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Father Knows Best
Michael Silver
June 23, 2003
Meticulous Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open in impressive fashion, using a loopy swing he honed under the tutelage of his dad the tutelage of his dad
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June 23, 2003

Father Knows Best

Meticulous Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open in impressive fashion, using a loopy swing he honed under the tutelage of his dad the tutelage of his dad

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He's a deliberate man with an undeviating plan, and to golf spectators and loved ones alike, Jim Furyk's method can be maddening. The 33-year-old grinder's grinder prepares for each herky-jerky swing like a geologist conducting a seismic survey, so it was no surprise that he got ready for the 103rd U.S. Open in similarly regimented fashion. "We tease Jim a lot because he tries to be so organized, and sometimes it gets away from him," Furyk's wife, Tabitha, explained on Sunday evening as she strolled off the 18th green at Olympia Fields Country Club. "Before we left home, he made a big point of getting all of his pants for the tournament dry-cleaned and hanging them neatly in the closet. Then we got on the plane, and, of course, he realized he had forgotten to pack them."

Thus the defining week of Furyk's 10-year career required a trip to the Orland Square Mall in the suburbs south of Chicago three days before the Open. Jim and Tabitha's power-shopping spree netted four pairs of slacks and a few encouraging words from store employees who recognized the world's 10th-ranked golfer—making them part of a distinct minority. Before last weekend, most casual fans wouldn't have known Furyk from Fred Funk or Edward Fryatt or Steve Flesch. That all changed during a transcendent performance in which the 6'2", 185-pound perfectionist played almost flawlessly, dominating the planet's best golfers and winning his first major with an ease that suggested this won't be his last.

Years from now, it may seem less improbable that the man who wore the pants at this year's national open was not the regal Tiger Woods but the plodding Pennsylvanian with the retracting hairline and the hook nose. Though Furyk lacks the picturesque swing and the pedigree of, say, Phil Mickelson—now 0 for 44 in majors, and donning logo shirts that make him resemble a gas-station attendant ("Phil 'er up!")—his relentlessly steady shotmaking was the talk of the Olympia Fields locker room. His score of 272 tied the 72-hole U.S. Open record shared by Jack Nicklaus (1980), Lee Janzen (1993) and Woods (2000), earning Furyk, who finished eight under par, a three-stroke victory over Stephen Leaney of Australia and mad props from his peers. "You know he's going to hit every fairway and every green," Woods said after finishing in 20th place at three-over 283, "and you have to make birdie to beat him."

If you want to follow Furyk, you'd better pack a lunch. The Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., transplant obsessively marks and studies yardage charts and habitually backs away from putts. Furyk's painstaking preshot routine reflects a never-slack-off mentality honed in Lancaster, Pa., where as a football, basketball and baseball standout he was so sheepish about his love for the links that he had his mother, Linda, take him to high school early on days when he had a golf match so friends wouldn't see him carrying his clubs.

Even before Sunday's final tee shot, when a fan yelled, "Come on, Jimmy! Blue collar, baby!" Furyk had become a working-class hero in a country-club setting. It seemed entirely natural that thousands of Chicago-area sports fans would become enthralled by the Loop—a fitting nickname for Furyk's highly unorthodox swing, which after this tournament may set golf academies back several decades. Plastic Man trying to lasso a rabbit would strike a more graceful pose than Furyk on the tee, but to his thinking, it don't mean a thing if he ain't got that swing. "That's just me," Furyk said after shooting scores of 67-66-67-72 for his eighth career victory. "I got a lot of recognition early in my career because of my goofy swing, and it was a positive for me. I'm a guy who finds a comfort zone and sticks to his guns."

At an Open that featured tears, jeers and a Brittney far more risque than Spears, Furyk drained a procession of clutch putts, as well as most of the drama from the final round. Despite the lack of a defining shot on Sunday—Furyk began the day leading by three, and no hole ended with Leaney (or anyone else) any closer—the tournament featured its share of indelible moments.

