked for so long.

“You’ve got to be careful sometimes making hobbies your work,” he said. “Sometimes they lose the fun a little bit. I think all of us that play golf professionally, if you start treating it as a job, the enjoyment is not quite there. I think the guys that still have fun doing it have that little kid at heart in them and go out and play just like they did when they were 14 years old.”

Even approaching 50, Furyk still plays like he’s 14. Much of that is a credit to the only swing coach he’s ever known, his father, Mike, and sticking to the unorthodox, upright swing the pair crafted together.

“I never tried to totally break down my golf swing and start over again,” he said. “Had I done so, I wouldn’t have had the career that I did. Dad always had a watchful eye. Anytime I hit the panic button on my career, he was a calming effect. We always tried to get back to the fundamentals in what I did.”

And it’s hard to argue with the results of that consistency, from the 17 wins to those aforementioned sub-60 rounds. There have only been 11 such moments in PGA Tour history, and Furyk is the only one to do it twice. 

The first, a 59 in the second round of the 2013 BMW Championship, would have certainly been enough to cement his legendary status. But he outdid himself three years later in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship when he carded a 12-under 58, the only player in Tour history to put that number on his scorecard. 

Furyk’s monumental feat wouldn’t have even happened had he not shot 66 on Friday, which helped him make the cut on the number and advance to the weekend. He would go on to enter Sunday in a tie for 70th place after carding a third-round 72. 

Furyk and playing partner Miguel Angel Carballo promptly went off early that morning—8:41 a.m., to be exact—with few spectators in sight. The leaders wouldn’t be playing for another five hours, and the pair had visions of a quiet morning before jetting off to their next destination.

“It was our 29th day in a row on the road playing in our fourth straight tournament,” Furyk recalled. “We were probably talking about what we were going to do when we got home and looking forward to some time off.” 

Of course, history had other plans. Furyk would open his day with a front-nine 27, highlighted by a hole out for eagle from 135 yards at the third. After a par at the fourth, Furyk added four consecutive birdies to make the turn at 8-under.

“I was so glad to be there and watch this player do this,” Carballo said afterward. “After the eagle, we talked about the fact that he could make everything, because he was in the zone. … We were seeing the best golf round in the history of golf, and we talked about that since hole No. 9 when he finished. (We knew) if he made three or four more, he’s going to have the best round in history.”

Word about Furyk’s day began to filter around the golf course after that. The TV broadcast tuned in to his round, while on-site media and local fans flocked to the group to watch.  

“After making the turn at 8-under, there was a huge buzz,” Furyk said. “A lot of fans started running to the 10th tee, and I was teasing some of the media that they were running out there too. To get off to a good start on the backside was exciting.”

Furyk promptly added three more birdies—moving to 11-under for the day—before adding one more at the 16th. He closed with pars on his final two holes, celebrated with longtime caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan and cemented his place in the PGA Tour record books.

“I played with (Furyk) Thursday and Friday, and he made at least eight feet for par on No. 9 to make the cut,” Zach Johnson said. “Fifty-eight is remarkable, but to grind it out? He shot 4-over the first day and grinding out a 5-under on Friday to make the cut. And then, lo and behold, (he shoots 58). 

“He’s the model I use for a lot of things,” Johnson continued. “Just how he goes about his game both on and off it. We’re both modest in hitting, yet we cling to our strengths and utilize them. There are not many aspects to his game that lack anything.”

The Passion Remains

In typical Furyk fashion, he kept none of his personal belongings from that day as a keepsake, instead delivering it all during one of his two lifetime trips to the Hall of Fame. And he watched the round for the first time only over the last several weeks in a live question-and-answer session with fans.

Like he said, he’s not one to reflect—that’s for another day. For now, he has more tournaments to win. The only question left to answer is on what Tour do those wins come?

Either way, the fire is still there. 

“In this game, you can’t rest too long and you can’t get too complacent,” he said. “There’s just too much talent there and too many good players, and you get whipped pretty quick. I’ve enjoyed it. In one sense I’m always working to get better. I think we’re all a little greedy by nature.”

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL – AUGUST 9: Jim Furyk poses for a portrait after being announced as the recipient of the Payne Stewart Award at the World Golf Hall of Fame on August 9, 2016 in St Augustine, Florida. (Photo by Ryan Young/PGA TOUR)
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