Jim Furyk: Sixth Player Ever to Shoot 59

And not only did Furyk shoot 59, the holy grail of competitive golf, he was the first one to do it with a bogey on the card. It thus becomes the lowest round ever in the BMW Championship, this one at Conway Farms Golf Club in the northern suburbs of Chicago and ties him for the lead with Brandt Snedeker at 12-under par.

On a coolish day in the low 60s with the winds gusting 10 to 15 miles per hour, Furyk accomplished something that nobody thought possible the night before. In all of the player transcripts from Thursday, they all alluded to the fact that the weather was going to be more difficult on Friday; it had been too warm and sweet on Thursday. Thus Brandt Snedeker’s 8-under 63 and Zach Johnson’s equally impressive 64. That was going to be the end of that sort of halcyon day. 

But Jim Furyk didn’t get the memo. Starting on the back nine, he birdied the first three holes, took a breather on 13 with a mere par, and then birdied 14. And then he holed his second shot on the par-4 15th for an eagle-2. He took another break on 16 and then birdied 17 and 18.

Everybody knows that to shoot a 59, you have to shoot 29 on one of the nines. It’s what they all wait for to determine if it’s really time to set the “59 watch.” Furyk shot 28. That meant that he only had to make 4 birdies on his back nine.

So I tried to basically — the way I played it out in my head was that the back nine was over.  I wasn’t going to kind of count that I had to get to 12‑under, where I was at.  I was just going to go try to play the front nine and shoot as low as I could.  I figured let’s see if we can get it to 4‑under.  I was trying to take the nerves out of it, and heck, I’ve shot 4‑under par on nine holes probably 100 times in my career.  Probably even more.

He birdied 2, 3, and 4. The 4th was really impressive because it measured 485 yards, one of the hardest on the course. Furyk laced a 4-iron from 223 yards, bounced it short of the green and rolled it to a little over 5 feet from the hole. The holes would be helpless it would seem. Until reality intruded with a 3-putt bogey on 5.

So at that point, he had 4 holes left to make 2 birdies. He birdied 7. Two holes to make a birdie. Which he did on the 9th after hitting his gap wedge to 3 feet. His playing partners, Gary Woodland and Jason Dufner, made way for him by finishing off their short putts. And then it was Furyk’s stage:

It reminded me of the putt to win the FedExCup, exactly.  It was probably just a touch longer and it was almost the same putt, a little downhill slider left to right.  I always try to draw back to times when I’ve done something well, and it was like, hell, I knocked that one in.  It’s the same putt, it’s left center, just hit it solid and see what happens.  I don’t remember really even striking the putt or what it felt like when it left the putter or anything.  It went in the middle, I believe, so it was all good.

That total lack of memory of the putt itself is the reason that reps are so important. The swirl of a momentous moment overwhelms the senses and the only thing that’s left is the engrained memory of all of those reps. The body just repeats itself, something it is very good at if, like Furyk, we just get out of the way and let it do it. And thankfully, the nerves weren’t too different from what he’d felt in other situations:

Not too much different.  I mean, it was — you know, the one thing was it was so tough to get aggressive with the putter because the greens are so dried out in spots and so fast, and some of those pin placements, like the one at 5 is sitting on the side of a ledge.  8 is a little bit like that.

So the tough part was I wanted to be aggressive and I wanted to give it a good run and try to knock the putt in like I did at 8, but then I knock it five feet by.  So there was a lot of putts out there that felt kind of defensive if you didn’t get the ball on the right side of the hole, and that’s kind of it — for me a nervous feeling.

I want to be aggressive, but I know I really can’t in spots because of where the pin placements are.  It wasn’t that much different than trying to win a golf tournament.  It was just different.  And I guess the moment kind of struck me the most at 9 when I hit it — when I hit the iron shot, when I hit the wedge shot in there close, and the crowd erupted and I started looking around and it just hit me how many people had come over to that side to see the finish and how excited the crowd was.  It was kind of like winning a golf tournament to be honest with you, is the reaction I got.  It made it that much more fun.

Olympia Fields where he won the U.S. Open, his first and only major thus far, will always have a place in his heart. But now, what about Conway Farms?

It’ll definitely always have a special place in my heart, there’s no doubt there.  You know, I don’t know.  I think time will — I need this to kind of sink in.  It just happened.  I’ve been doing interviews and signing autographs.  It’ll take a while.

