Jim Furyk: An Inside Look at a Nomadic Master

Jim Furyk managed to cobble together all parts of his game on Saturday to shoot 65 in the RBC Canadian Open, get to 15-under and extend his lead to three shots. Tim Clark shot up the leaderboard with a 6-under, 64 and settled into 2nd by himself at 12-under. It was only right; those two had the low rounds of the day. First and second round co-leader, Tim Petrovic, fell seven shots off the lead just by shooting 2-over. Proving once again that you can’t be going backwards on Moving Day on the PGA Tour.

Furyk is never going overpower anybody on the PGA Tour. His approach to the game is probably a good example of just how effective a strategy of “fairways and greens” can be. He’s T3 in fairways for the tournament and first in greens in regulation. He only missed one green on Friday. And all of that flash while being 68th in driving distance in the remaining field of 71. He polishes that foundation off by being 5th in Strokes Gained – Putting.

So what’s his plan for finishing it off on Sunday? 

“I think not really worrying about what position I’m in in the golf tournament, not looking at the leaderboard too much, going out there and trying to attack the golf course the same way that I have the first three days.”

“I think that while I’ll check the weather out tonight, from what I saw, the wind direction is supposed to be similar to what we’ve seen all week, coming from the southwest somewhere.  We could get some rain.  We could get some thunderstorms.”

And then there’s the reality of the nomadic life:

“It’s going to be a quick night, get home as quick as I can now, turn it around, pack up and get ready to get out of here tomorrow night hopefully.  I guess there’s pluses and minuses to that.  I wouldn’t mind the rest, but it’s also nice to kind of turn around quick and get right back after it.”

And then, when he does miss a green, he just bangs it into the bank, up onto the green and makes the 15-footer for par, all the while just trying to avoid making a 6: Here’s the thinking of a player:

“It was really the only option.  Where I dropped the ball it was basically on hardpan.  It settled down actually in a bit of a hole.  Putting the ball up in the air, if I’d have flown that ball on the green, it would have ended up on the other side of the green at best.  There’s a chance, good chance I would miss the green anyway.”

“I felt like the best chance was to play it back [in his stance], just hit it into the hill and hope it would pop up on the green somewhere.  For it to end up 15 feet was a bonus, and then actually to make the putt, I definitely feel like I stole one.”

“My mindset there was, let’s take 6 out of play, what can we do to make 5 at worst and move on, and to get out of there with a 4 was definitely a bonus.”

Over time, players come to realize that, while they’re competing with the other players, at its core, they are actually playing against themselves and the golf course. In fact, at the end of the day, Furyk said he didn’t even know who was at the top of the leaderboard with him during the round:

“You know, I think it’s always nice to have experience in rounds, whether I’ve played well, whether you’ve won or ended up not winning the golf tournament, you draw from both experiences.  The guys that are out here that have played so well for three days already, everyone is capable.”

“I haven’t really looked at the board.  It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of leaderboards out there to be honest with you, which, I don’t know, could be a good thing in spots.  You never know.”

“So I didn’t really look at the board that much today.  I’m not sure of the guys that are up there, but they’ve all played well to this point, and we’ve seen good rounds. There is a good round out there, so you know, guys can go out there and fire a low one and definitely put some heat on the last group”

Just to emphasize what a steady player he is, he hasn’t made a bogey since the 4th hole on Thursday. Asked to comment on such a pristine run, he politely dismissed its significance:

“It’s really not important.  I know it’s something that the media outside want to talk about.  What is important is I’m 15‑under, and if that was with 25 birdies and 10 bogeys or 16 birdies and one bogey, it’s really not that important.  I would take another 65 tomorrow with as many bogeys as can be on the card.”

This consistent plodding around the golf course isn’t just circumstantial either. He’s won really big tournaments with this approach, like say, the 2003 U.S. Open. And who can forget the imagery of him with his hat on backwards in the rain in Atlanta with a short putt to win the Tour Championship and the FedExCup and the $11.4 million that comes with them. But does that feel like four years ago? Those victories in 2010 were his last. How did that happen?

“Sometimes I just got outplayed.  Case in point would be Jason Dufner at the PGA last year.  Other times I felt like I got in my own way, and that would be Akron [in the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational] and Keegan Bradley and not closing it out when I had the opportunity.”

“If it were that easy to pinpoint and put your thumb on — I know that I’ve taken from those experiences.  I’ll spend a little time each time, whether I win or lose, and kind of think about what went through my mind down the stretch, physically the shots I hit down the stretch, spend a little time analyzing it and make a decision to move on pretty quickly.”

“Probably if I had to pinpoint one thing, physical or mental, I’d say just putting a lot of pressure on myself and maybe trying a little bit too hard.”

And a final point having to do with the nomadic life of Tour pros. Furyk took four weeks off prior to the British Open and it gave him a chance to catch his breath. But that won’t last long; it’s possible that he will be playing nine of eleven weeks:

“You know, more than anything I think it was just kind of a deep breath kind of halfway through the season, maybe a little bit more, take a little time off, relax, and kind of get charged up for a big stretch. Hopefully I’ll make the Tour Championship.  I should be on the Ryder Cup team.  That’s a possibility playing 9 of 11 weeks, and this is only week two.”

Which makes what he does all the more impressive.

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