A round unlike any otherNearly a year after shooting the PGA TOUR's first 58, Jim Furyk looks back on his historic day
June 21, 2017
By Cameron Morfit , PGATOUR.COM
- June 21, 2017
Inside the PGA TOUR
58: A number that stands above the rest
Golf is a game full of numbers, but a sub-60's number stands above the rest. The number 59 represented the pinnacle of perfection during a round of golf, that was until Jim Furyk went out and bettered it by firing 58 in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship.
Jim Furyk says plenty of guys played better than he did. Sure, he hit 14 of 14 fairways and 18 of 18 greens in regulation. And yeah, he shot the best score in PGA TOUR history, a 12-under-par 58, in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship.
But on the last six holes? Meh. Nothing special.
“I only played the last six 1 under,” Furyk says. “Hell, probably 40 guys beat me that day on the last six. I just happened to rough ’em up on the first 12.”
Starting his round at 8:41 a.m. ET, some six hours before leader Daniel Berger teed off, Furyk went 11 under for the first 12. He holed a wedge shot for eagle at the third, and nearly jarred his approach shots at the seventh and the ninth holes, too, leaving tap-in birdies.
Furyk turned in 27 -- with 10 total putts. Fans around the world started talking, especially in Rio de Janeiro, which was preparing to host the men’s Olympics golf tournament the following week. Phones began to vibrate, and walkie-talkies crackled to life at TPC River Highlands.
The 59 watch was on.
Ultimately, he would go one better.
Rushing to 18 green
If a 59 is the golf equivalent of a unicorn, what does that make a 58?
Stephan Jaeger shot 58 on the Web.com Tour a week before last year’s Travelers Championship, and Jason Bohn did it in Canada in 2001. Shigeki Maruyama went for 58 at a 2000 U.S. Open sectional qualifier. No one, though, had ever gone that low on the PGA TOUR, where the courses and competition are tougher, the stakes considerably higher.
Furyk had shot 59 at the 2013 BMW Championship, making him one of just six players -- along with Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby -- to break 60 on TOUR. (Justin Thomas and Adam Hadwin have since joined the club.) Now at the Travelers, just as he had at the BMW, Furyk had gone out in 8 under.
Russell Knox, a Scotsman who like Furyk lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, was eating lunch at TPC River Highlands when he saw the news flash across a TV screen.
“Everyone started talking about it,” says Knox, who would shoot a final-round 68 to win the tournament, “and a few guys went out to watch it.”
Nathan Grube, the Travelers tournament director, heard his phone ping.
“We were in a meeting getting ready for closing ceremonies,” Grube says. “I got a text that said Furyk just shot 27 on the front nine. I went, ‘Oh, man.’ After he birdied 10, somebody said, ‘This is getting serious.’ I walked out of the media room and there was buzz everywhere, and I’m getting these updates, and the crowd is starting to push toward 16, 17 and 18.”
Out on the course, Furyk was still strafing fairways and greens and playing like the nickname Tom Lehman gave him many years ago: the Human Highlight Film.
TPC River Highlands thrummed with excitement. Furyk’s seventh straight birdie at the 12th hole marked the best birdie-or-better streak of his gilded career.
Then he stalled. He drove into a divot at the par-5 13th and couldn’t go for the green in two. Par. He lipped out from 12 feet, 3 inches at 14, and at the driveable, par-4 15th his tee shot got to the front apron, but after a so-so chip, Furyk’s birdie try from 7 feet, 8 inches did a cruel 360, in and out.
Although he was already part of the 59 club, Furyk once again was dealing with what he later called “the mental hurdle” of breaking 60, a feat so difficult it was never achieved by Sam Snead (career low: 60), Jack Nicklaus (62), Ben Hogan (62), Arnold Palmer (62) or Tiger Woods (61). Furyk converted from 23 feet, 8 inches to birdie 16.
“After he birdied 16, once he got to 12 under, I sent a note to our staff and our interns,” Grube says. “I said, ‘Hey, everybody, make your way to 18, it looks like we’re going to witness history.’ I’ve never done that before, but we all made our way there.”
Furyk needed to birdie the last for 57, and his approach stopped 29 feet, 2 inches from the pin. The 18th green was where he had coaxed in an eight-foot par putt two days earlier to make the cut, but this time he drew the putter back and watched as his ball burned the edge. Fans groaned, then clapped as he tapped in for par, and history: 18 holes in 58 shots.
'On high alert'
Jay Fishman sat in his wheelchair by the 18th green. As the CEO of Travelers, he had negotiated the tournament’s title sponsorship, and he wasn’t about to miss one of the biggest moments in golf history just because he was in the late stages of ALS. This was a man who guided Travelers through the financial crisis of 2008, and who, according to The New York Times, used to take employees out to dinner so they could keep talking business.
