Jim Furyk Q&A
Ahead of his return to Oakmont, Jim Furyk discusses the historic course, his near-miss there in 2007 and his Pittsburgh roots
June 07, 2016
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Jim Furyk will return to his roots, and the site of one of his toughest losses, when the U.S. Open is played next week at Oakmont Country Club. His family is from western Pennsylvania -- his grandparents were mill workers -- and he lived there briefly as a boy while his father Mike was a golf professional in the area.
Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, almost won his national championship a second time in front of his friends and family. He finished second at the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, one shot behind Angel Cabrera. Furyk made birdies on Nos. 13-15 in the final round before a bogey at the drivable 17th.
The U.S. Open is always a special event for Furyk, though. His game is well-suited for the grueling conditions; he’s finished in the top 10 six times and missed just three cuts in 21 starts. The tournament’s Father’s Day finish also is significant, as Mike Furyk has been his son’s only swing coach.
Furyk, a 17-time PGA TOUR winner and the 2010 FedExCup champion, will arrive at Oakmont after a lengthy layoff because of a left wrist injury. He withdrew from last September’s BMW Championship and didn’t return until the Wells Fargo Championship in May. The U.S. Open will be his fifth tournament since his return. PGATOUR.COM caught up with Furyk during his layoff to talk about Oakmont and his local ties.
You’ve had very few injuries in your 23-year career. What has been the secret to a long, relatively-injury-free career?
I had wrist surgery back in 2004 and I had about a five-month break and it seemed like forever. In the last five or six years, I’ve started taking some good three to three-and-half-month breaks, even as much as four (months), in the winter. I would play hard for about eight months and then take a big lump of time off. I think really in the latter part of my career, taking that time off in the winter and re-charging, getting to spend some time in coaching youth basketball when the kids were younger, and being at home more, it enabled me not to really burn out, it helped me extend my career, it helped me play longer and enjoy it. I don’t really think it’s as much, as you get older, I don’t think it’s as much a physical necessity sometimes as much as it is mental. Being able to take all that great time off really helped me from a mental standpoint. It helped me re-charge and then get really excited about getting back out on TOUR.
You were a vice captain for the first time at last year’s Presidents Cup. You’re a vice captain at this year’s Ryder Cup. There has been so much emphasis on what can be done off the course at the Ryder Cup to improve the United States’ fortunes. When you have an event with two teams of 12 of the best players in the world, how much can what’s done off the course impact what happens on the course?
I think it’s significant. Ultimately, the players have to play well. Ultimately, it comes down to hitting golf shots and winning your matches, but I think the camaraderie off the golf course is big. I think the attitude in the team room, I think the way you pair folks up, the way you prepare them, really just overall I think putting the players in the best position you possibly can to succeed is very important. I think all those players know how to do that individually. It’s really wrapping it into a team, letting everyone have their own identity within that team organization is what’s really important.
To the U.S. Open, if I’m not mistaken you moved from Pittsburgh to east Pennsylvania when you were 8. But obviously you’re a Steelers fan, not an Eagles fan. Could you talk about your connection to Pittsburgh and what it means to you?
My mom and dad grew up there. I spent all my holidays there and my family’s from there. Even through high school, we always went back to Pittsburgh for Christmas and Thanksgiving. We moved to eastern Pennsylvania when I was 7 or 8, I can’t remember. Lancaster will always be where I grew up and home, but I have a deep tie to Pittsburgh. That’s the roots. My grandparents, one worked in an aluminum mill, the other worked in a glass mill. Blue-collar mentality. A very hard-working family. Probably my background, and what I consider is important, I gained from that type of mentality. My parents were both very hard workers and with that work ethic, they put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed and I think I learned that pretty much from their upbringing. I feel very much at home at Pittsburgh. I try to get up there and visit as much as I can. I usually get up for a couple games in the fall to see (the Steelers) play.
So your parents were the Steelers fans first?
Oh ya. My mom is the diehard. They’re both sports fans, but my mom is the diehard. Penguins. Pirates. Steelers. You name it.
