Father Knows Best Meticulous Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open in impressive fashion, using a loopy swing he honed under the tutelage of his dad

June 23, 2003
June 23, 2003

Table of Contents
June 23, 2003

Sports Illustrated Bonus Section: Golf Plus

Father Knows Best Meticulous Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open in impressive fashion, using a loopy swing he honed under the tutelage of his dad

He's a deliberate man with an undeviating plan, and to golf
spectators and loved ones alike, Jim Furyk's method can be
maddening. The 33-year-old grinder's grinder prepares for each
herky-jerky swing like a geologist conducting a seismic survey,
so it was no surprise that he got ready for the 103rd U.S. Open
in similarly regimented fashion. "We tease Jim a lot because he
tries to be so organized, and sometimes it gets away from him,"
Furyk's wife, Tabitha, explained on Sunday evening as she
strolled off the 18th green at Olympia Fields Country Club.
"Before we left home, he made a big point of getting all of his
pants for the tournament dry-cleaned and hanging them neatly in
the closet. Then we got on the plane, and, of course, he realized
he had forgotten to pack them." ¶ Thus the defining week of
Furyk's 10-year career required a trip to the Orland Square Mall
in the suburbs south of Chicago three days before the Open. Jim
and Tabitha's power-shopping spree netted four pairs of slacks
and a few encouraging words from store employees who recognized
the world's 10th-ranked golfer--making them part of a distinct
minority. Before last weekend, most casual fans wouldn't have
known Furyk from Fred Funk or Edward Fryatt or Steve Flesch. That
all changed during a transcendent performance in which the 6'2",
185-pound perfectionist played almost flawlessly, dominating the planet's best golfers and winning his first major with an ease
that suggested this won't be his last.

This is an article from the June 23, 2003 issue Original Layout

Years from now, it may seem less improbable that the man who wore
the pants at this year's national open was not the regal Tiger
Woods but the plodding Pennsylvanian with the retracting hairline
and the hook nose. Though Furyk lacks the picturesque swing and
the pedigree of, say, Phil Mickelson--now 0 for 44 in majors, and
donning logo shirts that make him resemble a gas-station
attendant ("Phil 'er up!")--his relentlessly steady shotmaking
was the talk of the Olympia Fields locker room. His score of 272
tied the 72-hole U.S. Open record shared by Jack Nicklaus (1980),
Lee Janzen (1993) and Woods (2000), earning Furyk, who finished
eight under par, a three-stroke victory over Stephen Leaney of
Australia and mad props from his peers. "You know he's going to
hit every fairway and every green," Woods said after finishing in
20th place at three-over 283, "and you have to make birdie to
beat him."

If you want to follow Furyk, you'd better pack a lunch. The Ponte
Vedra Beach, Fla., transplant obsessively marks and studies
yardage charts and habitually backs away from putts. Furyk's
painstaking preshot routine reflects a never-slack-off mentality
honed in Lancaster, Pa., where as a football, basketball and
baseball standout he was so sheepish about his love for the links
that he had his mother, Linda, take him to high school early on
days when he had a golf match so friends wouldn't see him
carrying his clubs.

Even before Sunday's final tee shot, when a fan yelled, "Come on,
Jimmy! Blue collar, baby!" Furyk had become a working-class hero
in a country-club setting. It seemed entirely natural that
thousands of Chicago-area sports fans would become enthralled by
the Loop--a fitting nickname for Furyk's highly unorthodox swing,
which after this tournament may set golf academies back several
decades. Plastic Man trying to lasso a rabbit would strike a more
graceful pose than Furyk on the tee, but to his thinking, it
don't mean a thing if he ain't got that swing. "That's just me,"
Furyk said after shooting scores of 67-66-67-72 for his eighth
career victory. "I got a lot of recognition early in my career
because of my goofy swing, and it was a positive for me. I'm a
guy who finds a comfort zone and sticks to his guns."

At an Open that featured tears, jeers and a Brittney far more
risque than Spears, Furyk drained a procession of clutch putts,
as well as most of the drama from the final round. Despite the
lack of a defining shot on Sunday--Furyk began the day leading by
three, and no hole ended with Leaney (or anyone else) any
closer--the tournament featured its share of indelible moments.

