OAKMONT, Pa. – All week long, this was a U.S. Open that begged to be forgotten. From a Thursday washout that declawed the golf course and left everyone wrong-footed and playing catch-up to the rules flap that luckily didn’t turn the tournament into a morality play, this 2016 U.S. Open wasn’t Oakmont or the USGA’s finest hour.
Swirling in the middle of all of this is poor Jim Furyk, again a bridesmaid in a major, although in a different way than normal for him. Usually he gets into contention, then somehow contrives to lose in excruciating…indeed, if you will, infuryk-iating...fashion. Five-Hour Agony. Whether it’s fidgeting over short putts before missing them (Winged Foot ’06 and Oakmont ’07) or pull-hooking drivers into the rough (Olympic Club ’12) or just playing milquetoast golf on Championship Sunday as though suffering from a general malaise (Oak Hill ’13 PGA) Furyk’s name on the leaderboard usually means his opponents have got him right where they want him.
This time was different. He fired he rousing 4-under 66 on Sunday to surge onto the leaderboard and sneak off with a back-door second that even he didn’t expect.
Of course he fell flat at the end with a bogey on 18. Typical Jim – tripping over his own feet leaving the stage.
Furyk had just gotten revenge with a birdie on No. 17, a little payback for 2007. He said so himself later that it felt goooooooood. Last time we saw him in Big Mouth bunker, he flailed so badly in there, I thought he might get black lung disease. [Author’s Note: Hat tip to some western PA wise guy.]
This time he laid back with an iron, then spun a wedge from 107 yards to 15 feet. When that putt rolled in you’d have thought the Steelers just beat the Bengals, Ravens and Browns all at once.
“West Chester, I heard a lot. I heard Lancaster, where I grew up. I heard Manheim Township where I went to high school. I heard all kinds of stuff from western PA…I heard every little town and borough through here,” he said gratefully, recalling the rollicking ovation he got from the fans as he walked to the 18th tee. “My mom and dad grew up in Natrona Heights and Lower Burrell. I heard that. I heard their high schools being called out. I had a lot of places claiming me. It was a lot of fun.”
It was one of the best moments of the tournament. Furyk is just so likable. He’s gritty, he’s plucky, he’s got an exciting short game, he’s got that hilarious swing that gives hope to every hacker -- the fans love his ethos. Plus he’s the hometown boy who gave everyone a thrill last time only to falter late. It was a great redemption. But then Furyk did the one thing not to do on 18 in the clutch – miss the fairway.
“I got ahead of it a little bit, got the club trapped behind me,” he explained, demonstrating as though he were swinging the club, his arms getting caught behind him. The ball started right and never had a chance. In deep rough and mounds, Furyk slashed it back to the fairway. After that, he said he was glad to escape with a bogey.
If adversity builds character, than that makes Jim Furyk the Frank Gehry of the golf world, because he’s built enough character to erect the Guggenheim Bilbao, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Experience Music Project Exhibit. If there’s anyone who made sportswriters trash their ledes in major championships as Phil Mickelson, it’s Furyk. People shed tears for the hard luck losses of Dustin Johnson, but at least Furyk hasn’t had anywhere near the checkered past as Dustin has.
We’re going to see more of the same from Furyk, because he understands how to play Golden Age masterpieces and because he plays U.S. Open golf well. Once again he was on the leaderboard because of his accuracy. He was third this week in greens in regulation, the end-all, be-all stat at a U.S. Open - along with putting – in the age of Mike Davis’s graded rough.
Moreover, Furyk hits a lot of fairways. He doesn’t make a lot of mental errors. It’s just that he makes one mistake too many and usually at the worst possible time. It does seem that he “bonks” – runs out of energy – late on Sunday.
One of these days I’ll ask him if he’s tried 5-Hour Energy on Sunday and whether or not it worked.
Furyk is also – as they say on Sesame Street - “The Golfer Brought to You by the Letter ‘O.’” He won at Olympia Fields, then contended at Oak Hill, Olympic Club, Oakland Hills and Oak Hill. We return to Oakmont in 2025, but Furyk will be 55 then. Here are no more “Os” coming up in the U.S. Open’s near future, but Furyk’s style of methodical, precise golf will translate will at Winged Foot, The Country Club and L.A. Country Club, all hosting the Open within the next six years. Furyk should also feel at home at Baltusrol, Quail Hollow, Bellerive, Harding Park and again at Oak Hill, all hosting PGA Championships in the next seven years. Still, the oldest player to ever win a major was 48 (Julius Boros at Pecan Valley in the 1968 PGA Championship, for those of you scoring at home). The window is closing quickly.
Furyk finished he tournament at 1 under, along with Scott Piercy and Shane Lowry, three shots back of winner Dustin Johnson.
Still, at the end of he day, with the sun sinking gloriously into the rugged Pennsylvania foothills, there’s Jim being Jim, the hometown boy being positive and plucky. Being the good egg and role model he is, answering every question honestly and open-heartedly. This time, happily, there was a little more good cheer to his Sunday debriefing.
“I mean, to be right in the thick of things and bogey 17 last time, that's kind of like that you can taste it, but that's a little bit of a bitter pill to swallow,” he confided. “I have a much happier feeling [now], put it that way.”