Furyk looking to get back in flow
A month ago it didn't seem likely, but Jim Furyk looks as though he'll get the chance to defend his U.S. Open championship.
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Of all the people surprised to see Jim Furyk at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Monday, none was more surprised than the defending U.S. Open champion himself. If you had asked Furyk after he underwent wrist surgery on March 22, you would have thought Michelle Wie had a better chance of teeing it up Thursday than he did.
Yet there he was, playing nine holes Monday with Vijay Singh, Darren Clarke and Adam Scott, quietly reveling in the good wishes tossed his way by the fans. As Furyk left the green at the par-3 second hole, a marshal said, "Great to have you back!"
"I'm trying to tee it up Thursday," the 34-year-old said Monday afternoon, standing near the practice chipping area before he played. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. I'm kind of playing it by ear. I'm going to try to play nine every day. It feels fine. I'm not in any pain. If I'm in any pain before Thursday, I'll withdraw."
Furyk isn't being coy, merely precise. And when you have a swing like Furyk's, you learn to be precise. He repeats that ungainly move in the toughest of conditions, which just proves that the strongest component of Furyk's game is his mental discipline.
He does not give in to pressure, as he proved by sleeping on a three-stroke lead after 54 holes at Olympia Fields Country Club last year, then winning the Open by that same margin.
He does not give in to intimidation, as he proved in his epic seven-hole playoff loss to Tiger Woods at the 2001 WGC-NEC Invitational at Firestone.
He does not give in to temptation, according to his father, Mike, the only teaching pro Jim has ever had.
"He eats so healthy, it's disgusting," said Mike, who is as robust as his son is thin. "I'm being dead honest. It's hard to watch it. Nothing can be white -- bread, rice. Got to have brown rice. Nothing can be fried. If you put a little salad dressing on as a marinade, he won't eat it."
Mike paused to light a cigar the size of a howitzer shell. Jim doesn't smoke those, either. When other coaches and other professionals told Mike to change Jim's swing, he refused. He was rewarded for his faith in his son last June.
"Last year, for Father's Day, I got a win," Mike said. "This year, for Father's Day, I get to see him come back."
That is about as high as Jim has set his goal for the week. He hasn't played since the Sony Open in January, when he left the Tour and hoped that rest would be sufficient to cure a wrist that had been hurting for a year. After the surgery, he circled the Ryder Cup in September, six months out, as a realistic goal.
He hung out at home with his wife, Tabitha, and two children -- Caleigh, who turns 2 this month, and 6-month-old Tanner. He tried to stay in cardiovascular shape. And as he began to swing, and moved his way through his bag from putter to driver, Furyk moved up his timetable.
"A couple of weeks ago," Furyk said, "I thought for sure that the Western [in suburban Chicago from July 1-4] would be a target."
Last week, he began playing in earnest with his father and with Bill Kratzert, a former PGA Tour player who lives near Furyk's Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., residence. Jim said he played nine holes each day from Wednesday through Friday. Mike said they played 12 holes one day, 19 the next and 14 the next.
Whatever the total, when they finished Friday, Jim told Mike to grab a Coke and grab a chair.
"You're thinking about going to the Open, aren't you?" Mike asked.
It made sense to Mike as a teacher. The greens in northern Florida are slow and bumpy this time of year as they transition to Bermuda grass. The TPC, where Furyk practices, is redoing its range. If nothing else, Jim could come up north and get in some real practice.
"If this wasn't the U.S. Open and I wasn't defending champion," Jim said, "I probably would have waited and been sure. I don't know for sure that I can play. My wrist is healed. It's just a matter of getting stronger and gaining stamina."
Playing nine holes a day is not an issue.
"Can I do it for six days in a row, and turn around and do it for three weeks in a row?" Furyk asked. "Probably not. I have to pace myself. It's going to take awhile to get back in the flow of things. One of the reasons I'm out here is to get back in the flow."
It had been so long, Furyk said, that Caleigh was excited to get on a plane again.
"She's used to flying every week," he said.
Furyk will play the back nine at 8:50 a.m. Tuesday, with Brian Gay, Mark Brooks and J.J. Henry. He says his wrist feels good. Mike says that his son's swing looks like the one that has won nine PGA Tour victories. Someone asked him whether he felt cheated that he hadn't been able to hear himself announced as the current U.S. Open champion every week.
"For however long I'll live, I'll be introduced as the 2003 U.S. Open champion," Furyk said. "I'll hear it enough."
Maybe so, but it will sound sweeter still on Thursday.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com.