match play 2014

Greg Hansen: On a roll, ex-Cat Furyk aces being a role model

2014-02-22T00:00:00Z 2014-02-22T00:10:02Z Greg Hansen: On a roll, ex-Cat Furyk aces being a role modelGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The best line ever uttered about Jim Furyk wasn’t David Feherty’s classic, “His swing looks like an octopus falling out of a tree.”

And it wasn’t Johnny Miller drawing squiggly lines in a TV commercial, comparing Furyk’s swing to the blocking assignments of a football team.

The most enduring of all words spoken about Jim Furyk came the day Arizona golf coach Rick LaRose watched his ex-player, a rookie on the PGA Tour, tie for the lead at the 1994 Tucson Open.

“He’s not gonna win any prizes for the world’s prettiest swing, but they don’t give prizes for that,” LaRose said. “They give prizes for playing, and he’s a player, a competitor and a winner. He’s got a lot of talent, but he’s also got more heart than any guy I’ve ever seen.”

Not that Furyk was a total unknown 20 years ago, but his playing partner and eventual champion Andrew Magee got a few laughs when he asked how to pronounce Furyk’s name.

“Is it Furky?” he wondered. “Does it rhyme with Turkey?”

The octopus and turkey jokes subsided about $55.9 million ago.

When Furyk reported to work Friday morning at the Golf Club of Dove Mountain, commissioner Tim Finchem sought him out on the putting green and exchanged pleasantries.

Furyk doesn’t have an entourage, a security patrol or a wardrobe man. In Friday’s compelling 1-up victory over Harris English, he was followed by his old coach, LaRose, and by Nick Buckelew of the Tucson Conquistadores.

“This is the first time I’ve ever gotten to the Saturday bracket in Match Play, and that includes the years we played in California,” Furyk said near the 18th green. “I haven’t given the (UA) fans much to cheer about.”

Not much to cheer about?

Typically understated, Furyk didn’t mention his 26 championships, eight Ryder Cup appearances, 2003 U.S. Open victory and 2010 PGA Tour Player of the Year Award.

He is perhaps the most accomplished Arizona Wildcat athlete in history, or up there with Annika Sorenstam, Trevor Hoffman and Tedy Bruschi.

“I first saw Jim in a junior tournament in Georgia and followed him to Dallas,” LaRose said Friday. “He wasn’t a sleeper. Wake Forest wanted him. Arizona State came after him.’’

Do you realize that when Furyk was a UA junior, in 1991, he didn’t make the traveling squad to the NCAA championships?

When Arizona won the 1992 NCAA title, Furyk was the Wildcats’ No. 4 man, stacked up behind All-Americans Manny Zerman, Harry Rudolph and David Berganio.

As much as LaRose is impressed by Furyk’s pro career, it was the way he conducted himself as a collegian, during a flat junior year, that still puts a spark in the coach’s eyes.

“He never gave up, never quit, even when he wasn’t playing well,” LaRose said. “He did everything the right way.”

Furyk graduated on schedule with a 3.0 GPA in business and made his first impression on the old Nike Tour not with his playing skills but with his character.

At the 1994 Connecticut Open, struggling to maintain his playing privileges. Furyk noticed that he was playing a Titleist stamped “BTD 100.” Tour rules require a player to use the same model for 18 holes, but Furyk remembered he had begun with a “Tour Balata 100.”

It was the same ball but with a different stamp.

Furyk was challenging for the lead when he noticed the inconsistency. He reported the error to his playing partners and to Tour officials, who assessed him a four-stroke penalty.

The money he failed to realize in that event prevented him from being seeded into the final stage of Qualifying School.

It’s the same man who spent the day at the UA’s 2010 golf fundraiser, hitting shots at the Tucson Country Club’s 12th hole, awarding a dozen golf balls to anyone who got closer to the pin.

After eight hours of hosting duties, as dinner was about to be served, TCC officials sent a cart to retrieve Furyk. He asked them to wait. He insisted on helping volunteers pack up equipment and dismantle the awning.

You want a role model for your kids? He tees off in today’s quarterfinals at 10:20 a.m.

Before arriving at Dove Mountain this week, Furyk and his father, Mike, a former club pro from Pennsylvania who has been his son’s only golf teacher, developed a new match play strategy.

Rather than get sucked into the bomber’s-paradise approach most golfers take in the thin desert air, one that Furyk had succumbed to in earlier years, he reprogrammed himself. He noticed that former champions Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald won as much with brains as with brawn.

Furyk and his father decided it would be wiser to play like Jim Furyk and not Bubba Watson.

It was much the same way 20 years ago when Furyk finished seventh at the Tucson Open and was compared to his college contemporaries, UA’s Robert Gamez and ASU’s Phil Mickelson, both of whom won that event while they were college age-kids.

“I can’t be a Robert or a Phil,” he said then. “I can only be me.”

Twenty years later, Jim Furyk is the No. 4 money winner in golf history.

Being me has been more fun than an octopus falling out of a tree.

Saturday's tee times

Tee timePlayer (seed)Player (seed)
10:05 a.m.Louis Ooshtuizen (32)Jason Day (8)
10:20 a.m.Jim Furyk (20)Rickie Fowler (53)
11:45 a.m.Ernie Els (31)Jordan Spieth (10)
NoonGraeme McDowell (14)Victor Dubuisson (27)

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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