Mister 58

Jim Furyk raises his arms and keeps a tight grip on the ball that he hit 58 times on Sunday, August 7, setting a record for fewest strokes ever taken in a round of PGA golf.
Photo: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire/AP Photo
Jim Furyk raises his arms and keeps a tight grip on the ball that he hit 58 times on Sunday, August 7, setting a record for fewest strokes ever taken in a round of PGA golf.

Jim Furyk made history at the Travelers Championship posting the lowest score ever recorded in a PGA event

As Jim Furyk pounded ball after ball on the range Thursday night, his head was filled with disgust with the number he posted that day—73.

It was August 4, and he was annoyed with himself for playing a poor first round in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. So annoyed that he told longtime caddie and confidant Mike "Fluff" Cowan to leave him alone on the range. It was just him, his clubs and a diminishing pile of balls. He called his father, Mike, who also serves as his coach, between swings. He was seeking a solution to his errant driving.  

Furyk needed better numbers. He needed a good score on Friday just to make the cut. He needed a good position on the final leaderboard to assure he would make the FedEx Cup playoffs and be eligible for millions in winnings. He didn't have a number in mind—he just knew he needed a better one. And he knew he had to find something on the range.

Three days later, on a 91-degree Sunday afternoon, Furyk found history in Cromwell, Connecticut. The 46-year-old posted the number that will forever define him. Jim Furyk is now Mr. 58.

With a 12-under-par in the final round of the Travelers, Furyk posted the lowest single round score in the history of the PGA Tour. It was a stunning display: one eagle, 10 birdies, seven pars and zero bogeys. He hit every fairway on the course and took only 24 putts, playing 18 holes in the number of strokes it takes some amateurs to complete nine.

And consider this—he was already one of only six players to post a score of 59, shot in the second round of the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club in 2013. That put him in Club 59. But Furyk's 58 puts him in another club, Club One, with an unprecedented two rounds in the 50s.

"You never know in this game really," the six-foot-two Pennsylvania native would say the following week. "Sunday was the last day that I would ever imagine a score like that or a great round coming out."

He was at the end of a month-long trip, day 31 on the road, and his golf had been far from spectacular. "I wasn't playing that well at the PGA, I hadn't played that particularly well at Hartford all week," he said. "Teeing off in the third group on Sunday morning. Most of the time most guys are trying to figure out how early can they get on that plane and get home. And I was dying to get back to Ponte Vedra to sleep in my own bed, to be with my family."

But something kept nagging at him. He repeated his work on the range Saturday night, hitting balls again and again and reaching out once more to his father. "There's no give up in him, never has been and never will be," says his trusted sidekick Cowan, who knew enough to skedaddle when Furyk told him he wanted to practice by himself.

That range work included a video Furyk sent to his father. Looking it over, they noticed a problem with his driver. His swing was just too long—the culprit for his hitting only five of 12 fairways when he used it off the tee in the first round at River Highlands.

The week before he had competed in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, a 7,420-yard par 70 giant that had been softened by rain, making the big course play even longer. Length off the tee was at a premium. Furyk, who isn't the longest of hitters to begin with, was trying for extra distance with extra windup, which got his upper and lower body—with his decidedly looping one-of-kind swing—out of sync. That windup had him out of sorts at River Highlands, a much shorter course than Baltusrol, and one that plays to only 6,841 yards. He didn't need length at River Highlands—he needed accuracy.

The Thursday range session seemed to help, and on Friday he shot a four-under-par 66 to make the cut on the number, to live until Sunday. Then it was back to the trouble, with a sloppy Saturday round, a 72, which sent him back to the range. More balls. Another conversation with his father. Back to his drawing board.

"I felt like someone else leaped into my body and was making the swing," said Furyk. They looked at another video. Now his driver swing had gotten too short.

Somewhere in between the Thursday swing and the Saturday swing was the real Furyk swing, a swing that had won him the 2003 U.S. Open (his only major), the 2010 FedEx Cup and north of $65 million in career purse money over 24 years as a pro golfer. David Feherty has variously described that swing as an octopus falling out of a tree and a man trying to kill a snake in a phone booth. At the range Saturday night, Furyk finally expelled the phantom player that invaded his body and found his swing again.

He stepped up to the first tee on Sunday and made a confident swing with his driver, hitting the fairway and walking away with a two-putt par. Then things started happening quickly. On No. 2 he hit a wedge to 15 feet and made birdie. On No. 3 he holed a wedge from 135 yards for an eagle 2. On No. 4 his drive came to rest in a fairway divot and he hit what he called his best shot of the day, a 4-iron to four feet. He sunk the putt for birdie. On the sixth, he made the first of seven consecutive birdies—he carded a 27 on the front nine—and was roaring into the homestretch. He was 11 under par through 12 holes and suddenly there was more than rocketing up the leaderboard at stake. There was history.

"When I had that opportunity at Conway three years ago, I kept telling myself you may never get this opportunity again," says Furyk, recalling his 58 from 2013. "Let's go out there and have fun and enjoy it. [At the Travelers] I had a tap-in on nine, and lo and behold 8-under-par 27. I kind of went, here we go again. It became very clear with birdies at 10, 11, 12, that maybe I could get past the barrier of 59. Then it just becomes a mental battle on the way in."

