PALM BEACH GARDENS — Jim Furyk and his wife, Tabitha, were inconspicuously attempting to make their way through the lobby at PGA National on Tuesday night, hoping nobody would make the connection to Wednesday’s announcement of the next United States Ryder Cup captain. They were unsuccessful.
No sooner had they entered their hotel room that the phone started ringing. It was 2010 Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin pranking them. It turns out Pavin was coincidentally in the hotel lobby. He too had the challenge of keeping his captaincy a secret, so he knew the Furyks’ tall task. The Furyks had known before the holidays, but had to sit on it.
“It was hard keeping a secret for this long to be honest with you,” Furyk said when we sat down after his news conference at PGA Headquarters. “I’ve avoided my phone the last three days.”
I told Furyk there wasn’t anything secret about his appointment. This was not like bringing back old school Tom Watson in 2014 or giving Davis Love III a second chance in 2016. The possibility of integrating three-time Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples was discussed by the Ryder Cup committee, as was Love coming back for a third time. But when the vote came, it was unanimous.
“I can’t wait to help Jim in ’18,” Love told me in a text on Thursday night, having been appointed by Furyk as assistant captain the previous day. “He was important part of the ’16 team success. He is very meticulous, organized and decisive, has the respect of the players on and off the course, and is a great speaker. So an obvious and easy choice for captain.”
Jim told me there were tears from everyone in the family except for his father, Mike, his only coach and a former PGA club pro in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. “The tears were there, but I don’t make them very visible,” Mike told me from his home in Arizona on Thursday morning. “I’m more behind closed doors.”
Behind closed doors at Hazeltine National, or the floor of the team room at the hotel, Furyk will be remembered for breaking out White Boards and detailing information. That’s something he picked up from his dad.
“When he was a kid, I would do it with a piece of paper and a pen,” Mike said. “It’s a methodical method of thinking things out. You’re not just guessing. Whether it works out or not, at least there’s a method to what you’re doing. You’re giving it full thought to make the best decisions you can make. That’s all you can do.”
While his only captaincy prior to this was his junior varsity basketball team, Jim was described as “always a player captain,” by Zach Johnson on Twitter.
In this leadership role, it’s basically a rule by committee situation with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Love having the captain’s back—which could help the 46-year-old Furyk potentially become the first “playing captain” since Arnold Palmer in 1963. He did, after all, nearly play his way on the 2016 team while playing just six months following wrist surgery.
Furyk’s also not as straight-laced as he comes across. Recognized by the Golf Writers Association of America with the Jim Murray Award for his relationship with the media, and by the PGA Tour with the Payne Stewart Award, Furyk has shown the type of personality that doesn’t always come through the TV lens.
“It’s so funny,” Tabitha said, “in his first Presidents Cup team as an assistant captain [in 2011], Jordan Spieth said, ‘I can not wait to spend a week with you guys cause I hear you’re sneaky funny and I can not wait.’ Phil has always said, ‘Jim has one of the best senses of humor, but he keeps it to that group.’ He is a lot of fun and brings that to the table in a lot of ways.”
Of course nobody—starting with Furyk—will be smiling should the U.S. side travel to Paris and lose. Nobody knows that better than Love. But that wasn’t a concern for right now. Rather it was a time to celebrate a reward a long time in the making, one the Furyks no longer had to keep a secret.