Furyk holds his own with the kids

Writing from Medinah, Illinois

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Jim Furyk is 49 years old and hasn’t won a golf tournament in four years.

Naturally, that means he’s a shot off the lead after the first round of the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club.

He’s in that garden spot after shooting a 6-under-par 66 at the big west suburban club on a No. 3 Course that measured 7,484 yards and played a thousand yards shorter on a warm and slightly breezy Thursday.

The BMW – the Western Open to old salts and the PGA Tour’s playoff semifinal to everyone else – features only the elite of the circuit. It’s not an all-comers. But Furyk, 39th in the ranking, has played well enough to qualify and on the opening lap, made the most of it.

He’s a stroke behind the course record-tying 7-under 65s of comparative youngsters Justin Thomas (all of 26) and Jason Kokrak (a babe of 34) going into Friday’s second round, and shares third place with Joel Dahmen, Lucas Glover and Brandt Snedeker.

Does Lake Kadijah have a fountain of youth?

“I’ve always liked Medinah,” Furyk said, recalling the PGAs where he finished in ties for eighth and 29th, respectively, but not bringing up the 2012 Ryder Cup, where he lost a critical singles match to Sergio Garcia. “I try and draw from those. This city has been good to me. I always enjoy coming back to Chicago and seeing the fans here.”

Furyk has made Chicago the scene of some of his best triumphs over the years. He won the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in 2003, the Western Open at Cog Hill in 2005, and fired a 59 at Conway Farms in 2013. Something magical at Medinah would make for a quartet of achievements in the neighborhood.

But 66 on what was supposed to be a difficult course and instead yielded 58 sub-par rounds from a field of 69 – with only Vaughn Taylor and Joaquin Niemann over par – from a 49-year-old?

“I feel if you’re healthy and you have that will and that determination, it can be done,” Furyk said of playing well alongside the kids of the golf world after his bogey-free circuit, which included four birdies, plus an eagle on the par-5 fifth. “A lot of it is what’s your motivation, how hard are you willing to work, and then how healthy you can stay.”

Furyk is back to health after an injury to his left wrist that forced him out of the 2017 BMW at Conway Farms after six holes. That was only the start of it.

“As I was catching a little bit of stride in ’17, I injured my chest,” Furyk said. “That set me back another year. So that’s been a struggle. I guess that’s part of being 47-48-49, but I feel good now.

“I think a lot of it’s getting some confidence back and putting yourself in those situations. I put myself in a good situation at the Players and responded well (finishing second). Put myself in a good position at Colonial where I didn’t maybe respond quite as well (finishing tied for 13th), but I learned from those things.”

Watch him concentrate when he gets to his ball, and it’s evident that both the attention to detail and the fire in the belly is there. He sees a commonality with several who have and had that before they became eligible for the senior circuit, mentioning his contemporary, Phil Mickelson (opening 2-under 70), as well as Ray Floyd, Fred Funk and Kenny Perry as ignorers of the calendar.

“It’s different for everyone,” Furyk said. “I think the guys I mentioned when they were playing well, they had that drive and that want – for different reasons for everyone. Right now I think my motivation is, I had three years off basically where I wasn’t playing good golf, and I want to prove to myself that I can do it again.”

He’s chasing Thomas and Kokrak, who totaled 13 birdies and an eagle between them, with only Kokrak’s card sullied by a bogey. He made a 5 on the par-4 ninth, but he also made 110 feet of putts.

“Is that a new world record for me?” he kidded. “I don’t think it’s a crazy putting contest on this golf course. I think if you can ball-strike at this place, you’re going to be in it.”

Thomas scattered seven birdies across his card, including three straight on Nos. 14-15-16.

“I had the worst warmup I’ve even had in my life this morning,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know how I was going to hit it.”

He parred the first three holes. His tee shot on No. 4 hit a tree in the left rough – the same one he hit in a practice round – and bounded back into the fairway. Thomas took advantage of the member bounce with an approach to two feet and the first of four birdies in the next six holes.

“I’ll take three 4s the rest of the week on that hole,” Thomas quipped.

He hit nine fairways, properly noting their softness made them wider. With light wind, big, bad Medinah was a pussycat.

The only tough days were to the egos of the Taylor and Niemann, the duo in black numbers after a 73 and 74, respectively, on a day when the course averaged 69.275 strokes – the lowest average in Western / BMW history when players haven’t had the ball in their hand – and to the egos of Medinah’s proud membership, who like to see players work for their birdies. Sure, it rained hard for 10 minutes on Tuesday, and players called the course soft, which means balls hit slightly off line are more likely to stay in the fairway than trickle into the rough, but 296 birdies, nearly four per-player?

Then again, when Mickelson can miss the 16th fairway by 10 yards, hit a punch shot under trees and over a hill and still salvage par when a mere mortal would be en route to a triple-bogey, well, no ballpark will hold these guys.

Around Medinah

Only the second round at Conway Farms in 2015 (3.072 strokes under par) and the third round last year at Aronimink (2.841) were deeper in the red than Thursday’s round (2.725). The aforementioned two were played with “lift, clean and place” rules in effect after downpours. Thursday’s round was played with the ball up and thus ranks as the easiest round of proper golf. … Galleries were on the course early and in numbers, with fans clambering to get into seating 20 minutes before the first group came through on some holes. WGA tournament boss Vince Pellegrino estimated it at about 25,000. … A large contingent followed the threesome of Tiger Woods, C.T. Pan and Billy Horschel, who, at least on the 13th tee, took a minute less than forever to select a club, and then moved his tee position after lining up to swing. Pan’s caddie is Jeff Louie, a regular looper at Medinah. … Woods scored 1-under 71 and is tied for 50th. … U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland posted 2-under 70 and is among those tied for 36th. … British Open champion Shane Lowry opened with level par 72 and is in the gaggle for 59th. … There’s no cut after Friday’s second round, so all hands will be on deck for the weekend.

Tim Cronin


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