U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Furyk Joins Lustrous List With U.S. Open-Senior Open Double
July 11, 2021 | Omaha, Neb.
By Dave Shedloski
Jim Furyk came to Omaha, Neb., this week as one of several players with a chance to pair a U.S. Senior Open title with a U.S. Open victory, something only seven men had accomplished previously. In his pre-championship interview, he called it, “a nice bit of trivia.”
Funny thing. Trivia becomes history when you’re the guy making it.
With his three-stroke victory Sunday in the 41st U.S. Senior Open, Furyk joined an illustrious group to win both titles, having captured the U.S. Open in 2003 at Olympia Fields, near Chicago. Furyk got over a hump of sorts on Sunday with a smart 1-over-par 71 at hilly Omaha Country Club to finish at 7-under 273, ending several years of disappointing finishes with a 54-hole lead.
Retief Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69 and past Masters winner Mike Weir tied Rod Pampling for low round of the day with a 67 to tie for second at 276. Pampling was another stroke back for solo fourth.
Furyk, who had not converted a 54-hole lead or co-lead in his previous 10 tries dating to the 2010 Tour Championship, wouldn’t have gotten that trivia answer right because he had purposely not looked at the list of winners of the Open double. It includes the following men: Billy Casper, Hale Irwin, Orville Moody, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino.
Interestingly, Irwin was the last player to join the list, in 1998, before Furyk battled his way to his second USGA title, a 23-year span. So the gang was overdue to add a new member.
“It's an incredible list,” said Furyk, 51, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “I didn't really want to look to see who was on it last night, but when I finished in the scoring tent, I saw it was on TV. They listed the seven folks before. And, yeah, I'm very honored and humbled to have my name in the same breath, to be honest with you. That's some damn good players.”
Other than Moody, who was a fine ball striker but a shaky putter, the group’s common thread is their aptitude in navigating fast Open greens. Furyk always will give himself chances with his accurate tee shots, but he won at Omaha with his putting. He avoided having a three-putt green and overall he ranked fourth in the field by averaging 1.72 putts per green in regulation.
Furthermore, in assessing the great eight, all have a reputation as gritty competitors, and Furyk showed his mettle when he bogeyed the par-5 second hole and then suffered a sloppy double bogey on the par-3 third to see his four-stroke lead at the start of the final round dwindle to one over Goosen. But Furyk, a three-star athlete in high school and a part of an NCAA Division I championship team at the University of Arizona, has a penchant for digging deep. And for showing patience.
In claiming his third victory as an over-50 player, Furyk managed to rebuild his lead by keeping the ball in play and aiming for safer parts of the greens except when he had an absolute go number, like the one he encountered at the par-5 16th hole when, after making bogey at 15, he stuffed the approach to 2 feet for an easy birdie to give himself enough cushion to enjoy the walk up No. 18 with his longtime caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan.
“Looking back after making bogey at 15, that was probably the clincher,” Furyk said of his final birdie.
“I've only stood on the last green and had like four putts or whatever it was to win maybe once in my career, and that was at the U.S. Open in '03,” added Furyk, who beat Stephen Leaney by three strokes in that championship, one of his 17 PGA Tour titles. “Every other time it's always been a tight battle, and 18's always been super nerve-wracking. So it's nice to take that walk.”
“I’m thrilled that he won, that we won,” said Cowan, who has teamed with Furyk for 22 years after a couple of years working for Tiger Woods. “It’s what we do it for is to win golf tournaments and being a major, it’s even more special. We’ve been together so long. No possibility for me to get fired so I say what’s on my mind. I just try to keep an even keel and let him be able to see that and know I’m pulling for him all the way.”
Playing in his first U.S. Senior Open, Furyk became the 10th man to win the championship in his debut and the second in a row after Steve Stricker in 2019. Eighteen years had passed since his triumph at Olympia Fields. He knows he’s not the same player he was then, though close enough. He’s still intense. He still knows how to save strokes.
He still enjoys the chase and the challenge … and, of course, the payoff.
“You know, I was 33 at the time [of his Olympia Fields triumph]. I mean, I was still kind of in the middle of my career,” Furyk said. “I hadn't won a major. I put so much pressure on myself to win that tournament that when I got to 18 it was more like the air was let out of the balloon. I mean, I was spent.
“I'm a little older, a little wiser now, and these are like … this part of your career is more we're kind of taking a victory lap and enjoying it. I still get really stressed and I still put a lot of pressure on myself, but it's not like being 33 again. But the feeling of winning never goes away.”
And neither does being a part of history.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.