HOYLAKE, England – Yet another blue-collar/lunchpail day in the books, hardscrabble Jim Furyk, one of the grittiest competitors at the 143rd Open Championship, was asked about his affinity for links golf.
“It’s grown on me,” he said after a second-round 71 moved him to 5-under 139, and, depending on the weekend whims of red-hot runaway leader Rory McIlroy, right in the mix as extreme weather moves in on Royal Liverpool.
“I do enjoy it,” Furyk continued. “I wouldn’t want to do it every week, I’d be dead honest with you. Twenty-five of these a year would probably drive me out of the game.”
He smiled, of course. A pack of wild mules likely couldn’t drive Furyk away from golf, as pro competition has been in his bloodlines for the better part of two decades. There actually was a time on this side of the pond that Furyk thought the Open would be his best bet at winning a major, which was understandable, because he was as dependable as afternoon tea. He finished in the top 5 on five occasions, including here at Royal Liverpool in 2006.
He also has experienced the lows of the links as well. Following the 2000 Open at St. Andrews, his links game temporarily went out to sea. From 2001-05, he made five trips and missed five cuts.
“The rough stretch was a time when my game was changing back home,” he said. “When I first came out on Tour, I hit it flat and low, and in order to compete week in and week out, I had to start hitting the ball higher and spin the ball more. And then when I’d come over here, I’d have a hard time adjusting back.
“But then my game matured, and I figured out how to do it both ways.”
That’s the thing about Furyk. He’s 44 now, and he always, always, always seems to figure it out. A year ago, when he struggled with the putter and he fell short of making the Presidents Cup team (despite a runner-up finish at the PGA Championship), it would mean Furyk would not represent his country at a Ryder or Presidents Cup for the first time since 1997. (The competitor inside him even led him to turn down an invitation to be a vice-captain.) But he has bounced back nicely. He hasn’t won in 2014, but he has played solidly, posting a pair of runner-up finishes (Wells Fargo, Players) and stringing together one stretch of six consecutive top-20 performances.
At Hoylake, following a month off on the heels of a T-12 finish at the U.S. Open, Furyk is feeling confident about the state of his game.
“I feel pretty good with a club in my hand, and I’m putting pretty well and made some good saves when I had to,” he said. “I’m fresh and my attitude is good, and I think that has a lot to do with it.”
Even when he didn’t have his best stuff on the back nine, Furyk was able to hang around, something at which he has become very adept.
“He got the job done on the last nine,” said playing competitor Tom Watson, the 64-year-old marvel who also will be playing on the weekend at Hoylake. “Which, when you’re not hitting it all that well … I’m sure he’s the first to admit that he hit some stray shots. He got the ball up and down a number of times and made some good putts.”
McIlroy still was on the course with several holes to play as Watson spoke, and he was asked if Furyk had a chance on the weekend.
“Darn right,” he shot back.
Furyk enjoyed the atmosphere the last two days, soaking in the energy and warmth that the packed grandstands have extended to the two Open winners in his group, Watson (five jugs) and Darren Clarke. (“A pretty cool experience,” Furyk called it.) It was the third time in less than a week he’d teed it up alongside Watson, this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain, who’d invited Furyk to join him on a scouting mission to Scotland’s Gleneagles last weekend. So Furyk, a team guy who is sixth in the Ryder Cup points table, cut short time with his wife and two children in Paris to fly to the United Kingdom on Saturday.
A one-time major winner with 16 PGA Tour victories and all those appearances for Team USA, Furyk realizes how nice it would be to be in their shoes one day as an Open champion, earning a spot in the game’s oldest major through one’s 65th birthday. Statistically, he’d fit in nicely with the trend of 40-somethings who have won here of late, a run started by Clarke in 2011 (at St. George’s) and continued by Ernie Els (Lytham) and Phil Mickelson (Muirfield).
Furyk said he isn’t overly concerned about his stature and legacy in the game, though he readily offered up some math: There are a whole lot more golfers with one major than with two.
“We all want to compete and win golf tournaments,” Furyk said, “and I know this, that eventually when I hang it up or when I’m done playing the Tour, whenever that may be, that I’ve poured my heart into it, and I’ve done the best I could. So whatever the results are, whether I win another major or how many events in the end, I did the best I could.
“I’ll be able to live with it. And then as far as a legacy or how people view it, that’s really kind of out of my hands.”
This weekend, it’ll be more about something silver that he’s trying to get into his hands.