a steamy, sultry Sunday afternoon, on a golf course in Connecticut, Jim Furyk, a patient, unassuming, perfectionist, stood on the first tee with not even a hint of what he was about to do, which was to create an historic magic number for the sport that baffles and bedevils us all.
Jim Furyk shot 58.
On a par-70 course.
Lowest score in a PGA Tour tournament ever.
The number may surprise us, but not the man who authored it. Only three years back, Jim Furyk shot 59. Know how many others have done that?
So can 57 be next?
The thing is, his game, and especially his temperament, are ideally suited for such bursts of brilliance.
Golf, after all, is all about self control, you against you. It is why the athletes from other sports are so drawn to it. Why, they wonder, can I be world class in my day job, but that %&$# little white ball takes me to my knees?
Jim Furyk is even keel. He doesn’t get ahead of himself, and is always mindful that par is not always a bad idea.
He is rawhide lean (picture Clint Eastwood stalking the dusty streets of Laredo in a game of who’s the quickest draw), and at 46 years of age, he is still fit and trim. Four more years and he’ll be eligible to join the Champions Tour and play against the sports elders. Look for a smashing debut.
He’s not one of those peacocks on the tour with their rainbow wardrobes out there playing Bombs Away with those 350-yard drives that make the little girls swoon.
No, he is the one wrapped in a cocoon of concentration, plotting and measuring and calibrating. He’s not monstrously long, but he’s not a pop gun either. And when he’s on, really on, then the tee balls arc toward the heavens and the irons are pure daggers and the putts, ah the putts, snake across the green and slither into the cup. Of such moments are 59’s crafted.
He plods along, deliberately and purposefully, and on the tour, players like Jim Furyk are called Grinders. It is meant as a compliment; while the rest of the field moans and yelps about the placement of cups and the height of the rough and too many trees, too much water, on and on and on…the Grinders button up and make the decision to embrace not the penalties, but the opportunities.
As the USGA has said: “Our intent is not to embarrass the best players, rather to identify them.”
So Jim Furyk bends to his work and produces shots that are spun gold, and he is the artisan, a relentless optimist, with blinders on (“Sand trap? I don’t see any sand trap. Water on the right, you say? So I’ll hit left.”)
Yes, you can make it harder than it needs to be…as if it wasn’t already impossible.
Now comes the mystifying part—Jim Furyk’s swing. It’s supposed to do any number of things wrong, and yet so many things end up right. This is what it looks like to me: A tipsy man on roller skates coming down a spiral staircase.
There are loops and corkscrews, there are pauses and releases, and there are all manner of what look like something left over from baseball—take two and hit to right.
Ah, but that guffaw you’re hearing in the background is Jim Furyk enjoying the last laugh.
The secret lies somewhere between the take-back and the follow through, because at the finish, everything, all those moving parts, click into place, just like the mystical innards of a Swiss watch, and, voila! Jim Furyk has achieved the single most coveted state in all of golf.
The Repeating Swing.
You want to divert your eyes, but you find yourself entranced. Surely the man must have a pact with Beelzebub.
Jim Furyk by the numbers:
– Seventeen times a winner.
– Sixty-seven million dollars, and counting, in career earnings.
– Fourth all-time in earnings.
– 2010 FedEx Cup champion.
– Ranked 22nd in world ratings.
– United Sates Open champion, 2003.
That last one is the biggie, because it is for the country’s championship and always is contested under the most daunting of conditions, which is meat for a Grinder. And he has come achingly close….
Did we mention his swing? The one that defines unorthodox? He must employ a stable of swing gurus. But, in fact, he has only two coaches. Himself. And his father, Mike. No outsider need apply…you might try to straighten the curves and curve what’s straight.
As they say, leave well enough alone, and if it’s broke, let it stay broke.
And besides, he is a slave to videotape and self-analysis.
He was born in West Chester, moved west to outside Pittsburgh, and now makes Florida home. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both like to claim him. Especially when he’s shooting 59. And 58.
The Travelers Championship was played in Cromwell Connecticut, on the TPC River Highlands course, 6,841 yards meandering over 148 acres, the center piece being a 4-acre lake that is devilishly inviting and is framed by stately corridors of maple, oak, sycamores and pine.
The allure of the place, however, was lost on Jim Furyk on this Sunday in August because his swing had betrayed him and he had stumbled home in Saturday’s third round and shot himself out of emphatic contention. He wanted only to rediscover his swing and point toward the road.
Sure…what’d I have on the back 9?