With six holes to go, he was 11-under-par, with the easy par-5 13th hole in front of him. But his drive found another fairway divot, causing him to lay up, then he hit his worst shot of the day, a fat wedge, and made par. He missed a 10-footer on the next hole, leaving him with another par, then missed an eight-foot-putt on the 15th.

Standing at the 16th tee box, facing a 171 yard par 3 with a carry over water, he didn't want to take any chances and hit his tee shot 23 feet from the hole. But that little tester putt curved perfectly into the cup for his 10th birdie. He was at 12 under par, and 58 was not just a possibility, but a reality. With pars on 17 and 18, he went straight into the history book.

"To go out there on Sunday at Hartford and shoot 58," Furyk says, "it kind of felt like I was trying to win a major championship."

The rules of golf almost wiped that score away. In the scoring trailer Furyk noticed that his playing partner, Miguel Ángel Carballo (who shot a fine 67 himself) had marked him down for a birdie 3 on the 14th hole instead of par. If Furyk, in the highly emotional moment, had overlooked that error and signed the card as it was, it would have been for 57, and he would have been disqualified.

One of the people watching Furyk's round was Al Geiberger, who shot the first 59 ever posted in the PGA at the Memphis Classic in 1977. Geiberger was in the clubhouse of the TPC Twin Cities near Minneapolis on August 7, having taken part in an exhibition of legendary players there as part of the 3M Championship, a PGA Tour Champions event.

The 78-year-old was about to leave the locker room for some corporate tent duty when he heard other players talk about
Furyk's round. He wasn't sure quite what was happening when he first looked at the TV, but he saw a replay of Furyk's putt on 16 that put him 12 under and stayed to watch the rest of the 58 unfold.

"Everybody was like who? What?" says Geiberger. "I watched him play out 17 and 18 and get his 58."

Geiberger always felt that if he could shoot 59, someone else was bound to do it—though he didn't expect it would take 14 years. "It went so long with no one shooting 59 or 58, so half of me was thinking maybe I'll have the only one, and half of me thought someone just had to shoot it," said Geiberger. Chip Beck finally posted the PGA's second 59, scored at the Las Vegas Invitational in 1991. David Duval followed with a 59 in the final round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 1999, winning the tournament by making an eagle on the par-5 18th. Paul Goydos posted the next one in the 2010 John Deere Classic, followed by Stuart Appleby in the 2010 Greenbrier Classic. Furyk was the last to shoot 59 on the PGA tour, with his 59 at the BMW Championship in 2013. (Annika Sorenstam has a 59 of her own, shot in 2001, making her the only golfer in LPGA history with such a score.)

Of the six 59s posted by PGA Tour players, Geiberger's is the most impressive. (See sidebar, page 96.) He was playing the 7,200-yard, par-72 Colonial Country Club, a monster course for its time. The greens were old grainy Bermuda and the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees. He started on the 10th hole in the Friday round, shot 30 on the back nine and closed with 29 on the front, which included holing a short pitch on the first hole for eagle and making birdie on the ninth, his last hole of the day.

Is Geiberger's 59 better than Furyk's 58? "I shot mine on a long golf course, grainy greens, a hot, humid day. And you know, the courses are in such great shape now, the ball rolls perfectly on the greens, sits perfectly on the fairway," says Geiberger. "I was 13 under par, Jim was 12 under for 58. But I was playing a par-72 course and he was playing a par-70 course, and I just don't know how you compare them fairly. All I know is that I had a really good round, and so did Jim. He played great and he earned his 58."

While the TPC River Highlands is one of the shortest courses on the PGA Tour, it's not one of the easiest. Its stroke average for the Travelers for all four rounds was 69.688, and the final round was 68.658. At the conclusion of the Travelers, River Highlands was the 25th most difficult of the 46 courses on the PGA Tour. Russell Knox won the tournament with a 14 under par score. Furyk finished at 11 under in a tie for fifth. Furyk didn't win the BMW Championship when he shot 59, finishing third.

"People look at my game and kind of assume that it's kind of set up for a U.S. Open, for tough courses where par is a good score," says Furyk. "But if I look back earlier in my career, three of my first four wins were at Las Vegas and that was like 25 under. But I don't know if there's a rhyme or reason or a style of play."

On August 9, two days after his 58 and in a sweet coincidence, Furyk was announced as the winner of the Tour's Payne Stewart Award, given annually to a player who through the course of his career has shown the highest level of character, charity and sportsmanship. (The winner was decided before Furyk's historic round.)

"I want to congratulate him on his career both on and off the course," said Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. "He has been a superb, consistent player...I want to recognize what he has meant to the PGA Tour, its image, what people think about our sport."

Though he's no Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, Furyk has reached the highest level of the game, and has had a stellar career.

"I look back at being able to win a U.S. Open and carry that with me for life and keep the trophy forever," he says. "But ordering things is so hard. I'm proud to be able to win 17 times and play on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. The 59 was a great accomplishment. I'm a little flabbergasted that I had the opportunity to break 60 again and was able to do it with a 58. I look at it as one day, versus a career, but also one day that no one else on the PGA Tour has ever done."

After other players joined Geiberger in the 59 Club, Al Geiberger started changing his moniker from Mr. 59 to The Original 59.

Now Jim Furyk is Mr. 58. The Original 58.

Jeff Williams is a contributing editor to Cigar Aficionado.

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