Q & A WITH MIKE FURYK
When did you start playing golf?
I didn't really start seriously playing golf until between my junior and senior year in college at Clarion State Teacher's College in Clarion, PA. I caddied and played a few times as a kid, but really I had no interest in golf. Anyway, it was a warm spring day and I wanted to spend it outside playing some ball. I couldn't get enough guys together for a softball or football game so a guy I knew said he was going to the golf course. In fact, he was on the college golf team. He invited me along and had an extra set of clubs. So I went with him and I just fell in love with the game at that point. My brother was into golf so when I got home from college he and I started to play together. That's when I got hooked.
And how did you end up in the golf business?
After college, I was teaching and coaching in middle school. During that first year of teaching, I just knew that I didn't want to do this the rest of my life. And at the time I really liked golf. I went out to the local golf course to hit some balls and there was a guy there and we started talking. I asked him, "What do you do?" And he said "I'm an assistant pro". I then asked "Well, how do you become an assistant pro?" He told me and I said, "You know, I think that is what I want to do". That is really how I got into the golf business. My first assistant pro job was at Edgemont Golf Club, located outside of West Chester, PA.
And what year was that?
That was in 1970. Jim was born on May 12, 1970. In fact, when Jim was born I was out on the golf course with my good friend Eddie Dougherty (now on the Champions Tour.) Later, I ended up being a head pro at a couple of clubs and then went into sales with Tommy Armour Golf Co. for around 18 years. I resigned from Tommy Armour in 1995 to spend more time on Jim's Tour career.
What are your earliest memories of Jim's interest in golf?
As a little boy, Jim would watch people play and he used to go to the driving range with me. I think I even have a picture of him in a diaper hitting golf balls. But growing up he was busy playing other sports-football, baseball and basketball. Then when he was 8 or 9 years of age, he came up to me and said, "I want to play golf." I told him he wasn't old enough. But he kept badgering me until he finally asked. "Ok, then, how old do I have to be?" I quickly said, "12 years old." He never bothered me about playing golf from then on. Then the night before his 12th birthday, he asked me, "Are you going to be home tomorrow?" I told him I was staying home and taking the day off for his birthday. Well, the next morning he came down from his bedroom, walked into my home office and proudly announced he was 12. I couldn't figure out the significance-I mean, he couldn't drive, he wasn't a teenager-what's the big deal? But with a big smile on his face, Jim finally blurted it out, "You said I could play golf when I was 12!" With a big laugh, I said: "Oh heck, I did say that." Jim got dressed and I took him down to the little local golf course, Overlook GC, in Lancaster, PA. That's where his golf game really began. There's a road there that goes through the golf course which is now named Jim Furyk Boulevard.
Please tell the story about how you first became interested in the cross-handed (aka left hand low) putting style?
It occurred at a pro-am in the late `70s in Pennsylvania sponsored by Colonel Rockwell of Rockwell International. He didn't really invite a public gallery per se to his corporate type event. Instead, the Colonel would invite 12 of the top players on Tour, 12 top VIPs, 12 of his leading executives and 12 executives from his clients' companies. The pros there were top players like Palmer, Player, Irwin, Lonny Watkins, Floyd, and even a young Peter Jacobson. After golf, the Colonel had tables set up on the patio and the pros would circulate and go from table to table meeting and chatting with guests. A golf pro at the time, I was a friend with the head pro at the host course who invited my wife and me to this special event. Anyway, we were sitting at one of these patio tables when Arnold Palmer came over and chatted with us. I asked him, "If you could change anything in your career, what would you change?" He basically said he would have started out putting cross-handed because he felt it is a better stroke. But he said he couldn't change in the middle of his career because he had developed all of his touch with the conventional putting grip. Then about an hour later, Gary Player came over and I asked him the same question and I got almost the same answer about cross-handed putting. In those days, "The Big Three" was Palmer, Player and Nicklaus. So, if cross-handed putting made sense for two of them then it was certainly good enough for me to teach my son how to do it. Suffice to say, Jim picked it up very quickly and was a very good putter right off the get go with it.
What do you feel are the advantages of putting cross-handed?
In putting that way you can use your shoulders easier and more correctly in the stroke. Sometimes when you get your right hand lower than your left, you just have a tendency to slap at it. With cross-handed it's just easier to use the big muscles. There are good putters both ways. Look at Crenshaw, Brad Faxton, Loren Roberts--none of them putt cross-handed. I think if I would've taught Jim the conventional way he still would have been a good putter.
How then did you introduce Jim to the game? Did you go with a formal or a casual teaching approach?
I largely just let him go play with his buddies. I went to work and he went to play golf. But he only played golf for a couple of months when he came up to me and said, "Dad, I want to play in a golf tournament." I took him to a junior tournament, and he entered in his age group that was only a nine hole event. I dropped him off at the tourney and told him I wouldn't follow him around the golf course. I don't believe that parents should do that. It only adds more pressure than what the game already has. I told Jim the last thing he needed was for me following him around the course. Anyway, when I came back to the course that day I found out Jim had finished runner-up. On the way home that day, he told me he wanted to play more tournaments the next summer.
Knowing how good a young athlete Jim was growing up, what was the pivotal point for him to focus on golf?