Oakmont is kept at near- U.S. Open conditions most of the year. Are Oakmont members gluttons for punishment? Is it a Pittsburgh thing? Why do you think Oakmont takes such pride in being so difficult?
They definitely take pride in folks not being able to shoot near their handicap there. I think it’s really on the mentality of why the club was formed. The Fownes family, he was a gentleman who basically started the club and designed it because he had a (son), the way I understand it, I don’t know my history that well, but he had a (son) who was a good tournament player and he wanted to develop and design a golf course that would give them very brutal, very difficult conditions so they could hone their games and become good tournament players. He was always seeking a way to make the course harder. He would sit out on the course and watch people play, and when someone hit an errant shot and got away with it, and they were able to recover, he would go put a bunker there. At one time there were more than 300 bunkers on the golf course. They’ve since gone back to the original (design). The course looks great without the trees. But it is a very difficult golf course, one of the hardest, if not the hardest I’ve ever played, just by design.
I think a lot of the members there, I don’t know if they’re gluttons for punishment. I think they’re very proud of their course and the fact that it’s hosted more U.S. Opens than any other course in the country. But I think a lot of them hold a membership at another club so as not to get their rear end kicked all the time.
When you look back at the 2007 U.S. Open, where does that sit with you as we prepare to return to Oakmont for the first time since?
It was a wonderful experience. I look back at making the bogey at 17 and actually having a chance to win and not getting it done, so there’s always a disappointment. If I’ve had five events in my career where I really felt like I let one slip through my fingers, that’s one that bothers me. For that to be a major is a little bit more disappointing. For that to be real close to home is even more disappointing. I look back at it with fond memories. The Steelers have a “Here We Go Steelers” chant when you’re in the stadium. Walking up 17, it was “Here We Go Jimmy.” It was something that I’ll always remember and appreciate, and then also because of that it will also be a little more disappointing than most.
You said after the round that you didn’t see a leaderboard between 15 and the 17th green, and you said that the tee shot at 17 went 20 yards farther than you expected. In hindsight, do you think it would have changed things if you saw a leaderboard more recently than 15? Was it just adrenaline that made the tee shot at 17 go too far?
You know what, the tee shot went a little farther on 17. If you go back, I think I birdied 13, 14, 15. Made a great par at 16. Seventeen the tee shot went a little farther, so I had no angle on the pitch and grabbed a really bad lie, dumped it just short, chipped it past, made 5. The winner, Cabrera, made bogey in front of me laying up. He laid up to the perfect spot and made bogey. The greens were just that difficult. I don’t think I made a mental error in any way. It’s just the U.S. Open, man. You’ve got to realize you’re going to make some mistakes and you’re going to make some bogeys. It just came at an inopportune time.
Do you think your success in the U.S. Open, is it more a result of your mental attributes or physical attributes?
I think it’s a combination of both. I don’t think just one of those lends itself to the U.S. Open. My style (I’m) a pretty straight hitter, and I grew up in the Northeast. You end up playing a lot of the U.S. Opens up there. I’m comfortable with the grasses – long, heavy bentgrass -- and the conditions and the architecture, since I grew up on courses built in the same era. But also, mentally, you have to learn. You have to make some mistakes, you have to get a little impatient, and you have to make some mistakes in U.S. Opens to realize what it’s all about and realize that as tough as it is physically, it may be even tougher mentally. Once you realize that and go in with the attitude you need to, you have a chance to succeed. Being able to grind it out as par being a good score, lends itself to my game. (The U.S. Open) probably gives me the best opportunity to win a major championship, and that’s probably why I’ve had the most success there of any of the majors. I’ve won once and had a number of different opportunities to win one.
What’s it like going into a week where 5 or 6 over is going to win? You handle the conditions well, so is there any excitement to face that type of challenge?
