The good news for Jim Furyk is that people finally stopped talking about his golf swing that only a mother could love and a father could teach.
Now it’s whether he knows how to win.
Forgotten are his 16 victories on the PGA Tour. Among full-time players, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III and Ernie Els have won more times. Furyk has a major championship. He has played on nine straight Ryder Cup teams, one short of the U.S. record held by Mickelson. And perhaps more impressive than his $60 million in career earnings is that at age 44, he is the highest-ranked American in the world.
He’s not in a rut on the golf course. He’s in a rut when he talks to the media.
Since his last victory in 2010 at the Tour Championship, Furyk has been in front eight times going into the final round and has not converted. The most recent occasion was Sunday at The Barclays. He was tied for the lead with Jason Day. Fifteen players were separated by three shots going into the final round, which is like having no lead at all. It was anyone’s tournament to win. Just not his.
So when he was asked about another Sunday when he didn’t “punch it in,” Furyk punched back.
“I feel like every time I go to the press room, I understand the questions coming and I feel like we’re in a morgue,” he said. “Like everyone is looking at me with this blank stare and they ask me depressing questions. And they bring up the Ryder Cup the last time (a singles loss to Sergio Garcia), and we go through Akron (a double bogey on the 18th hole) … and I leave there like I lost my dog.
“It’s golf. I didn’t die out there today,” he said. “I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me.”
Furyk doesn’t have a great record as a closer. Not many do. Even as Furyk was fighting to stay in the hunt as he made the turn, Shawn Stefani spoke for just about every tour player when he said, “I picked the worst sport for winning.”
Love has 20 career victories, including a major. He holed the winning putt the last time the Americans won the Ryder Cup on European soil.
Love also had a stretch once that was similar to what Furyk is going through now. He went six straight tournaments over three years when he didn’t win after taking at least a share of the lead going into the final round. In his last 12 chances, Love converted only two of them.
Not everyone can be Tiger Woods. No one is.
Part of the problem for Furyk — and so many others — is that Woods set a standard that no one should be held against, whether it’s his untouchable record as a closer (54-4 on the PGA Tour), making the cut in 142 consecutive tournaments over seven years or winning the career Grand Slam twice before he turned 30.
And part of the problem is perception.
There’s no harm in criticizing Furyk for having eight consecutive chances without cashing in. Furyk knows as well as anyone in golf that a player is judged by his score. It’s that simple. There are explanations. No one wants to hear excuses, and Furyk rarely offers any.
What’s amazing is that he’s had that many chances.
Furyk is a pea shooter in an era of heavy artillery. Golf is about power, and has been for the majority of his career. He still has been among the top players for two decades. Even now, at age 44, he finished No. 3 in the Ryder Cup standings.
A top player who considers himself a friend suggested Furyk wouldn’t be able to sustain a high level of play on the PGA Tour for much longer. There were too many players who were young, hungry, polished and powerful. That was four years ago. Furyk had chances in two majors since.
Furyk recalls one writer who asked him in 2006 if the game was passing him by. When he won the FedEx Cup in 2010, he saw the writer and smiled.
He’s not out to prove anything. He is trying to win tournaments. And he is being reminded more often than he’d like that it’s not easy and never has been. He’s also not trying to lash out at the media.
“I understand why y’all ask the questions,” he said. “I guess I want everyone to know that I’m like, ‘God, this is kind of a sad conversation.’ I want to walk in there happy. I guess I’ve got to win to do that. So if and when it happens, I’ll have a big smile on my face.”