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Trying Harder at Number Two

Jim Furyk has climbed the world golf rankings to take control of the number two spot
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Cuba, May/June 2007

In a golf world dominated by Tiger and commanded by Phil, Ernie, Vijay and Goose, let's not forget about Jim. That would be Jim Furyk. Sure, Tiger Woods is the best player in the world, likely the best player ever. Sure, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen can be world-beaters on any given day. But just as surely, Jim Furyk has taken his place on the Mount Rushmore of golf, rising throughout the 2006 season, after 14 years on the PGA Tour, to become the No. 2 player in the world. "I can't say that it's any surprise to me," says Tom Lehman, a competitor of Furyk's on the PGA tour and his captain on the 2006 Ryder Cup team. "Jim is a solid, dogged competitor with a great short game. He's made himself into a great player and he's not going to go away. Whatever you think of his swing, it repeats itself well, time and time again, and time and time again under pressure. He deserves everything he's achieved."

The swing. It always comes back to the swing. David Feherty, the CBS golf commentator and resident wag, has variously described Furyk's swing as "a man trying to kill a snake in a phone booth" and "an octopus falling out of a tree." Now, whatever those images conjure for you, whatever little laugh they evoke, these descriptions are really compliments. In an era when nearly all the swings look the same, from Woods right down to the 200th player in the world, Jim Furyk's outside-in, rhythmical loop makes him different, distinguishable and decidedly accomplished.

That loop has won him 12 PGA Tour events, including the 2003 U.S. Open, more than $30 million in prize money, and places on the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, where he has regularly been paired with Woods.

And from the time Furyk started swinging in his own peculiar way as a teenager, his father, Mike, knew enough not to change it. You see, Mike Furyk is the only teacher that his son has ever had. He knows Jim's swing and psyche better than anyone does, or ever could. "You aren't going to understand what I understand, and I don't want you to take this in a derogatory manner," says the father. "But you haven't been around the golf business as long as I have, you haven't known the players I have, haven't been with Jim and I and don't have any understanding of our relationship. I'm going to know more about Jim than anybody except his mother and his wife."

It is Jim Furyk, a quarterback and point guard as a youth, who has gotten to know his own swing, his own short game, his own putting stroke better and better each year since 1994, when he qualified full-time for the Tour. And as he became more and more comfortable with how he played, the courses he played, the players he played against, Furyk began a rise to the top that left only the impenetrable Woods standing above him.

It's 10 in the morning on a Tuesday at the driving range of the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, and Furyk is pounding driver after driver as representatives of his club company, Srixon, follow every shot with a launch monitor. They have half a dozen different drivers and Furyk is looking for just the right one to replace one he used last year until he caved in the face late in the fall. He's on the range at noon. He's still on the range at 2. Furyk's looking for something and he's going to stay at it until he finds it—an approach that pretty much defines his career.

Jim Furyk has always been looking for something to improve himself, and if he has to hit 500 balls with a driver, then that's what he'll do. If he has to putt for four hours, he'll do that. If he has to hit sand shots, chip shots and pitch shots for hours on end, days on end, weeks on end, he'll do that. That's what a competitor does, and that's what Jim Furyk does, ever since he fell in love with the game.

"I've always been comfortable competing in golf," says Furyk, sitting in the locker room of the venerable Riviera Country Club, where he was preparing to play in the 2007 Nissan Open. "The first summer I really played golf. I went out with a friend every day for two months, played every day for 60 days, and at the end there was a golf tournament. I fell in love with competing right then and there. Ever since, it's been about preparing well to compete in a golf tournament. I really enjoy going out and testing myself on how well I prepared and how well I can compete. I never really saw the other side of golf as far as going out there and hanging out with three buddies and playing for four hours and having a couple of beers, that social side of golf."

And though he was skilled at other sports, played every one competitively, it was golf that grabbed ahold of him. Why?

"The simplest answer is I was always the best at golf," he says. "I wasn't going to be the second-best basketball player or the second-best baseball player in the world. That [No. 2] ranking is very unimportant to me, but I wasn't going to be at the top of my field in the other sports. I like team sports, the camaraderie of pulling together and achieving a goal and making bonds that last forever. But golf has this individuality to it. If I shoot 68 or 78, I don't have anyone else to play but myself. You are a goat or a hero every day you tee it up. I control myself. I never really had a boss, which is a pretty cool thing to say for a 36-year-old."

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