Every year when I come to Atlanta for The Tour Championship I tell myself I am going to be more interested in the golf tournament. After all, it involved an elite field of 30 players on an excellent golf course and is supposed to bring some kind of climax to The PGA Tour season.
I just can’t do it. As most people know, the absence of Tiger Woods doesn’t make or break a golf tournament for me. In some ways his absence makes life easier: less security roaming the range or the locker room and a generally less uptight atmosphere around the event. Of course I know most fans could care less if there’s less security, they want to see Woods play. I get that.
My Tour Championship malaise isn’t even about the silly points system the tour keeps pushing on the public. Just to review for a second: If a player wins all four major championships in the same year he receives FEWER FedEx Cup points than a player who wins one of the three playoff events just prior to The Tour Championship. Or, to put it another way: Matt Kuchar, Charley Hoffman and Dustin Johnson each received 2,500 points for winning at Barclays, Boston and Chicago. If Phil Mickelson had followed his win at The Masters by winning the U.S. Open, The British Open and The PGA Championship, those four victories would have been worth a total of 2,400 points.
Seriously. And the tour tells us with a straight face that they think the playoff system is ‘starting to take hold.’ Take hold of what?
That said, that’s still not the problem for me. I like coming to Atlanta, especially since I can go swim in the pool at Georgia Tech—which was The Olympic pool in 1996 so you can imagine how nice it is—a few minutes from my hotel and most of the commuting is easy. The golf course isn’t far from downtown. It’s a good setup and there are very good players—obviously—in the field.
So what the heck is my problem? Why was I wandering around yesterday trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. Did I want to go walk for a while, the thing I usually like to do the most at a golf tournament? Not really. For one thing, I’ve got a bad toe and it is just painful enough to make a serious walk difficult. For another it was HOT, like 94 degrees and humid hot. If it is August and it is a major and it is that hot you go walk anyway. If it is September and The Tour Championship not so much.
I spent some time with the rules officials, who always have stories to tell and went to the locker room and the range for a while. The highlight of the day was running into Jim Furyk after he had shot 67, which left him one shot out of the lead. I like Jim Furyk a lot. I first met him way back in 1993 at Qualifying School when he made it through for the first time and, as it turned out the last time, since he quickly became one of the best players on tour.
Furyk is bright and thoughtful and his wife, Tabitha, is one of the nicer people I’ve met covering golf. He’s made about a zillion dollars and won The U.S. Open in 2003. He’s been a big part of two of my golf books: ‘The Majors,’ when he was trying to break through in the big tournaments, finishing fourth that year (1998) at The Masters and The British Open. He was paired with Mark O’Meara that last day at The British Open and actually outplayed O’Meara tee-to-green most of the day. But he had a bad putting day and came off the course as frustrated as I’ve ever seen him, heading home while O’Meara went to playoff (and win) against Brian Watts.
More recently, Furyk was a big part of ‘Moment of Glory,’ since he won the Open in 2003, the year the book is based upon. He has always been patient, cooperative and thoughtful when we’ve talked. Even when I don’t need to interview him for any specific reason I make a point of talking to him when I see him because I like him. That was what happened yesterday.
Someone had asked him inside the interview room about how missing his tee time for the pro-am at Ridgewood could cost him The FedEx Cup. Jim, you might remember, arrived seven minutes late for his tee time on Wednesday because the batter ran out on his cell phone and his alarm didn’t go off. A week later the tour tweaked the rule on pro-am tee times, allowing the tournament director flexibility in a situation like that where the player has clearly made an effort to get there. Instead of disqualifying him from the tournament, the TD can put him on the golf course—in this case Furyk would have played 17 holes—and then have the player show up to do a corporate appearance or something extra during the week. It will be known on tour forevermore as, “The Furyk Rule.”
Furyk has never once made an excuse for what happened. He hasn’t complained about the rule or about how he should have been given seven minutes of slack or how his perfect record getting to pro-ams should have been taken into account. I talk and write all the time about athletes who make excuses for everything. Furyk makes excuses for nothing.
Yesterday was no different. When I saw him after his press conference I told him that Mike Cowen, his long-time caddy had joked that he was going to buy him an alarm clock. Furyk nodded and said, “From what I’ve heard I’m going to get about a dozen of those for Christmas.”
I asked how he felt about having a rule named (unofficially) after him. He laughed. “You know back in the day when they changed the NFL bump-and-run rules, they called it ‘the Steelers rule,’ (Furyk is a lifelong Steelers fan) because their defensive backs were so good at the bump-and-run. So they had a rule named after them because they were really good. I’m going to have a rule named after me because I was an idiot.”
I thought that was harsh. He’d made a mistake—like we all do—and he’d been unlucky that his battery died in the middle of the night. But that’s Furyk. He takes responsibility for what he does—good or bad. One other thing about him: when I was talking to the rules guys yesterday I brought up the incident. Slugger White was the tournament director at Ridgewood who Furyk raced into the locker room to find when he arrived at the golf course.
“After I told him he was disqualified, he said, ‘I understand,’ and started to walk away,” White said. “I really felt bad because we all know what a good guy he is and you hate to see that happen. Then he turned around and waved me to come over for a second. I thought, ‘okay, I’m going to get an earful, he’s got to vent at least a little bit.’ I walked over and he said, ‘hey, you might want to let the media guys know I’m going to be here for about another half hour and then I’m going to head home.’ Can you believe that?”
Knowing Jim Furyk, I believe it. But the number of athletes who in that situation, feeling embarrassed and angry, having just potentially cost themselves several MILLION dollars (he was third on the FedEx list going into Barclays) would stop to think that maybe the media might want to talk to him—AND be willing to talk.
So that’s my Jim Furyk story for the day.
I’m going to try to be more enthusiastic today but it’ll be hard. It’s going to be hot again and, to be honest, most people aren’t talking about who might or might not win The FedEx Cup. They’re talking about The Ryder Cup—which is next week. No one will have any trouble getting fired up for that. And, from what I hear, those going over to Wales will not have to worry about the weather being too hot.