Brown: Wide range of emotions continue for Furyk at U.S. Open
By Clifton Brown, PGATOUR.COM columnist
Jim Furyk has experienced just about every emotion at the U.S. Open.
Ten years ago, Furyk won the national championship at Olympia Fields. It was his first, and so far, his only major championship. It was the pinnacle of his career, the culmination of years of hard work.
In 2007 at Oakmont, Furyk nearly won the U.S. Open again, finishing one stroke behind the champion, Angel Cabrera. Was Furyk disappointed? Sure, but he played well, and felt confident he would get another shot to capture a U.S. Open.
However, at last year’s national championship, something un-Furyk-like happened to Furyk. He was the sole leader as he started the back nine on Sunday. That is when Furyk usually closes the deal. This time, he didn’t. He made uncharacteristic mistakes down the stretch. He finished tied for fourth behind this year’s defending champion, Webb Simpson.
Even now, Furyk can’t quite explain what happened to him on the back nine at last year’s Open. However, Furyk does know this. He is tough enough to bounce back and prevail this weekend.
"Last year I was very upset, very disappointed in the way I performed down the stretch," said Furyk during a telephone interview from his Florida home. "I made some mental errors, which is more difficult for me to accept than physical errors.
"But at 43 years old I can put things in perspective. You’re not dying on every shot. My first real chance to win a major was back at the Masters in 1998. I wasn’t married then. I didn’t have children. Golf was my life at that time. Now it’s important, but it’s different."
Yet, when talking to Furyk about this week’s challenge, it was easy to detect the intensity in his voice. Winning at Merion would be a signature moment for Furyk, a native of Pennsylvania.
"I grew up about 50 miles down the road, never really played it as a kid," Furyk said. "In 1989, I played the U.S. Amateur there and lost in the first round. But it’s a great golf course. I’ll have a lot of family and friends at Merion. It will be a fun week. At Oakmont, I did a good job of handling a similar week. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I was able to enjoy the fact that I had a lot of people rooting for me, and a lot of family there. I’ll try to approach this week the same way."
With 16 career wins on the PGA TOUR, Furyk has been one of the finest and most consistent golfers of his generation. His peers respect him. He is a grinder, often doing his best work on tough courses, which means his style suits the U. S. Open.
However, the U.S. Open tests every player’s patience, even those as methodical as Furyk. He talked about the difficulty of accepting pars, even accepting bogeys, and resisting the temptation to take chances.
"You have to change gears, realize that you can shoot 73 and still be in the golf tournament," Furyk said. "That’s usually not the case on the PGA TOUR. I know I’ve done it at several Opens in the past – you get a couple over par and you start pressing the envelope and before you know it, you’re done. You shoot 77, instead of just accepting a 72.
"Sure, I’m probably more comfortable on a tough golf course. But that being said, three of my first four wins on the PGA TOUR game in Vegas, where I shot anywhere from 25 to 29 under. In order to be a complete player, you have to be versatile. When birdies are needed, you have to shoot a low number. Merion won’t be just a physical test. It’s a mental test. Accepting that is sometimes hard to do. It’s not what we’re programmed to do."
Perhaps the recent rain at Merion will make the course play softer, a little less demanding. But the tournament is always a crucible. Some respond to it. Others are crushed by it.
Everyone prepares for it differently. Some, like Phil Mickelson, prefer to play the week before a major. Furyk spent last week practicing at home, although there is no sure-fire way to prepare for Merion, or any other U.S. Open setup.
"For U.S. Opens it’s tough to simulate conditions off-site, no matter where you are," Furyk said. "It was nice to play at the Memorial as my last tournament beforehand. Those greens were somewhat firm, but extremely fast and severe, on some very sloped hole locations. You had to feed the ball to the hole, and a lot of times you had to putt very defensively. I think that’s really good preparation."
Fuyrk has not won a tournament since the 2010 TOUR Championship, which for him represents a significant drought. Last year was particularly tough on him. In addition to the U.S. Open slipping away, Furyk was part of the United States team that suffered a crushing defeat at the Ryder Cup.
Yet, Furyk senses no slippage in his game. In fact, he believes he is due.
"From a consistency standpoint, from a statistical standpoint, last year was one of the best of my career," Furyk said. "But it was disappointing that I didn’t get over the hump and win golf tournaments. It’s funny, I’d rather be up and down, all over the map, and get a few wins. Ultimately, we’re trying to win. It just seems like I’m struggling to put four days together."
At the U.S. Open, sometimes you suffer before you succeed. Furyk has done both. But as he prepares for another emotional ride this week, know this about Furyk. He can’t wait for another shot.
Clifton Brown is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.