FERGUSON: Ex-Lancaster County resident Jim Furyk short on power, long on determination
Power was evident from every vantage point at the year-end charity event hosted by Tiger Woods.
Rory McIlroy was there after completing his rookie season on the PGA Tour. So was Dustin Johnson, who already had won four times and messed up in two majors. Bubba Watson was just getting warmed up — at that time, only the shaft in his driver was pink.
And that's when Jim Furyk's name was mentioned.
The consensus was that the former Lancaster County resident wouldn't be able to hang on much longer as 300-yard drives were becoming the norm. Sure, he was coming off a three-win season, the best of his career. He won the FedEx Cup mainly on the strength of his one-shot victory in the Tour Championship. But he already was 40, and Furyk wasn't getting any longer. Or younger. Players can rely only so much on grit and a great short game.
That conversation took place more than four years ago.
From then until now, the 44-year-old Furyk has earned just short of $16 million, along with seven runner-up finishes and — finally — another PGA Tour victory.
He ended the longest drought of his career Sunday at the RBC Heritage with a performance built on determination, the hallmark of his career. Not only did he close with a 63, he had to make an 8-foot birdie putt to extend the playoff against Kevin Kisner, and then make another birdie to win.
The reaction was predictable. Furyk dropped his putter and yelled louder than a foghorn at Calibogue Sound.
"A lot of pent-up frustration," he said.
A player to celebrate: That should give way to celebration for a player whose game is working as well now as it did as a PGA Tour rookie in 1994.
Furyk won for the 17th time, which along with a U.S. Open title in 2003 figures to make him a shoo-in for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Only five active players have won more on the PGA Tour — Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III and Ernie Els.
Look beyond the wins, however.
Furyk played on 15 consecutive U.S. teams for the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, a streak that ended in 2013 when Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples left him off the team in favor of 20-year-old Jordan Spieth. The next year, Furyk finished No. 3 in qualifying for the Ryder Cup.
Another measure of his high level of play can be found in the world ranking. Furyk cracked the top 50 for the first time when he finished fifth at the 1996 U.S. Open. Over the last 19 years, he has been out of the top 50 for only 13 weeks, and never lower than No. 61.
His victory at Hilton Head moved him up to No. 5 — the same spot he was four years ago when his name was mentioned as a guy who might have a hard time hanging on.
Still room for players such as Furyk: There is still room at the highest level for players like Furyk.
Power is a big advantage in golf, as it is in most sports, which makes Furyk and those like him all the more remarkable. They are equipped with muzzleloaders when it seems everyone around them is firing howitzers.
Luke Donald reached No. 1 in the world and became the first player to win the money title on both sides of the Atlantic. Donald was at No. 1 for 56 weeks. Woods, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and McIlroy are the only players who have been at the top longer.
Long before Donald was Justin Leonard, who earned his PGA Tour card without ever going to Q-school. With a huge disadvantage off the tee, Leonard still piled up 12 victories, including the British Open and The Players Championship.
The next Jim Furyk might be 35-year-old Zach Johnson, another pea shooter who already has 11 victories and a green jacket. Of the current American players with at least four Ryder Cup appearances, he is the only one without a losing record (6-6-2).
Good short game never goes out of style: Furyk played the final round at Hilton Head with Spieth, who was coming off a record-setting win at the Masters that was more about his short game than how far he smashes it off the tee. Spieth is plenty long — he certainly has more power than Furyk and Zach Johnson, for example — though he will never be classified as a power player, at least not by today's standards.
He won his PGA Tour event at 19 by holing a bunker shot to get into a playoff. He won the Valspar Championship last month by saving par from tough spots on the final two holes to get into a playoff. His most important shot at Augusta National was a full flop off a tight lie on the 18th hole in the third round that turned bogey or worse into a par that gave him a four-shot cushion going into Sunday.
For all the power in golf, a good short game never goes out of style. It's what has kept Furyk among the best for so long, and no telling for how much longer.