The Tour Championship: Jim Furyk chats about Tour life, FedExCup and friendships

The Tour Championship begins Thursday in Atlanta at the East Lake Golf Club. There were three good interviews with Rory, Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk, but the one that grabbed my attention was Jim Furyk’s.

Now I realize that Furyk’s sort of deadpan demeanor doesn’t have his star shining as brightly in the firmament of greatness, but the guy is a golf stud. He’s been on the Tour since 1994. That’s 20 years in player years which, given the transient nature of the Tour, would make him very high on the seniority list if there was such a thing.

The conversation in the media room was very sweeping, but I think the one that woke me up to the treasure trove of experiences he’s had was the fact than he’s been on nine Ryder Cup teams including the one that begins in two weeks (not to mention seven Presidents Cups, but that didn’t come up). He won he Tour Championship and FedExCup in the rain in 2010. He won the 2003 U.S. Open and 14 other Tour events. He didn’t win this year, but he finished 2nd three times, 4th twice and T5 twice. With the other made cuts, that earned him the 7th spot in the FedExCup points at the end of the year.

The conversation got into how the players are managing fatigue with this year’s four Playoffs’ tournaments running four consecutive weeks, Ryder Cup “inside baseball” stories and the points system for the Top 30 players in the Tour Championship. 

But the Moderator began by asking Furyk about his expectations for the week given that he was in 7th place in the points list. His answer ended up being a primer on how to manage expectations:

“I look at it as a good opportunity.  I’ve been playing well this year.  I love the golf course.  I always have.  It’s a little different this year.

“It’s very wet.  Obviously a lot of rain.  And the golf course is playing as soft and as long as I’ve seen it in a long time.  But looks like it’s in great shape.  The greens are perfect.  I would expect scoring to be pretty good unless we got some rough weather.  I know there’s some rain in the forecast for the future.”

“So we’ll see what happens as far as the wind and such.  But I expect scoring to be pretty good.  And I would like to continue to kind of stay on the roll that I’ve been, continue trying to do the same things.”

“I guess more importantly is just really haven’t raised expectations so high that I couldn’t meet them, if that makes sense.  I’ve done a good job of staying very patient and playing one day at a time and one shot at a time and just looking to the near future and kind of letting it build and grow and been able to build on some good weeks and get some momentum because of it.”

That segued into a pretty detailed explanation about how he’s managed to pace himself, not just through the four Playoffs’ tournaments, but the four in a row he played before he took the week off in between:

“I did take a month off before coming into the stretch.  So I’m now playing my eighth event in the last nine weeks.  I’m definitely a little tired.  I’m a little worn down.”

“I think that I have been playing well, and because of that I’ve limited the amount of practice, I’ve limited the amount of practice rounds.  Played a lot of nine holes.”

“Last week [at the BMW], I spent about two or three hours at the course late Tuesday afternoon.  I played the Pro‑Am Wednesday, got out of there.”

“I’ve been limiting the amount of time really not for physical fatigue but more mental.  Just spend so much time with the game you get tired, worn down, you make silly mistakes.  I’ve been trying to keep those at a minimum and just play.”

“But I’m a little worn down, too, as well.  And it’s two stretches of four tournaments in a row for me, if that makes sense.”

As I have mentioned before, I once played five Monday qualifiers in a row on the Champions Tour and, I know it’s hard to believe, but I couldn’t believe how the excitement of that fifth one was completely muted by how badly I just wanted to get on that airplane. It was so mentally wearying that I was almost glad I didn’t qualify so I wouldn’t have to stay out there another week. This in the face of the fact that there was no one out there more committed to qualifying than I was. That’s what got me through the week.

To that point, Furyk had much the same memory when he was asked what kind of mistakes he made that the mental fatigue contributed to. It wasn’t that, it was being away from home for so long:

“I don’t think so.  I mean, we’re not like — we’re not playing an NFL game and running into car wrecks 40 times a game.  We’re not — it really is golf.  They let us walk around.  We don’t have to sprint or run.”

