BANDON, Ore. – Wilson Furr woke up Tuesday morning already on high alert. Sure, he’d done his job at Bandon Dunes, carding an opening 2-under 70. But he still had 18 holes of stroke play left to secure his first match-play appearance in four U.S. Amateur starts, and he faced a blustery afternoon at Bandon Trails, a course that didn’t quite fit his eye.
“I was worried about this place,” Furr said. “I felt like it could come up and bite you.”
Back in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Furr’s college coach, Jay Seawell, wasn’t nearly as concerned. He likens Furr to a linebacker, with an ability to tackle anything in his path.
“He’s just got that extra competitive gene,” Seawell said.
Which is why it was Furr, and not the golf course, who went on the attack Tuesday, blitzing the par-71 Coore and Crenshaw layout and hitting it right in the mouth. The result? A 9-under 62, the second-best result in championship history and just two shots shy of Billy Horschel’s record set in 2006, and an 11-under total that earned him both medalist honors by two shots and the No. 1 seed in match play, which begins Wednesday at Bandon Dunes.
“He knows he starts at zero tomorrow, but there were 263 other players trying to get into match play and he beat all of them,” said Seawell, who was enjoying a celebratory milkshake, an Alabama tradition. “You should always celebrate great accomplishments, and that was a great accomplishment. He’s put in a lot of work to have this moment, so he deserves to enjoy it.”
The 22-year-old senior from Jackson, Mississippi, may be a linebacker, but when he arrived at Alabama as a much-heralded freshman, he certainly was no quarterback. He couldn’t keep a drive alive to save his life.
“I couldn’t break 80,” Furr said. “When you’re hitting three balls out of bounds a round, you’re not going to break 80.”
Predictably, Furr didn’t make the starting lineup once that first semester. But he fought back, straightened things out – literally – and ended up playing a crucial role for the Tide down the stretch. He shot 63 in the second round of the SEC Championship and tied for 10th. He then fired a 64 in the second round of regionals, where he shared third. And when Alabama advanced all the way to the NCAA final in 2018 at Karsten Creek, it was Furr who went 2-1 in match play to help lead his team to a runner-up finish.
“That’s the thing about Wilson is he has never, ever, ever lost his want-to,” Seawell said.
Those kinds of testimonies are fruitful for the determined Furr. When he missed just one fairway last spring in Cabo yet barely cracked the top 30 because of his putting, Furr dedicated himself to learning how to use an arm-lock putter. “The day the season was canceled, I picked up an arm-lock and said, ‘I’m going to figure this thing out,’” he said. After two tireless months, he saw instant results, finishing runner-up in a mini-tour event in Dothan, Alabama, and at the Mississippi State Amateur, notching a top-15 at the loaded Southern Amateur and nearly making match play at the prestigious Western Amateur two weeks ago.
Of course, at that same Western Amateur, Furr shot 76-77 on the final 36-hole, stroke-play day to plummet down the qualifying board.
“I sat down after that and asked myself, ‘Where is all this weirdness coming from?” Furr said. “It was strange because I didn’t miss really any golf shots. But I figured out that it was my decision-making. I was getting sloppy, especially when I’m out there for a long period of time, and I lose my focus for a couple holes and make a double or a triple.”
The U.S. Amateur is one of those events that demands the utmost attention. For the player who lifts the Havemeyer Trophy on Sunday, he will have played 36 holes of stroke play and six matches in seven days.
The difference for Furr this week is he could actually be that player. When many of the world’s top amateurs succumbed to the elements on these two windswept, coastal gems, Furr finally locked himself in. He staked himself a nice cushion Tuesday, beginning his round with three birdies in four holes. The hot start ignited Furr, who went from a player worrying about his decision-making to a flame-throwing, birdie machine.
“I kind of just got in a little zone there midway through the round,” Furr said, “and I was just trying to make birdie on every hole.”
Furr birdied seven times in an eight-hole stretch that began on the seventh hole, where he stuck his approach to 6 feet and made the putt. He only had 4 feet for birdie at the next, and after a two-putt birdie to cap a front-nine 31, Furr stuffed three approach shots in four holes to kick-in range – a pitching wedge at 10, 4-iron at 12 and 9-iron at 13.
He capped his 11-birdie day – yes, 11! – with a 15-foot make at the last.
“I just demolished that drive at 18,” Furr said.
By that point, he had already disassembled Bandon Trails, which never showed its teeth to the hungrier Furr. In a matter of hours, Furr went from being on high alert to putting the entire championship on notice.
He’ll wake up Wednesday with an entire match-play bracket in front of him, ready to tackle any challenger in his way.