PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Jim Furyk has spent more than two decades on the PGA Tour. He’s played more than 500 tournaments and forgotten more than most of his fellow pros will ever know.
There are certain moments, though, that have stuck with him through time. Not just the triumphant victories and bitter defeats, but small snapshots of an entire adult life spent around the professional game.
One of those snapshots is from the 1995 Shell Houston Open. In his second year as a Tour member, the 24-year-old Furyk raced to an opening-round 67, tied for second place in a group that included longtime pro Wayne Levi. After the round, Furyk beamed about his hot start, but Levi’s view was decidedly more acerbic.
“He was just saying, ‘It's a job; it's what I do for a living; it's my occupation,’” Furyk recalled. “I was a young guy on Tour; I was thinking this is the greatest job going. I was thinking, man, just shoot me if I ever get to the point where it becomes a job. I might as well quit.”
Last year, it became a job. This was right after a T-25 at the Masters and a T-47 at the RBC Heritage – hardly poor performances, but Furyk felt something had changed. He was no longer having fun playing golf.
In short, he’d turned into Wayne Levi, circa 1995.
Rather than quit the game, as a 24-year-old Furyk might have suggested, he decided to change. He made a conscious effort to have more fun on the golf course. Smile more. Practice less. Enjoy the journey. Stop taking it all for granted.
“After so many years and wanting to do so many more things at home with my family and my kids and missing ballgames, getting in the car and driving away knowing I'm going to miss two lacrosse games and two baseball games one week, I was getting in the car going to work rather than getting in the car going to play a golf tournament,” he admitted. “I just had to kind of reorganize things and fix things, figure out things a little bit.”
He may not have it completely figured out, but he’s taken some major steps in the process. And it’s starting to show in his game. Following a solo second-place finish at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, he finds himself on the leaderboard halfway through The Players Championship after opening rounds of 70-68.
And yes, he’s smiling more, too.
“I had to figure out a way to make it fun again and to enjoy what I do,” he said after a second round that included five birdies against a single bogey.
Case in point: On Tuesday, rather than grind through a practice round and lengthy range session here at TPC Sawgrass as he’s done in years past, he played a casual nine holes at nearby Pablo Creek with his father (and instructor) Mike and caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan, before leaving to pick up his kids from school.
“We just had a good time,” Mike Furyk said. “We talked about that. He’s said the past few years, ‘I’m not going to be able to stay out here if I’m not having fun.’”
Of course, it’s tough to have fun when your game isn’t cooperating.
Ever since turning his cap backward in a driving rainstorm when he clinched the FedEx Cup four years ago, Furyk has failed to reach the winner’s circle, his career odometer stuck on 16 titles.
“It’s always frustrating, because he’s not playing golf for the money,” his father insisted. “He’s playing to win. He told me, ‘When I say that I’ve had a really good week and finish 10th, I’m done. Because I’m only playing to win. That’s what I want.’”
He’s now hoping that renewed happiness playing the game will lead to better results – a formula that is proving successful so far.
“Right now I've got a nice recipe,” he said. “It's not always going to be that way, but I feel like my attitude has bred my good play.”
Added the senior Furyk, “If he paces himself properly, he can keep playing. If he doesn’t, he’s going to kill himself. He’s going to burn out.”
It’s been nearly two decades since Jim Furyk hinted that if golf ever became a job, he would quit.
That might have been the overzealous contemplation of an impressionable 24-year-old, but after more than 500 starts and forgetting more than most of his peers will ever know, the idea has stuck with him through the years, eating away at him when the game finally stopped being fun.
Since then, he’s changed. And if you believe him, it hasn’t been that difficult of a transition.
“It's not hard,” he said. “I mean, I’ve played this game my whole life because I love it.”