First came Throwback Thursday, when 53-year-old Tom Watson, he of
the eight major titles and one of the most famous shots in Open
history (the chip-in on the 71st hole at Pebble Beach in 1982
that propelled him to victory), shot a 65 to tie for the
first-round lead. Even more poignant than Watson's pinpoint
putting were the repeated chants of "Bruuuuuce" to honor Watson's
terminally ill caddie, Bruce Edwards, 48, who suffers from ALS
and who, says Jim MacKay, the caddie for Mickelson, "is our
Arnold Palmer. He's so charismatic."

If you're wondering how the game's toughest test became a links
version of Old School, one that costarred 46-year-old Nick Price
(he tied for fifth at even par, while Watson slipped to 28th),
chalk it up to Bethpage Blacklash. Unlike last year's Open on
Long Island, in which Woods, en route to his second national
championship, was the only player not humbled by the U.S. Golf
Association's daunting course setup, crafty ball strikers had a
chance to shine at Olympia Fields. Cool temperatures and a lack
of Windy City bluster led to record-setting assaults on par
during the first three days--though come Sunday, as the winds
increased and the greens firmed up, all but Furyk, Leaney and the
third-place finishers, Kenny Perry and Masters champion Mike Weir
(one-under 279), faded to black. The biggest gag job belonged to
Vijay Singh, who was within two shots of Furyk until bogeying his
final three holes on Saturday, then wheezed to a 78 on Sunday to
finish 20th. While shooting an Open-record-tying 63 on Friday,
Singh was heckled on the 14th green by a gallery member who
referred to the Fiji native's criticism of LPGA star Annika
Sorenstam leading up to her appearance at last month's Bank of
America Colonial. Singh, who exudes all the warmth of a
three-wood, waved his putter at the spectator, who was promptly

Furyk displayed, for lack of a better term, Sorenstamesque
precision, ranking second in fairways hit and leading the field
in greens hit in regulation while placing 25th in driving
distance. Woods, somewhat alarmingly, was only 17th in the latter
category, emblematic of a decline relative to his peers that
cannot be explained solely by club selection on the two holes
that are measured each round (he often eschews hitting driver)
and design preference (while other players have gone to graphite
and similar lighter-weight shafts, he has stuck with steel). "Now
he's like an average hitter out there," Price says of Woods, who,
after winning seven of 11 majors, has come up short in his last
four--a nonissue for any other player but a bona fide Tiger Slump
for this 27-year-old megastar. In three of those Grand Slam
events he has fallen from contention thanks to a career-worst
round in the respective major, this time a 75 on Saturday, which
had begun with him a mere three strokes behind coleaders Furyk
and Singh. So much for Tiger's alleged intimidation of fragile
foes. His difficulties on the green were most responsible for his
demise; of the 68 players who made the cut, he ranked ahead of
only one competitor, with 67 putts on the weekend. And while he
tied for sixth in greens in regulation (68%) over the four
rounds, Woods acknowledged that his putting woes could be traced
partly to the fact that he didn't hit his approach shots close
enough to the hole. Several players privately wondered whether
Mickelson might have been right when he suggested to Golf
Magazine last winter that Woods was playing with "inferior
equipment." Says one pro, "I don't think Phil was trying to mess
with Tiger; I think he was telling the truth. Tiger's good enough
to win with hockey sticks, but I think the whole equipment thing
is ticking him off." Woods has even been squawking about other
competitors' having an unfair advantage; before the tournament he
alleged that "hot-faced drivers"--clubs with faces that exceed
USGA limits for the so-called trampoline effect--are abundant on
the Tour.

And who, you ask, was the longest off the tee in Thursday's first
round, averaging 331 yards on the course's two par-5s? Why, John
Holmes, an amateur whose late namesake inspired the well-endowed
porn legend in Boogie Nights, would likely have taken great
pleasure in the scene that unfolded on the 11th green in front of
Sunday's final pairing. As Furyk and Leaney lined up their putts,
another porn star, Brittney Skye, emerged from the gallery and
unzipped her windbreaker, revealing breasts covered only by blue
pasties and a temporary tattoo advertising an online gambling
service. Skye approached the hyperfocused Furyk and tried to hand
him a couple of flowers before being escorted away by a security
guard. Furyk sank his short par putt.

