Friday, June 13

Furyk: Goofy swing, serious game

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- B.P.N.T.H.W.A.M.C. ... Best Player Never To Have Won A Major Championship? Sure, that would be Phil Mickelson.

B.P.N.T.H.A.M.C.W.L.A.I.H.B.A.B.A.A.O.F.A.D.H.B. ... Best Player Never To Have A Major Championship Who Looks As If He's Being Attacked By An Army of Fire Ants During His Backswing? A no-brainer: Jim Furyk, of course.

Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk tries to gauge the direction of the wind, while the rest of us try to figure out how he hits the ball so straight with that weird swing of his.

Furyk made a beeline to the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard Friday with a 4-under-par 66 and a record-breaking two-day total of 133. This is important because: A) Furyk couldn't break 80 in two of his previous four Open rounds and B) His swing, as former touring pro David Feherty once told Golfweek writer Jeff Rude, ''looks like a one-armed man trying to kill a snake in a phone booth.''

It is one funky swing. It's the Byung-Hyun Kim of golf swings, all arms and legs contorted in bizarre angles and arcs. Never once do you dial up The Golf Channel's ''Academy Live'' segment and see instructor Rick Smith advising callers to copy Furyk's signature 27-piece takeaway.

But that's why I'm rooting for Furyk to leave O'Hare Airport with his very own Open trophy come Sunday night. After all, with that swing he ought to be the people's choice.

Furyk is the guy you see hacking away on the plastic mats at the local driving range. You glance at that goofy swing and think, ''Maybe we can all chip in and get him some lessons.'' The set-up is wonderful. The follow-thru is Golf Digest perfect. In-between: a series of muscle spasms.

Furyk's old man, Mike, is the one who let him swing that way. Took some heat about it too. But no one ever said a peep to Furyk himself.

''You'd have to be a pretty cold person to walk up to a 15-year old and tell him his swing stunk,'' Furyk said.

But who cares how it looks, right? It works. Furyk has already won enough money this year ($2-mil-plus) to buy another house on Maui. Now, he's two rounds away from breaking a career majors 0-fer streak. It won't be easy; it never is. Annika's best buddy, Vijay Singh, is sitting tied for the lead at 7-under after a record-tying Open round of 63. Tiger Woods, who was all smiles after his Friday 66, is in his rearview mirror at 4-under, and closing fast. And Nick Price, who is falling hard for Olympia Fields after his 65, is also at 4-under, as is Justin Leonard.

None of this will matter to Furyk. He'll spend exactly zero seconds worrying about what Tiger does on Moving Day, or if Singh will wear a ''Go Annika'' button on his visor Saturday. Furyk worries about Furyk.

Still, he did notice a shift in gallery allegiance as he went from 3-under, to 4-under, to 5-under, to 6, then 7 with a birdie on the par-4 14th. What began as a Mickelson lovefest ended as a ''Go, Jimmy!'' backslap convention. That's what happens when you tie a 36-hole Open record and leave Phil in the background.

''The fact that I was leading coming down the stretch, it was nice to hear that,'' he said of the cheers.

Furyk and the U.S. Open haven't always gotten along. He shot speeding ticket numbers at Bethpage last year (73-80), missed the cut by three shots and cashed a measly $1,000 check. He shot 82 in his last round at Southern Hills in the '01 Open, and 84 in his third round at Pebble Beach in the 2000 Open. He hasn't had a top-10 finish in one of these things since 1997.

And still, every hack with a hitch in his swing ought to be rooting for the 2-iron-thin lug. Furyk is no human quote sheet. Rocco Mediate can fill up a reporter's notepad faster than Furyk can tie his golf shoes. Pleasantly intense is a nice way to describe Furyk.

But he can laugh at himself, which is a good sign. Furyk laughed as hard as everyone else when he first heard Feherty's line about the one-armed guy in the phone booth. And he didn't mind his swing being compared to an octopus falling out of tree, either -- another Feherty offering.

''I don't take any of it personally,'' he said.

Instead, Furyk is big on positives. He loves his swing, no matter how quirky it looks. He loves his dad, which is why he's still the teacher of record. He even doesn't mind being part of the Best Players Never To Have Won A Major group. Mickelson semi-bristles at it all, but Furyk takes it as a compliment, sort of.

''You're telling that person that they're a very good player,'' he said.

Exactly. Now go out and make the rest of us with those 35-degree-past-parallel-swings proud.

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.

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