“I didn’t know Jay very well,” Furyk says. “I’d met him early in the week, at a dinner and cocktail party at a convention center, in his honor. I went and said hello for the cocktail part of it. It’s amazing how energetic he was; it’s an awful disease and he knew the end was coming.”
Fishman, 63, congratulated Furyk as the new Mr. 58 walked off the last green. (Although his body was ravaged by ALS, Fishman never lost the ability to speak.) Someone snapped a picture of the moment, one J.F. greeting another amid a cacophony of cheering.
“He said he wanted the company to donate $58,000 to the charity of my choice,” says Furyk, 47. “I immediately thought of the Jim & Tabitha Furyk foundation. And then I’m looking down at Jay, and I’m thinking, what am I doing? It should go to ALS.
“Well, he didn’t want any of that. So, where we ended up was, we would split it.”
Furyk would direct $29,000 to his foundation, and $29,000 to fight ALS.
It had been a big week already, with the tournament staging a benefit that with the help of Tom Watson, Jim Nantz and others raised $1.3 million for ALS research. (Watson’s caddie Bruce Edwards died of the disease.) Now, with Furyk’s 58, the Travelers had made history.
Furyk went to sign his card, which had been kept by playing partner Miguel Angel Carballo. “Everything was a whirlwind,” Furyk says. “It was like it is whenever anyone who wins a tournament -- your first priority is signing the scorecard right. Everyone is on high alert.”
Tournament director Grube was suddenly having urgent thoughts about things he’d never even considered: What would happen to Furyk’s golf ball, glove, hat, and scorecard? (They’re all behind glass at the World Golf Hall of Fame.)
“Hey, I think you’re going to want this.”
Grube turned to find River Highlands caddie master David Timm, who was holding the name strip from the back of Furyk’s caddie, Mike (Fluff) Cowan.
“Thanks,” said Grube. He fast-walked the strip to the locker room for Furyk to sign it.
Jay, thank you for all you have done for our sport and our tour! 58 8-7-16 Jim Furyk
“I almost wrote 59,” Furyk joked. “I blanked.” (Furyk says he was in such a daze he doesn’t remember making the comment.)
Grube hurried away to find the Travelers photographer, who e-mailed him the picture of Furyk and Fishman, which Grube printed for the tournament’s in-house designer Katie McMorrow, who matted and framed the photo above the name strip.
Approximately 45 minutes after Furyk had tapped in for the most audacious round of golf in TOUR history, Travelers executive vice president and chief administrative officer Andy Bessette bent down and presented Travelers CEO Fishman with the framed memento.
“And Jay had that in his office in New York,” Grube says.
Fishman would die at his home in New Jersey just 12 days later.
The moment Furyk tapped in for par on 18, hundreds of text messages started flooding into his phone. So many, he says, that it would take him days to answer them all. He had won the U.S. Open, the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup, THE TOUR Championship and FedExCup, and the respect of his peers as PGA TOUR Player of the Year, but the 58 practically pulsated in neon.
After carefully signing his card – Carballo initially had recorded the wrong score for Furyk’s card on the 14th hole before correcting it -- Furyk ran into his pal from Pablo Creek. Knox, who was three shots behind leader Berger and aiming for his second TOUR win, was leaving the locker room to go start his warm-up when he ran into Furyk on his way in.
“I don’t even think we had a conversation,” Knox says. “I think I said, ‘Congratulations,’ and he said thanks and I thought to myself that it was pretty cool that I was just starting my day and he was just finishing the best round in PGA TOUR history.”
One way or another, Knox says, Furyk might have helped him win the Travelers.
“We’re buddies, we live close to each other in Ponte Vedra, and I thought: Maybe this is a good luck charm for me that I just brushed shoulders with Mr. 58.”
What’s more, the focus on 58 somehow seemed to lighten the load on Knox.
“Nobody cared about the leaders teeing off,” he says. “Everything was about Jim, and rightly so. It was cool. We went out to warm up and nobody cared.”
Furyk started packing for his flight out. “I didn’t have hopes of winning the tournament,” he says. (He would tie for fifth, three strokes behind Knox.) “It was a big day for Jacksonville with the winner and a 58 coming out of the same club, Pablo Creek.”
The historic day at River Highlands would also affect Jason Bohn, who soon enough would begin getting questions about his own 58, which he’d shot in front of his parents and whoever else had gotten stuck at the Mackenzie Tour PGA TOUR Canada’s 2001 Bayer Championship in Sarnia, Ontario.
“It was the weekend after September 11th,” Bohn says. “We were the only professional sport that played in North America because we were stranded.”
Bohn made five birdies and two eagles in his first seven holes, and was making the turn when the leaders teed off. It was so long ago that the details are a little fuzzy, but Bohn knows he shot 63-58 on the weekend to win.
