A year ago, the guttural exodus of emotion from Jim Furyk upon winning the RBC Heritage wasn’t just about Furyk’s climb back to being a winner. It wasn’t just about his own five-year victory drought. It wasn’t just about an 0-for-forever streak of closing weekend leads. It was about still being relevant.
Unable to defend his title at Hilton Head, sidelined by a surgically repaired wrist that he, no surprise, tried to battle through, Furyk’s lack of presence seemed even more evident this past week. His relevance in the game wasn’t about winning, but about balance.
As Branden Grace became the latest international star to claim victory (the seventh international winner out of eight full-field events dating back to The Honda Classic) on Sunday, perhaps for the first time in 2016, we missed Furyk’s consistent presence as the gritty American challenger.
In the last two decades, Furyk amassed 170 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, averaging nearly nine per season. Many of his 15 wins in that span weren’t as memorable as the fact that he was always there on the weekend, our security
blanket when scanning leaderboards. We could count on him. We may have taken him for granted.
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Furyk rose during the Age of the Tiger. While he would never come close to matching Woods, he never sunk under the weight of his shadow, even embracing the spotlight to team with him in international competition. In an era where we demand stars, Furyk embraced being a planet in the same solar system, orbiting just outside our full admiration. Remember those top 10s? His average, per season, tops those of Mickelson, DJ, Kuchar, Zach, Rickie, Bubba and any other relevant American star.
Furyk dug his own unique swing out of the dirt, giving hope to every weekend golfer with a twitch or tick that he, too, could find that magic swing. He represented the everyman in golf, an immortal challenging the gods of the game with grit, precision and endless persistence.
The same year that Phil Mickelson lipped out for a 59 in Phoenix just happened to be the year Furyk found a 59 in Chicago at the 2013 BMW Championship. Three years earlier, in the absence of Tiger and any superstar, Furyk won PGA Tour Player of the Year with a Tour Championship exclamation point. When the golf world couldn’t deliver what we wanted, Furyk filled the void.
We are in the midst of, arguably, the most exciting era in golf. The quantity of transcendent, young talent in the game is more than enticing. But any good era is balanced by the veterans bridging the generational gap. For young American stars, Mickelson is the fun uncle, Tiger the rich, reclusive relative. Furyk needs to be the reunion organizer, the voice of reason in a room of over-exposed personalities.
The world of professional golf returned to its safe, sheltered bubble last week, removed from the glare of the Masters spotlight. Hilton Head always brings the game back to its core, with shot making, smaller crowds and die-hard loyalty. It’s where we would always find Furyk to return us to center. We miss him. Get well soon.