“I think it’s more the being away from home.  It’s more the mental aspect, being away from home.  I’ve been on the road now eight out of nine weeks.  I haven’t seen my bed very often.  I went home for two weeks after Denver just to kind of get away a little bit so I could come today and prepare.”

“But I don’t know.  I’ve read and heard stuff now that they’re blaming some of the injuries on the players on playing events, instead of looking at all the guys that played so good in the top 30. Ask some of those journeymen that are playing 33 events each and every year trying to scrap it out to get in the top 125 and keep their job. And see how bad they feel for us that we have to play four tournaments in a row this week.  Probably no one worrying about it too much.”

And then things shifted to Ryder Cup stories, this one about his experiences playing with Lee Westwood, asked no doubt, by a member of the European media:

“I’ve definitely had to play against him a few times.  He was paired with Darren [Clarke] most of those.”

“But I’ve enjoyed the company of quite a few of the European players over the years and get on fine with them and enjoy it.  I guess that event, I can remember playing ‑‑ I think Tiger and I were playing Darren and Lee, and I had a putt and someone said pick it up and I wasn’t quite sure what they said, and Darren kind of gave me the look like:  Come on, you know better than that.  There’s nothing goofy that’s going to happen in this group, we’re all buddies here.”

And then a conversation about why the final day joint celebration by the Ryder Cup players was slowly phased out and an epic match with his partner, Kenny Perry, against Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell:

“When I first started playing, we tried to get the teams together afterwards for like a toast and raising the glass, and it was very awkward.  I remember at one of the last times we did it was at the Belfry in’02 and I think we did it in’97 and’99 and’02 and it was awkward because one team is pretty down in the dumps and obviously doesn’t want to be there.”

“And the other team is really excited.  They want to party.  They want to be excited, but then they also don’t want to make it look like they’re rubbing it in the other team’s face.”

So the one team can’t celebrate and the other one doesn’t want to be there to start with, so they kind of did away with that.  Right now it’s kind of more when we’ve won or lost I’ve still made it a point to — we’re going to bump into those guys in closing ceremonies, you go over, shake their hands, wish them well.  If they’ve won the match, you let them know they’ve played well.”

“You’re always going to have those battles.  I had great matches with Kenny Perry and I had a great match with Poulter and McDowell, where McDowell, Ian and Kenny played great on the front nine and McDowell and I birdied five or six holes on the back nine.”

“And I kept making birdie and that little son of a gun kept making birdie on top of me.  At the end I gave him a hug and I said:  I’m mad we lost, we lost one down, but that’s the best match I’ve been involved with.  But you were tough.”

The FedExCup point system came up and whether it was a good system if one of the players [Dustin Johnson, suspended indefinitely] didn’t play the first three Playoffs’ tournaments and still ended up in the 30th spot and technically qualified for the Tour Championship?

Furyk pointed out that that might have been a fluke because both Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson had to withdraw from the BMW. Had they played, Furyk guessed, they might have earned points that would have knocked Johnson out.

Nevertheless, the points system hasn’t changed in seven years and as a member of the Tour policy board, he was up close to the continuing dialogue:

“It hasn’t changed in seven years.  So probably not — I don’t think it’s a bad system by any means but I think it can be addressed.  I’m definitely not criticizing the system.  I think it could always be better.  I’m not exactly sure how to do that.  I think it serves — the system serves the purpose that it was meant to serve if that makes sense.  It gets us all together for an extra month.”

“We’ve got another month of television for our fans enjoy it, exciting, the sponsors love it.  The tournaments love it.  We’ve got a great culmination at the end of the year that we never used to have before the system.”

“I like it.  I get to take four months off now, go home and be a father again.  I get to play in the same events I used to play and quite honestly they’re worth more money than they used to be.”

“So I get to play in the exact same events and the purses are higher than they were 10 years ago.  So what do I have to complain about?  And I guess I have to play four in a row but no one’s going to feel that bad for me.  So I think really you look around, you got a lot of different entities that are very happy with the way the system works.”

“Could the point system be better, yeah.  Is what you’re saying something to look at?  Yes.  But in the overall picture, I think the system works.  It’s not broken.  But maybe it could be tweaked to get better.”

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