Oh, and this: “I do remember on 18,” Bohn says, “my caddie at the time, who actually caddied for me for many years out here -- Billy Spencer -- he was paying attention to the leaderboard. I wasn’t paying attention to where we stood at all.
“It was a par 5, and I could have easily reached in two, but there was a creek in front of the green. I put my hand on my 4-wood and said, ‘Well, I’ll just hit this right in the middle of the green, and we’ll two-putt and shoot 57.’ He took it out of my hand and said, ‘If you try to hit that I’ll break it over my knee. Let’s just try to win this golf tournament.’
“So I laid up, and knocked it on and two-putted for par.”
Bohn laughs at the memory. His comment calls to mind Furyk lamenting how he played the last six at River Highlands in just 1 under. “I just happened to rough ’em up on the first 12.”
Funny. Awe-inspiring. Tragic. Great sporting achievements like these, which will forever stand the test of time, will always mean different things to different people.
If Furyk’s 58 elicits bittersweet memories for the passing of CEO Fishman, Bohn’s elicits memories of the player he beat that day, Kentuckian Jace Bugg, who died of leukemia in 2003.
“He was a great player,” Bohn says, “and one of the nicest guys.”
As for Furyk, he adds: “What Jim did at Hartford was pretty spectacular. I don’t know that 58 will be broken. It’s too difficult to do out here; we just don’t play any easy golf courses.”
Reminded that the TOUR’s lone 58 could have been a 57 had Furyk’s ball not spun around the hole at the short 15th hole, Bohn shrugs. “But I’m sure he made a putt he didn’t think he would make, either. That’s the way it works. You block one, shove it out there, and all the sudden it takes more break than you think and goes in. Woo-hoo!”
Twice in a lifetime
Bohn’s comment begs a bigger question: How does one shoot 58, anyway?
Furyk says he was confused with his swing at the Travelers, and he proved it with an opening-round 73. He says he played “OK” while shooting a second-round 66 to make the cut, but after falling back again with a 72 on Saturday he sought swing help from his dad Mike.
“I had two opportunities to break 60 in my life, and I was able to do it both times,” Furyk says. “With the 58, it helped so much to have been in that position before. I felt like I had everything to gain and nothing to lose; I’d already done it. They were very, very similar rounds. I holed iron shots on the front nine, I shot 8 under on the front, but had to fight it a little after that.”
Who else will go into the history books having shot 59-58, three years apart? Anyone?
Furyk met fellow 58 shooter Jaeger at the Web.com Tour Championship in Jacksonville last year, and the meeting between the two history makers apparently riled the golf gods, for that was the day Hurricane Matthew forced a mandatory evacuation of the area.
“We met in a hospital, a charity thing,” says Jaeger, who survived sectional qualifying to join Furyk for last week’s U.S. Open. “So we didn’t really talk about it, and I didn’t know Jim at all, so I wasn’t going to impose at all, but I made sure he knows that I got the first one.”
Furyk, who claims not to have watched the highlights of his 58, says, “It was cool to chat with him.”
As for the artifacts of last August 7, he allows, “I guess I have the shirt I wore, but I haven’t really thought about it. It was white with two or three gray stripes.”
Asked if any particular shot stands out, he goes back to the 17th tee.
“I had hit a poor tee shot there earlier in the week,” Furyk says. “I knew it was the only hole that could really screw up the round, with all the water.” Furyk split the fairway, hit the green, and missed his long birdie putt. After backing off three times, he made par from 3 feet, 7 inches.
After his par at the finishing hole, Furyk had become just the 45th player since 1992 to hit every fairway and every green in regulation in a TOUR round. He had taken 24 putts. Having come into the week averaging 33 feet, 9 inches on his approach shots, he shot 58 while lowering that number to 21 feet, 6 inches, which was 16 feet closer than the field average.
They’re nice stats, but a year later he hardly sounds impressed with himself.
“It’s harder to win a golf tournament,” Furyk says of his unbeaten and untied 58, even though someone will win the Travelers this week and the Quicken Loans next week and every tournament forever more. “To put all that together, be the lowest score for the week.”
Knox echoes that sentiment. Asked if he would trade his victory for the 58, he says, “Not even close. I guarantee Jim would swap with me in a heartbeat.”
At this year’s Travelers, the tournament dedicated the Jay S. Fishman Memorial Garden and installed plaques of Furyk’s scorecard in the clubhouse and by the 18th green.
Furyk, meanwhile, continues to chase the form he had that magical morning last August.
“I had an amazing four hours,” he says. “Would I trade it [for Knox’s victory]? It’s a nice feather in my hat. It’s over. I did it. It was an awesome day. It was really cool. Someday I’ll be sitting back with a cocktail in my hand and my feet kicked up and I’ll tell the story.”