First came Throwback Thursday, when 53-year-old Tom Watson, he of the eight major titles and one of the most famous shots in Open history (the chip-in on the 71st hole at Pebble Beach in 1982 that propelled him to victory), shot a 65 to tie for the first-round lead. Even more poignant than Watson's pinpoint putting were the repeated chants of "Bruuuuuce" to honor Watson's terminally ill caddie, Bruce Edwards, 48, who suffers from ALS and who, says Jim MacKay, the caddie for Mickelson, "is our Arnold Palmer. He's so charismatic."

If you're wondering how the game's toughest test became a links version of Old School, one that costarred 46-year-old Nick Price (he tied for fifth at even par, while Watson slipped to 28th), chalk it up to Beth-page Blacklash. Unlike last year's Open on Long Island, in which Woods, en route to his second national championship, was the only player not humbled by the U.S. Golf Association's daunting course setup, crafty ball strikers had a chance to shine at Olympia Fields. Cool temperatures and a lack of Windy City bluster led to record-setting assaults on par during the first three days—though come Sunday, as the winds increased and the greens firmed up, all but Furyk, Leaney and the third-place finishers, Kenny Perry and Masters champion Mike Weir (one-under 279), faded to black. The biggest gag job belonged to Vijay Singh, who was within two shots of Furyk until bogeying his final three holes on Saturday, then wheezed to a 78 on Sunday to finish 20th. While shooting an Open-record-tying 63 on Friday, Singh was heckled on the 14th green by a gallery member who referred to the Fiji native's criticism of LPGA star Annika Sorenstam leading up to her appearance at last month's Bank of America Colonial. Singh, who exudes all the warmth of a three-wood, waved his putter at the spectator, who was promptly ejected.

Furyk displayed, for lack of a better term, Sorenstamesque precision, ranking second in fairways hit and leading the field in greens hit in regulation while placing 25th in driving distance. Woods, somewhat alarmingly, was only 17th in the latter category, emblematic of a decline relative to his peers that cannot be explained solely by club selection on the two holes that are measured each round (he often eschews hitting driver) and design preference (while other players have gone to graphite and similar lighter-weight shafts, he has stuck with steel). "Now he's like an average hitter out there," Price says of Woods, who, after winning seven of 11 majors, has come up short in his last four—a nonissue for any other player but a bona fide Tiger Slump for this 27-year-old megastar. In three of those Grand Slam events he has fallen from contention thanks to a career-worst round in the respective major, this time a 75 on Saturday, which had begun with him a mere three strokes behind coleaders Furyk and Singh. So much for Tiger's alleged intimidation of fragile foes. His difficulties on the green were most responsible for his demise; of the 68 players who made the cut, he ranked ahead of only one competitor, with 67 putts on the weekend. And while he tied for sixth in greens in regulation (68%) over the four rounds, Woods acknowledged that his putting woes could be traced partly to the fact that he didn't hit his approach shots close enough to the hole. Several players privately wondered whether Mickelson might have been right when he suggested to Golf Magazine last winter that Woods was playing with "inferior equipment." Says one pro, "I don't think Phil was trying to mess with Tiger; I think he was telling the truth. Tiger's good enough to win with hockey sticks, but I think the whole equipment thing is ticking him off." Woods has even been squawking about other competitors' having an unfair advantage; before the tournament he alleged that "hot-faced drivers"—clubs with faces that exceed USGA limits for the so-called trampoline effect—are abundant on the Tour.

And who, you ask, was the longest off the tee in Thursday's first round, averaging 331 yards on the course's two par-5s? Why, John Holmes, an amateur whose late namesake inspired the well-endowed porn legend in Boogie Nights, would likely have taken great pleasure in the scene that unfolded on the 11th green in front of Sunday's final pairing. As Furyk and Leaney lined up their putts, another porn star, Brittney Skye, emerged from the gallery and unzipped her windbreaker, revealing breasts covered only by blue pasties and a temporary tattoo advertising an online gambling service. Skye approached the hyperfocused Furyk and tried to hand him a couple of flowers before being escorted away by a security guard. Furyk sank his short par putt.

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