Furyk had shown his mental toughness in pressure situations
before, most notably in a classic '97 Ryder Cup victory over Nick
Faldo, and also in a stirring seven-hole playoff he lost to Woods
in the 2001 NEC Invitational. But Furyk had faltered in the 2001
U.S. Open at Southern Hills, shooting an 82 on Sunday after
entering the final round tied for ninth. This time he stayed
steady enough to make his father and lifelong coach, Mike, beam
with pride. After Leaney birdied the 13th hole to pull within
three, Furyk ended any remaining suspense on the next hole by
hitting a pitching wedge to three feet and converting the birdie.
"When you're under the most extreme pressure, you're going to
revert to what's natural," says Mike, who encouraged Jim to stick
with his swing early in his career even as others said he could
never succeed with such an unconventional style. "If you have a
manufactured golf swing, I'm a firm believer that you won't hold
up under pressure. If you've got a swing that's natural, whatever
it looks like, you've got a chance."

It's also handy to have a competitive drive that borders on the
irrational. Linda Furyk still laughs about the time she took
10-year-old Jimmy on a miniature-golf outing, then made the
mistake of beating him. "I wasn't even trying to win," Linda
says, "but I was sinking everything, and he did not take it
well." Nor does Jim gracefully handle defeats in fishing
competitions with Tabitha, who says of her husband's intensity,
"We've gone out to goof around on the basketball court and ended
up running suicide sprints." A rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan
since childhood, Furyk attended a 2000 game against the Ravens in
Baltimore, before which he and his friends were tossing around a
football in the parking lot. Mel Blount he wasn't: One throw
sailed past Furyk, who slipped on the gravel as he lunged to
deflect the pass. He tore tendons in his right wrist while
breaking the fall, forcing him to miss two months of golf.
"Things like that happen all the time to Jim," Tabitha says.
"He's just accident prone."

It wasn't all that shocking, then, that last Saturday morning, as
he was playing in bed with the couple's daughter, Caleigh, who
celebrates her first birthday on June 24, Furyk tweaked his left
thumb and let out a scream. Unfazed, he went out and shot a 67.
On Sunday morning Jim watched Hoosiers at the house he and
Tabitha had rented, then got choked up while wishing Mike a happy
Father's Day on the practice tee.

Fast-forward to the evening, when, following a throwaway bogey on
17, Furyk hit a seven-iron to the 18th green and became emotional
once more. He began walking up the fairway, then went back to
join his caddie, Mike (Fluff) Cowan, who had stopped to replace a
divot. Yes, that's the same Fluff who gained celebrity as Woods's
quirky bag man before being dumped in 1999, his reemergence yet
another symbolic chink in Tiger's armor.

What happened next, Furyk says, was a blur: three-putting to
squander sole possession of the scoring record (Who cares? Furyk
thought); hugging Tabitha, who's expecting another child in
December; scooping up the unruffled Caleigh; embracing his
parents; and, finally, hoisting the winner's trophy for the
adoring gallery.

Nearly three hours later, under a pitch-black sky, Furyk stood
outside the clubhouse--again holding Caleigh, who by now was
tired, hungry and cranky--and tried for the umpteenth time to put
his triumph into perspective. No longer would Furyk be labeled
the B.P.N.N.P.N.T.H.W.A.M. (Best Player Not Named Phil Never to
Have Won a Major, as he was named in a recent SI poll of Tour
players). "My father's a hard worker and a perfectionist, and I
inherited a lot of that, sometimes to a fault," he said,
placating his daughter by swinging her up and down.

Caleigh grabbed at her dad's charcoal-gray slacks, one of the
pairs he'd purchased earlier in the week, and Jim got choked up
again. "This," the new Open champion said softly, "is a pretty
perfect Father's Day."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER ON HIS GAME Furyk was nearly flawless, finishing second in driving accuracy and leading the field in greens in regulation.COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY FINISHING TOUCH Furyk capped his rock-steady round on Saturday by draining a 20-foot birdie putt at number 18.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER DUSTED Leaney slipped no lower than second on Sunday, but he got no closer than three strokes during the final 18 holes.COLOR PHOTO: MORRY GASH/AP (WATSON) MEMORY LANE Watson shared the lead after an opening 65.COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS SLUMPING Woods won't use the s word, but for the first time since 1999 he doesn't hold any of golf's four major titles.COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH (TOP) GRAND DAD Mike savored his son's first major championship with the family's newest addition, 12-month-old Caleigh.COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY TOP THIS Furyk made an emotional walk to the 18th green on Sunday, while Cowan (left) had his own sense of satisfaction.
One fan shouted, "Blue collar, baby!" as Furyk became a
working-class hero in a country-club setting.
"Tiger's good enough to win with hockey sticks, but I think the
whole equipment thing is ticking him off."
"If you have a manufactured swing, I'm a firm believer you won't
hold up under pressure," says Mike Furyk.