He was probably in ninth grade at that time. Jim was an excellent baseball player as well as being very good at football and basketball. He was a catcher, quarterback and point guard. He was a good athlete. He was going to play in college in some sport. But he was also playing tournament golf in the summers. Several of my club pro friends, some with sons and daughters playing college golf, all told me how important it was for young players to concentrate on their golf instead of juggling several different sports. So I told Jim one night I wasn't making any decisions for him but I wasn't going to hide what I had heard from other parents. That was the night that the varsity high school baseball coach was making cuts and Jim at the time was the starting catcher. After hearing me out about his upcoming decision, Jim simply said, "I've already made my decision. I'm going to play golf and someday be on the PGA Tour." He went to the phone and called his baseball coach and told him he wasn't going to play baseball and instead focus on golf. Well, the coach who was also the golf coach argued with Jim and told him he wasn't that good of a golfer. Jim told him, "Well, I want to be and that's my decision." That's really the pivotal point for Jim's aspirations as a Tour player. From there, his game progressed to where he became a scholarship player at the University of Arizona.
Jim always liked to practice, didn't he?
Yes, he practiced hard even as a junior golfer. Jim used to play and practice at a club in Lancaster, PA where he a junior membership. He could only play after 2 pm but was free to use the putting green and practice range all day. Well, members there would tell stories about getting there at noon and find Jim in the practice bunker near the pro shop. They would have lunch and later find Jim still in the bunker practicing. Then they would tee off, make the turn, and notice Jim was still there. And yes, when they finished the round, Jim would still be there practicing. On the putting green, he would often stand in one spot and try to make 50 consecutive 15-footers. In fact, in fear of wearing out the grass, he was told by the course superintendent he had to keep moving around the green.
Where do you feel parents go wrong teaching their kids the game?
Well, as I said earlier it's common sense not to follow a 12-year-old kid around a course in a golf tournament and create extra pressure for him. There's already too much pressure out there. I watch these kids come up today and they all go to swing gurus. I mean, it's David Leadbetter and guys like him. And I cite David because he is probably the original swing guru. I don't mean this in a derogatory manner. David probably knows as much about the golf swing as anyone. But I watch some of these kids come up today and they all have khaki slacks on and they all have their black/white saddle shoes, white shirt and cap. They go to the practice tee and they all swing exactly alike. I guess I'm just a person who believes that a copy is a copy and an original is an original. And you pay more for the original than the copy which means the original is better. I don't know why you would want to be a copy than an original.
In other words, are a lot of these young players fighting their natural, instinctive swing?
I'm not sure of the exact word or phrase but in the heat of battle or in a tournament, everyone tends to revert back to what's natural. Coming down the last few holes of a golf tournament, a player will revert back to an innate way of hitting the shot. Jim doesn't worry about his swing in a tournament. He's just trying to hit a shot, relying on what's natural and basic to him.
Has Jim's swing always been so unorthodox in terms of his swing path?
Well growing up, Jim's swing was much more pronounced in terms of taking the club up and over his head in the back swing. And his swing is in subtle ways different now than when he first came on Tour. But his swing has evolved too. He's not doing anything mechanically to his back swing; he's just hitting the shots he needs to hit.
Has it always been just you in terms of looking at and advising Jim on his swing? Or did you have anyone else check out Jim's swing?
Yes, it's always been just the two of us. But early on, just to make sure I wasn't screwing up Jim's swing, I went to a couple of friends who were good teachers and asked them to review what I was stressing to Jim. I would take Jim to them, have them look at his swing, and then I would tell them what I was working on with him. All of them told us to just keep doing what we were doing. So I guess you could say I was checked out, not Jim.
What do you feel are the most important fundamentals for Jim's swing?
It's ball position, which is a fundamental of proper set-up. When Jim plays poorly, it's usually in his set-up. We don't worry about whether or not he's taking the club too inside or too outside. No, it's invariably something in his set-up and ball position that causes him to hit the ball poorly. Sometimes it can be little things like aiming too far left of the target. It's hard to hit a golf ball where you're not aiming.
It must have been a big thrill for you and your wife Linda to be at Olympia Fields on Father's Day to watch Jim win the U.S. Open. How was your stomach that day?
My stomach was okay. Linda gets more nervous than I do nowadays. I used to get nervous watching Jim play in some junior tournaments. Now, I'm not saying I wasn't nervous at all at Olympia Fields but I better understand what it takes to win a major. Jim should have won a major before last year. He had a good chance to win the '98 Masters when O'Meara won and also at the '98 British Open again which O'Meara won. At the British Open that year, Jim played in the last group on Sunday with Mark. Jim was very disappointed not to win one of those titles. But I told him at the time, he just wasn't ready yet. I told him not to get down on himself and that there's no better explanation for not winning than simply he wasn't ready.
At Olympia Fields, you could sense he was ready?
Yes, I could sense on Sunday Jim was ready. Jim was in such great command of his game I could tell that this was going to be his day. Early in the round when a couple things went his way and he made a key shot he had to make, I could tell this was his Open. Even though Stephen Leaney played extremely well, Jim kept pace and never let Leaney get on top of him where could be rattled or falter. It was simply Jim's time and place to win.
Were you at the Buick Open when Jim won last year?
No, I wasn't able to be at the Buick Open which is a tournament Jim is very fond of. But I did meet Jim that Sunday night in Utah. We played in a tournament together called the Champion's Challenge hosted by Johnny Miller. So on Monday Jim and I were paired together with Mike Weir and his partner Dean Wilson. We played in the last group of the day in front of 15,000 people. That was a lot of fun especially coming off Jim's Buick Open victory.
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