That’s like sitting at the principal’s office, knowing you’re going to get paddled and being excited about it. I don’t know if ‘excitement’ is the right word. It’s one of those things where you have to be careful what you ask for. I know that when I’m on top of my game, and we’re going to a U.S. Open at a venue like Oakmont or Winged Foot, that the venue suits me well and I have an opportunity if I play well. But it’s a huge task. I know that I’m going to be mentally and physically worn out at the end of the week, especially if I’m playing well. You’re going to be more worn out because it really takes a lot out of you.
You played your first major at Oakmont in 1994. You hadn’t played the course much before then, correct?
Once before that week.
What was your ‘welcome to the U.S. Open’ or ‘welcome to Oakmont’ moment in 1994?
I guarantee that I didn’t break 80 in one of the practice rounds. I didn’t keep score, but the golf course was playing so hard, so firm, so fast. There were greens where four of us couldn’t hit the green on a par-3. Luckily we got some rain Wednesday night that made the golf course playable. The golf course played so hard in the practice rounds. It was impossible. I think I was kind of a deer in headlights going, ‘Oh my God. If the golf course plays like this Thursday to Sunday, 80 might be a pretty good score.’ We got some rain and it softened up the course and made it somewhat playable. It was kind of a nice introduction to major-championship golf. The fastest greens I had ever played to that point. At the time, I think I really enjoyed the challenge. I was excited to be in my first major, and to do that somewhat close to home was a lot of fun. A lot of relatives still live in Pittsburgh. I actually stayed with some relatives that week. It was a great experience and I actually had a pretty decent finish, somewhere around 30th.
Where do those greens rank among everywhere you’ve played, in terms of difficulty?
As difficult as I’ve played. They’re different than Augusta. The slope at Oakmont is more back-to-front, front-to-back, front-right-to-back-left. It’s just a severe slope. Augusta has more humps and bumps and you can feed balls in from certain areas. But both are, obviously, very difficult. It’s just a little bit of a different style. As far as hitting greens, there’s some greens out there that are as difficult, even when you have a 7-iron or 8-iron in your hand, to put the ball on the surface as I’ve seen, just because of the amount of slope. I’m thinking of 1 and 10. The green slopes so hard from front-right to back-left that Hogan used to say the way to play No. 1 was to knock it over the green and chip back, and he was maybe the best ball-striker ever. Those are some of the most difficult greens to actually hit and put the ball in position where you can actually two-putt.
The U.S. Open is always special for you because it ends on Father’s Day. What has your dad meant to your golf career?
A good golf coach takes what the person has and makes it better, and he realized that I wasn’t mechanical. He also realized that I wasn’t going to be able to change my natural move. So he took that and helped me make it more efficient and stronger each year. We always kind of stayed on that path. I appreciate his wisdom and his ability to do that, where a lot of teachers would have tried to change it and make it more conventional, and I probably wouldn’t have had the career that I did. He never really gets a lot of attention or credit for being a good teacher. He also doesn’t promote himself or teach that many folks, either. I think in my mind I wish he would have gotten more credit for it because he really helped me out.
With a very natural swing, what are your lessons like, or what do you guys work on with a very natural, versus a very technical swing?
I think we do things through feel and ball flight. He has to think about what I’ve got in my swing and what he sees is wrong, and then he gives me a feel or a ball flight that will help fix that flaw. If the club is getting stuck behind me, we’ll hit a shot that you can’t hit from that (incorrect) position. Eventually I’ll work through it with that shot pattern or with a feel. As I’ve gotten older, things have really simplified. My swing has become more consistent and more solid throughout the years. Although I get off and struggle at times, I realize and he realizes the five or six basic things that I usually fall back into and we work through a lot of our experiences in the past. It makes it easier to fight my way out of it.
What’s the best call your caddie, Mike ‘Fluff’ Cowan has made for you over the years?
He’s made a bunch of them, to say the least. I think Fluff’s greatest strength is that he never really changes, good or bad. He’s never down when I’m playing bad. He’s never overly excited when I’m playing good. He’s the same guy, day-in and day-out, and has such an even-keel that he allows me to play at an even-keel. That’s probably the best compliment I could give him.