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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

(continued from page 1)

Not even his father has ever really been his boss. Theirs is a partnership, very much in the manner of Tiger Woods and his late father, Earl. With Mike and Jim, there has always been a calculated distance, and it's been there since Jim was in high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a distant exurb of Philadelphia. Even when he was a teenager, Mike and Linda Furyk would drop Jim off at the airport, and he would travel by himself to American Junior Golf Association events. When Jim played in local tournaments, Mike would sometimes watch his son warm up, then leave. Jim made his own decision to attend the University of Arizona, where he lived straightaway in an apartment, making all his own decisions on life and golf.

"You can't walk over to the ropes and say, 'Dad, do you think it's a 6 or a 7 iron?' You got to make those decisions," says Mike Furyk. "If you start him out early making those decisions, then it's going to be a heckuva lot easier down the line."

The father is proud to point out the similarities between his son and Tiger Woods, even if they seem to have completely different games. "They have become very good friends," says Mike. "They are both on the quiet side and both very hard workers. For two people with different types of games, you would have a hard time finding people with more similarities as far as their work ethic, their approach to the short game. They have so much in their lives that are similar. Tiger was very close to his father, as Jim is to me. Jim has two young children. Tiger is younger but about to have his first child. Tiger and Jim are more feel players than mechanical. Jim and Tiger are very emotional and wear it on their sleeves once in a while, and they both use that emotion to propel themselves. Both Tiger and Jim can get mad and use it to make them better."

Furyk and Woods have become a comfortable and enthusiastic pairing in team events, and Furyk has taken something from his time spent playing with Woods. "When I was younger I was taught that when you are the best player in the foursome, you can't really learn," says Furyk. "But when you are the worst player in the foursome, you can get a lot of experience. So playing with Tiger, who works hard, who is physically fit, who knows how to get away from the game and come back relaxed and charged up, it sort of confirms all the things I have been doing and the way I go about playing the game.

"Playing with him in tournaments and seeing some of the shots he can hit, and knowing that I, or other players, can't hit, is awesome. His iron game is phenomenal, the way he works the ball with different trajectories. I pride myself as a player who can move the ball around. There are a lot less guys who move the ball around now than there were 40 years ago because of the style of courses we are playing. Obviously, he's a lot stronger than I am and he hits it 40 yards farther off the tee. But I still think there are a lot of similarities in the way we play and that I am capable of some pretty strong play."

At the Ryder Cup last September, emphatically won by the European side once again, it was Furyk and Woods who were the only Americans to be paired together for all the foursome and four-ball matches. At the end of the second match on Friday, Furyk hit a poor shot into the water on the 18th hole and he and Woods lost their match. Furyk, who had hit a couple of similar shots early in the round, called his father back at the family's winter home on Maui, 7,500 miles and 10 time zones away. "I didn't go because you just can get close enough," says Mike Furyk. "We've gotten to the point where we can work pretty good over the phone or by e-mail. I tape a lot of his rounds. He called me and I told him I had the shot on tape, I'll go play it a bunch of times. I left him an e-mail to tell him his setup was wrong. He called later [after Saturday's play] and said he had hit the ball good and that what I saw was right on. We have the ability to communicate that way."

That ability to communicate has meant a lot to Jim Furyk. Other teachers might be able to work with him, but none would be able to talk with him, get through to him, know him like his father does. "I don't think that my dad would say that 'I'm the only one that can teach him,'" says Furyk. "I think from a communications standpoint, it would be difficult for someone else. Going back to when I was 14 and he was teaching me in the kitchen at home. The amount of situations I can go back on, I could call him today and say I am hitting like I did at Shinnecock in 2004, hanging it to the right, and he'll say, Do you remember that we worked on this and this? His eyes, his experience, would be irreplaceable."

All that experience came together for the Furyks at Olympia Fields in June 2003. Starting the final round, Furyk had a three-stroke lead in the U.S. Open. Jim and his wife, Tabitha, were sharing a house with Mike and Linda. It was Father's Day, and Jim hadn't said anything to his father that morning before they left the house. When they arrived at Olympia Fields, Jim just had to get it out. "He said, 'Happy Father's Day,'" recalls Mike. "He said he had been trying to get it out all day and was having a tough time with the emotions. It was the whole thing about leading his first major with a chance to win it on Father's Day. The pressure had really built on him. I put my arm around him, said thanks, then said, 'Let's go win a golf tournament.'"

Said Furyk to his father: "Let's go get 'em." And that's just what he—they—did.

Though Jim has won at least one PGA tourney every year from 1995 to 2006, except 1997 and 2004, the 2003 Open was the pinnacle. But you sometimes fall from high places. Late in 2003, Furyk's left wrist became painful, and then the pain became debilitating. It wasn't a sudden injury, but rather the effect of a million swings over the years. In early 2004 he had arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left wrist, was out for five months and probably returned too early in an attempt to defend his Open title, at Shinnecock in 2004.

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