Tonight a lot of it’ll set in, exactly what happened and what I accomplished.  But I think it’ll probably take weeks and even months for me to kind of figure it out, maybe see where everything falls and how — someone has already asked me where I felt it rated in my career for accomplishments.  I always thought of big moments like winning my first event out here, winning the major at Olympia.  I always felt being part of the Brookline [Ryder Cup] team was really cool when we came back.  But this definitely falls right in the mix with those.  I wouldn’t want to try to order them to be honest with you, but it’ll take me a while to actually be able to figure out where this all falls.

He gave us a little view of the before and after of his feat. Just how do you get to 59?

I think a lot of it really was — it really was a mental battle and a mental grind, trying to — I’m still scratching my head a little bit.  12‑under for a round of golf.  If you sat me down 10 feet from the hole 18 times today, I wasn’t going to make 12 out of the 18 more than likely.  So I always scratch my head and try to figure out how you get to 59.

We get on a roll once in a while, and every shot I hit today seemed to turn out pretty good for the most part.  The one at [the par-5] 8th could have buried it right underneath that [front bunker] wall and I would have been in trouble, but I actually was in a pretty good lie uphill.  I actually had a good chance to get it up‑and‑down.  I had some shots today that — 4, I hit a little low draw in there with a 4‑iron and it bounces up and ends up four feet.  I mean, that could take a bounce one way or the other and I could have had a 20‑footer.

So I think things kind of went my way and I hit a lot of good shots and a lot of good putts and today they all kind of went in.  Yesterday I struggled a little bit and after a good start wasn’t able to kind of see those positive things.

Am I surprised it hasn’t happened more often?  Now it’s cool.  I like being one of the six.  I don’t need seven.  Six is fine with me.  It’ll keep happening.  It’ll keep happening.  There’s too many talented players out here.  You get on a roll on some good greens, you never know what’ll happen.

And he had support from Woodland who, when Furyk started a conversation about their wedges, expanded it into football:

I thanked him after nine.  I said, I kind of needed that because I found myself pacing back and forth, and I went and asked him a question, I noticed one of the wedges in his bag and we were just talking about wedges in general, because we both play Callaway equipment, and we started into the football.  I kind of was smiling when I was over my — getting ready to hit my drive.  I actually quit thinking about trying to shoot 59 there for a few minutes, which was a good thing, really.

His caddie, Fluff Cowan, was an integral part of all of this, first, in being a sounding board when Furyk’s mind was racing and second, not changing anything about how they related to and interacted with each other:

I think his style is a little bit more — you know, you’ve got to picture throwing a no‑hitter; no one walks over there and tells him good luck or whatever, just kind of leave him alone, and I think Fluff’s style is more when things are going good, just being himself, doing the same thing we always do, going through the same routine, and that’s kind of what I try to think of when I’m playing.

You just — sometimes we can get quick, sometimes we can start making decisions fast.  I found myself doing that on the 7th hole before I hit that wedge, and had to kind of slow down a little bit and said wait a second.  I kept going over the numbers with him over and over again.  We wanted to fly the ball this far, it’s downwind, it’s going to play shorter, in my mind so I could slow down.  I think we just talked about that shot and how far we thought the wedge shot was playing, and I said, I think it’s similar to the shot we hit on 7 or a similar distance, similar style, it’s just kind of a smooth gap wedge.  We just went through our normal [progression].

So he didn’t like give me the oh, let’s knock this one in or knock this stiff or really any pep talk.  That’s not really my style.  I’m not a rah‑rah, cheer‑me‑up, pump‑me‑up type of person.  I want him to be the same way, and that’s his normal style anyway.

And finally, it certainly came up in a lot of people’s minds that this performance this day was a statement about not being picked for the Presidents Cup by Fred Couples. It was refreshing to discover that while he was very disappointed — bummed, he said — he was over it and bore no ill will to Jordan Spieth who did get the pick:

I think the — for better or for worse, and I guess — I don’t know how to say this, to make sure you take it right, the hot player, you want a guy that’s playing well, but just because I shot 59 today doesn’t make me the best choice.  I feel like Jordan wasn’t picked because he shot 62 on Sunday or Monday or whatever the heck that day is there.  I think it’s because he’s had a good body of work throughout this year.  When I think of a hot guy I don’t think of a hot guy for the last week.  I look at a guy that’s played well for a month or two or three or four or five.

I hope to be a captain of a team one day, and I guess my selection isn’t going to come down to the last day and the last shot.  I’m going to look at the guys that I think are the best players and that are going to give me the best opportunity to win the event.  That’s what Freddie had to do, and he made his choice.

And perfectly, Friday’s results proved his point. Furyk’s 12-under was so spectacular, the next best score on the day was 6-under by two guys. One of them was Jordan Spieth.

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