Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)


Don't Be So Quick To Give Up Your Seat On The Furyk Bandwagon

September 24, 2012

Jim Furyk and Captain Davis Love III pose with the Ryder Cup during the second 2012 preview day.

A lot of people have been worried about Jim Furyk going into the Ryder Cup at Medinah No. 3. They cite an underwhelming record (8-15-4) in his seven previous matches, advanced age (42), a relative lack of power (166th in driving distance at 279.9 yards) and, most foreboding, recent ugly finishes when in position to win (Olympic Club, Firestone and even East Lake). They see a captain's pick destined to be a weak link.

To me, though, Davis Love III chose well. There are a lot of reasons, but they all emanate from this: the honorable, devoted and fierce way Furyk goes about competitive golf makes him the most respected man on the team.

Such stature doesn't translate to the general fan. Mention Furyk and words "workmanlike" and "dour" usually follow. The chrome dome that startles when the hat comes off on the 18th hole doesn't help on the charisma meter, nor does the annoying stutter step while preparing to putt. Even the too-large block letters from his energy drink logo lack style.

But Furyk the golfer doesn't. Students of the game love his swing because it's so completely his -- even his club-pro dad and only teacher didn't really mess with it. They love how he controls the ball, the result of "owning" that swing in a way Tiger Woods can only envy. For all the loop-da-loops, not to mention the double overlap grip, Furyk returns the club to square better than anyone. He might look like all work and no play, but no one -- shaped shot for shaped shot -- actually plays the game more.

Because his rococo action has produced naysayers his whole career, Furyk has learned -- better than most -- how to trust himself. As he said after a Friday 64 at the Tour Championship, "If I really cared what the critics thought the last 19 years, I really wouldn't be here."

None of which discounts legitimate questions about Furyk going into Medinah. He hasn't won since the 2010 Tour Championship, and some fear the tournaments he threw away this year might have opened a wound that won't heal. The duck-hooked drive on the 70th hole of the U.S. Open was bad (as was the pulled wedge at the last), but his sudden collapse on the 72nd hole at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was worse. After two flinched chips and a flinch-ier putt, Furyk made double bogey when par would have won.

Never underestimate, however, the resilience of a proven player. Furyk rebounded from crushing U.S. Open defeats at Winged Foot in 2006 and before hometown fans at Oakmont in 2007. His words in June after the disappointment at Olympic were mature; at the Bridgestone, they were brave. On Saturday at East Lake, when a duck hook into the water on the 17th led to a triple bogey that took him out of the lead for good, they were honest. "I was a little uncomfortable on the tee shot," he said, "and hit a bad double cross."

I've got a theory about Furyk's current vulnerabilities. His Tour Championship victory two years ago was the 16th of his career. Including the 2003 U.S. Open and being the tour's player of the year in 2010, it put Furyk on the brink of the Hall of Fame. He knew a win at Olympic would have clinched the deal, and a victory at Firestone would have dramatically furthered the cause. Being a short hitter adds to the urgency because the career clock ticks faster for such players. Tough as he is, Furyk wanted it too much and got in his own way.

I believe the toughness will return at Medinah, where Furyk will be in the kind of full team mode that is natural for one who as a teenager was a star catcher, point guard and quarterback. Although his Ryder Cup record in pairs has been disparaged a lot of late, of the 13 such matches he lost, seven went to the last hole. And for the record, Furyk is 20-10-3 in the Presidents Cup, including going 5-0 in 2011.

The immeasurable intangible: how much Furyk cares. While gracefully consoling Hunter Mahan after the U.S. loss at Wales in 2010, the hard man admitted, "I've never cried after losing other than at the Ryder Cup." Furyk might cry again at Medinah, but it won't be because he was the weak link.