Think about it this way: Jim Furyk was three swings away from being a player-of-the-year candidate.
If his tee shot on 16 at Olympic hadn’t been sniped into the trees . . .
If his tee shot on 18 at Firestone had just caromed off the trees and stayed in the woods, necessitating a chip-out on his way to a two-putt bogey . . .
If his tee shot on 17 at Medinah had just found the green . . .
If that had happened, if he could have three mulligans, if he could re-do those three swings, then, well, the tone of this Newsmaker would have been decidedly different, no?
Instead, Furyk’s 2012 season was the most torturous of his 20-year pro career. It was a dizzying campaign replete with gut-wrenching disappointments – the type of season that, if not treated with the proper amount of antiseptic, could create more scars than a slasher film.
This, after all, is a proud man who has won 16 times on the PGA Tour, who has captured a major, who sits fourth on the all-time money list ($52,719,459), who has been one of the best players of his generation and who has been of the game’s great overachievers and who has for years – nay, decades – been lauded for his plodding style and gritty demeanor.
But even Furyk can endure only so much self-inflicted abuse. He played only one official event after the Ryder Cup, and told reporters at The McGladrey Classic: “I’m excited for this season to be over, only for the fact that I can turn the page and we can start talking about the future.”
In this, the Year of the Collapse – or, depending on your perspective, the Year of the Comeback – Furyk’s high-profile crash-and-burns were among the most unforgettable.
Tied for the lead on the 70th hole at the U.S. Open, thisclose to capturing his second national championship, Furyk hit a ghastly snap-hook on the par-5 16th (the first of consecutive three-shotters), which was playing 100 yards shorter during the final round. His tee ball flew deep into the woods, and he eventually made bogey to lose the tournament. “I don’t know how to put this one into words,” he said in San Francisco, “but I had my opportunities and my chances and it was right there.”
That T-4 stung, no doubt, but an even more crippling loss came less than two months later, at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Two shots ahead as he played the par-4 18th at Firestone, Furyk’s tee shot ricocheted off the trees and (at the time, fortunately) came to rest in the fairway . . . yet he still managed to card a double-bogey 6 and lose by one to Keegan Bradley. “I have no one to blame but myself,” he said then. “But when things go wrong, it’s an empty feeling.”
Those highly publicized collapses still fresh, and in the midst of election season, Furyk’s game was analyzed from every angle – Had his putter finally abandoned him? Were his nerves frayed? – as he became one of Davis Love III’s most controversial captain’s selections for the Ryder Cup. Later, a reporter would ask Furyk if he felt compelled to try and justify the pick at Medinah. His response: “If I really cared what the critics thought the last 19 years, I wouldn’t be here.”
Which leads to the Ryder Cup. Squaring off against Sergio Garcia in Sunday singles, in a match the Americans absolutely needed to swing back momentum, Furyk kicked away a 1-up lead with back-to-back bogeys on 17 and 18. The enduring image of Furyk on the final hole – bent over, hands on his knees, a stunned look on his face – was splashed on the cover of a leading golf magazine. It epitomized that frenetic Sunday, the Americans’ meltdown, Furyk’s season, all of it. “It’s the lowest point of my year,” he would say afterward.
You could make the argument that at least Furyk, who turns 43 next May, was still competitive, still in position to win tournaments, and that would be true. The Tour’s Player of the Year just two years ago, he rebounded from a dismal 2011 to at least generate reasons for optimism: This season he had two runners-up, eight top 10s, more than $3.6 million earned.
But there was that one glaring omission, of course: zero wins. That is what resonates still, even though Furyk was tantalizingly close – three swings – from a player-of-the-year-caliber season.
“You get your tail kicked in this game a lot, and I think it makes the good times sweeter,” he said recently. “If you want to be successful, you’re going to have to bounce back. You’re going to have to learn to accept defeat in this game. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have to like it, but you’re going to have to learn to accept it and be tough about it and come back better the next time.”