JIM FURYK Intends To Defend
Author: Paul DeVere
When defending Heritage champion Jim Furyk shows up at Harbour Town Golf Links for the 43rd Heritage, he’ll be just a few weeks shy of his 41st birthday. Maybe that makes him one of the “old guys.” Based on his sensational 2010 season, there are probably several “young guys” on the PGA TOUR who wouldn’t mind being in his shoes.
When he arrived on Hilton Head last year, he already had the Transitions Championship trophy. After winning The Heritage in a playoff, he went on to win the Tour Championship, which earned him the FedEx Cup. His achievements on the course earned him both the PGA Player of the Year and PGA TOUR Player of the Year.
In a recent interview, Furyk said he has his eye on another Tartan jacket. “The Heritage has such a great history. Early on, it became a very popular event and has a lot of great champions. It’s been good for the PGA TOUR over the years. It was one of the tournaments I targeted, one I always wanted to win,” Furyk said. “Hopefully I can do it again this year.”
This is Furyk’s 18th year on the PGA TOUR. A graduate of the University of Arizona, in his senior year he led the Wildcats golf team to win the NCAA Championship and then turned pro. When he first came on the Tour, his unorthodox swing and cross handed putting grip drew commentators attention—and not in a flattering way. But his driving accuracy, his precision shot making and his wins draw their attention now.
Furyk’s only coach has been his dad, Mike. Furyk said it has been a rewarding experience, but admitted that there were a few difficult moments early in his career. “You can say things to your son you wouldn’t say to someone else’s. You’re probably tougher on your son. As a son, you would say things you would never dare say to another adult,” Furyk said laughing. “In the long run, it made us a lot closer; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. He’s a very good teacher and a very loving father and parent. I’m very close to my parents, and to spend that time with him, to work alongside of him and then have success and have him be part of that has been great for us,” Furyk said.
As one of the “old guys” Furyk said he has seen significant changes on the PGA TOUR. Some are obvious. “Like the purses. They’ve increased like four times or more since I joined the Tour,” he explained. “We have more depth now. There are more good players out there today than we had 18 years ago. I think the best players are even better now than when I started, and I think that’s makes a better product for the fans,” Furyk said. “Even though I’m not a power oriented player off the tee, I do think the game has become more power oriented, too.”
One change caught Furyk by surprise. While he was aware that improvements in equipment were changing the game, he didn’t realize how much it was affecting his. In 2004, Furyk was sidelined for five months due to surgery on his wrist. “One day I got bored and went on the computer to check out my driving statistics for my first 10 years,” Furyk said. He discovered he was 27 yards longer than his first year. “After 18 years, I’m probably 30 to 40 yards longer than I was before,” he said. Since he hasn’t changed his swing, he credits better golf balls and better equipment.
One thing that has not changed is the moniker that often precedes Furyk’s name when he captures a headline in the media. Members of the media, his fellow golfers, and his fans, often refer to him as “Gentleman Jim.” His graciousness and generosity on and off the fairways is reflected by the foundation he and wife Tabitha started last year. Simply titled “The Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation,” the Furyks established the organization to “support families and children in need” in the Jacksonville, Florida area. According to friends, that’s something the Furyks have been doing quietly for years.
Furyk has played in The Heritage 12 times and made the cut nine times. Including his win, he’s been in the top 10 five of those times. “The one key factor for me in choosing tournaments is the golf course. Harbour Town is one of my favorites on the PGA TOUR. I like Hilton Head. It’s very relaxing and a beautiful place to bring your family. It’s got that small town feel, and that’s what I grew up in,” said Furyk, who spent his younger years in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He and his wife Tabitha, daughter Caleigh and son Tanner live in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. “The kids will come up Friday after school and enjoy the weekend,” Furyk said, then added with a smile, “if I play well.”