LAS VEGAS – Wilson Furr saw his week start with a thud when his opening approach floated too much in the wind and found the water for a double bogey.
But it didn’t seem to bother him much. Jay Seawell, Alabama’s head coach, preaches resiliency to his team, after all. It was more than that, though.
“I’m just happy to be out here,” Furr said.
It’s a fair way to look at it after an arduous fall. Furr opened the Southern Highlands Collegiate on Monday with a 2-over 74 – his lowest round in his young college career. And the fact he’s posting a round as one of Alabama’s five starters is also welcome news from within.
Furr, 19, entered Alabama this fall alongside Davis Shore as part of a highly touted Crimson Tide freshman class. When Shore and Furr signed in November 2016, they were Nos. 1 and 3 in their class, respectively.
But while Shore quickly proved his talent in starting in four events this fall and earning a top 10, Furr failed to crack the starting lineup at all. If not for the chance to play as an individual at the Steelwood Collegiate, Furr wouldn’t have traveled to a single tournament in the fall.
Surprising, for sure. But it wasn’t hard to understand why.
Furr began having issues this summer, as his ball wouldn’t stop going right. Way right. Especially on his drives.
In a practice round at the Northeast Amateur, Furr came to the 18th tee and hit one that Shore thought went 100 yards right.
Around a month later, Furr posted 75-79 at the Western Amateur to miss the 36-hole cut by a mile. At a tight Skokie Country Club with thick rough, he hit 1-2 fairways for two rounds.
“It was like, ‘Just get me out of here,’ ” Furr said.
By August, Furr sent Seawell a swing video, and the coach knew his incoming pupil had a huge issue.
“He was lost,” Seawell said.
Unfortunately, the move to college golf didn’t bring any immediate fixes.
Furr and coaches worked diligently to try to solve the problem, but it was to no avail for some time. The right misses continued.
In one qualifying round, Furr shot 80, prompting him to remark to his dad, Bill, that it was the first time he’d shot 80 since he was 14.
At the Steelwood Collegiate, Furr was still in the throes of his swing issues and went 75-79-78 for a tie for 47th. He was hitting 9-irons 20 yards right of the green that week.
The main way he coped was via humor with his dad, a mid-80s golfer who couldn’t help but notice some of his son’s wayward shots resembled his own game.
“He’s like, ‘Now you know how I feel on the golf course,’ ” Furr said with a laugh.
Even if he handled it well, Furr still was fighting for a way out.
The end of the fall season couldn’t come soon enough.
“He actually needed to get away and have a quiet four weeks,” Seawell said. “And that’s what he was able to do this winter.”
With time away from having to fix his swing while still trying to qualify for events, Furr got back on track.
Furr realized he needed a new set of eyes, so he switched instructors, moving to Jeff Smith. He flew to Las Vegas, where Smith is based, in December to get a lesson and the pair has worked together ever since.
Smith offered a more old school teaching style and got Furr back into more of the athletic motion that saw him become a star recruit.
His sequence was off, and their work got that back on track. But it wasn’t anything overly technical that put Furr’s swing in check.
“I think (working with Jeff) really was something that gave him a foundation again,” Seawell said. “He started hitting golf shots and getting the same feelings he’s had his whole life, and when you do that you can continue to play and get better.”
When Furr returned from winter break, it was clear something had changed.
Shore thought, Yeah, he’s back.
Furr proved it in January when he encountered a tight and demanding Ocean Forest Golf Club for the Jones Cup, and aced the test off the tee on his way to a T-21 finish.
“It was my first tournament hitting the driver straight in seven months,” Furr said. “That was good that I knew I could step up on tight tee shots and hit good drives. That was big for me.”
He made it through the qualifier for Alabama’s spring-opener, the Puerto Rico Classic – where he would tie for 52nd in his college debut as a starter. He tied for the last starting qualifying spot for Southern Highlands, but Seawell had liked his recent progress and used a coach’s pick to put him in as a starter this week.
Furr’s progress is ongoing. He still made mental mistakes Monday. Even after a textbook eagle at the par-5 third moved him back to even par, he still reverted back to 2 over (T-41) by day’s end.
He attributes those errors more to competitive rust than anything, and Furr is happy to be feeling comfortable in competition again. One lost fall doesn’t faze him, especially with Seawell never losing faith and reinforcing that the long-term is quite optimistic.
You’ve got a long career here and you’re going to be great.
Furr feels he got tougher from having to play with his swing so off-kilter. The struggles also, in a way, solidified his love for golf.
“I think it’s helped me probably going forward start enjoying the game a little more because I was still having some fun out there and hitting it terrible,” Furr said.
And he thinks some really good golf is right around the corner, for a simple reason.
“I feel like I’m back to my old self,” Furr said.