Those who savor the contentious side of life will point to Furyk’s record in the biennial matches – a 10-20-4 card that, like most statistics, doesn’t really tell the entire tale – and a largely losing history when it comes to Samuel Ryder’s chalice.
Furyk, who will be 48 when the U.S. team takes the field next year outside of Paris, was there when the American team dropped a four-point advantage in 2012 at Medinah and again in ’14 when they were boat-raced by the Europeans in Scotland.
From a practical perspective, the Ryder Cup committee, which was born from 2014’s task force and includes a mix of players and PGA of America executives, would be challenged to find a suitable candidate to captain the next few teams who has a winning record, the byproduct of six losses in the last eight bouts for the United States.
From a more personal standpoint, Furyk represents all that is endearing about the U.S. Ryder Cup effort. He’s been classy in defeat, pivotal in victory (2008) and was a key member of Davis Love III’s staff last year when the Americans finally broke the Continent’s hold on the Ryder Cup.
He’s thoughtful, engaging and always accommodating with the media, which in this age of mass appeal is a crucial component of being a captain, and he had played on every team since 1997 before last year’s matches.
But most importantly, he is a player and he will be a player’s captain.
“He has as much knowledge as anyone, the only person I would say with similar knowledge would be Phil [Mickelson],” Jordan Spieth said on Monday at Waialae Country Club. “Those guys have seen everything. They’ve seen success, they’ve seen the scar tissue in the Ryder Cup.”
Although he may have embraced his role as vice captain last year at Hazeltine National reluctantly after missing much of the year with an injury that likely cost him a spot in Love’s lineup, he assumed a position of leadership long before being given the keys to his own team golf cart.
Spieth recalled that when he first arrived on Tour he was intimidated by Furyk’s intensity, but that quickly changed.
“He’s become probably the most approachable person since I’ve been on the PGA Tour,” Spieth said. “He’s been an extremely good role model for me in the way he practices and the way he comes off away from the course.”
At the 2014 matches at Gleneagles, Spieth was a member of Furyk’s “pod,” which included Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar. It wasn’t an accident that the then-Ryder Cup rookie was grouped with Furyk, whose calm demeanor and experience were crucial.
“He’s a guy that can step into that captain’s role and listen to what everyone has to say and make you think that there are bits and pieces he likes and bit pieces where he’s thinking differently,” Spieth said. “He’s an easy guy to talk to and to believe when he tells you what he’s thinking.”
After Mickelson, who assumed something of a playing vice captain role last year and is likely slated to captain the ’24 team at Bethpage in New York, Furyk is the most obvious choice to continue the work that began with last year’s victory (and make no mistake, those involved view the ’16 matches as only the beginning).
“Phil and Amy [Mickelson] are big time leaders and Jim and [wife Tabitha] are big time leaders as well,” Spieth said. “That really is important in a Ryder Cup team room, having both sides, having leadership together as a couple.”
But most importantly, Furyk’s selection makes sense to those who have played alongside him at the game’s most intense gathering because of his proven commitment and passion.
“He’s so well respected and has a really good understanding of the match play portion, the teammate stuff,” said Stewart Cink, who played with Furyk on five Ryder Cup teams. “He’s been playing for a long time and still plays and is around the players. That and a competitive fire that is matched by a very few is what it takes to be a Ryder Cup captain.”
There’ll be those who will consider Furyk’s appointment a step backward for the U.S. Ryder Cup system after last year’s emotional triumph, but to those who have played with him, who will play for him in France, he’s the perfect choice.