Experience. Trophy Tours. Brookline. U.S. captain Jim Furyk discusses what the Ryder Cup means to him
Jim Furyk experienced a whirlwind two days following the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain flew from St. Louis to New York to help kick off the Ryder Cup Trophy Tour, which will cover more than 9,000 miles in a little over a month, stopping in 11 U.S. cities.
First stop: The Big Apple. Furyk threw out the first pitch in front of the Mets-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Tuesday morning he appeared on NBC's "Today" and CNBC's "Squawk Box" shows and ventured to the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building. ("Pretty cool," he said. "We got great pictures"). After a visit on the set of "Men in Blazers," Furyk was off to Greensboro, N.C., to briefly decompress and prepare for this week's Wyndham Championship. (For a list of stops on the Trophy Tour, go to RyderCup.com/TrophyTour.)
Furyk, 48, who played in nine Ryder Cups, will captain the U.S. side at the 42nd Ryder Cup to be played Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National outside Paris. Eight players made the U.S. team via points on Sunday; three captain's picks will be named Sept. 4, with one last player added by Furyk on Sept. 10 following the PGA Tour's BMW Championship. Tuesday morning from New York, Furyk spoke to writer Jeff Babineau of PGA.com:
Question: OK, Jim, after 18 months of waiting, you finally have some bodies to fill out those Ryder Cup uniforms. What are your initial thoughts on the eight players who made the team on points Sunday?
Furyk: It's exciting. It's a tough crowd, a tough atmosphere, that we're going to play in when we go to Paris. I have a lot of respect for the European team, but I also have a lot of respect for their fans and the atmosphere they provide. It'll be a big boost for them. I think it's part of the reason – not the only reason, of course; they've played good golf – that they've been successful in Europe. I've talked about wanting guys that were scrappy, that relished that atmosphere, that thrived in those type situations. And I look at my top eight and I see guys that have those qualities. A lot of those guys are in very good form right now, and playing well. A captain can't ask for more than that.
Q: There were some nice signs at the PGA Championship from the U.S. side. Brooks Koepka won another major, his third, Jordan Spieth was among the leaders in putting (second in strokes gained), and Tiger Woods was back in contention again, moving from 20th to 11th in the U.S. points standings. What was most encouraging to you?
Furyk: I didn't know that about Jordan. What impressed me the most? I guess it's pretty easy to say Brooks and Tiger. You look at Tiger, he kind of willed his way on that front nine to a 32 and kept himself in the tournament, then hit some unbelievable shots on the back nine. But Brooks was pretty darned tough. Hearing those roars, knowing it was Tiger, hearing the buzz around that place … it seems like Brooks seems to rise to that occasion at all the major championships. He's won three now. When things get tough on the back nine, when it gets to crunch time, it seems that's when he's his best. He played great down the stretch – that 14th, 15th, 16th hole stretch provided a lot of trouble for a lot of people, and he played those holes well under par.
Q: You're making appearances all over New York today with that little Ryder Cup. When you see it, study it, what does that trophy represent to you?
Furyk: You can start with the history and the tradition and why these matches were started, basically to bring both sides of the pond together in a match. It's turned into the grandest event in golf, in my opinion. What it represents right now is a process that we're going through on the American side. It was nice to see that success in 2016 (a U.S. victory at Hazeltine, in Minneapolis), and it's nice to have that trophy with us in the U.S. right now. We have a difficult task ahead of us. One of those steps for us to move forward, for us to take our next step in our progress, is to try to win on foreign soil, something we haven't been able to do in a long time. Really what it represents is the history and tradition of the event, but also the direction that this team is moving in.
Q: You threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium last night, you're taking the Ryder Cup to a Pittsburgh Steelers game in September. You hit golf balls off the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Has it been surprising to you and Tabitha (Jim's wife) just how many neat things you get to do as a Ryder Cup captain?
Furyk: It has been pretty cool. I think it shows you how this event transcends golf, how exciting it is. It goes beyond even the casual golf fan. The fact that you're representing your country, and what this event stands for, I think it shows how big the event is. It has been very special for us, all the different trips, the one-year to go (in Paris), having dinner in the Palace of Versailles, having breakfast at President Macron's residence (French President Emmanuel Macron), and hitting balls off the Eiffel Tower … we were kind of pinching ourselves. And now with this trophy tour, and just the attention the entire year. I haven't been able to play a round of golf without finishing and talking about the Ryder Cup, which is really exciting for us. But also, part of it seemed like it was going to be forever until we got this close and got our hands dug in on part of our team – and part of me says, 'Man, the time flew by'.
Q: What traits, or strengths, that made you a world-class golfer will help to make you a good Ryder Cup captain?
Furyk: Experience. That's one. The experience of playing in nine Ryder Cups, and really throughout my career, looking back at my first one (in Spain, 1997) and being so green, and wide-eyed, that week really flew by. NFL quarterbacks talk about the play, or the way things develop, slowing down for them a little bit. I think throughout my career I gained a lot of experience from the captains. They started asking for my help, and Tiger's help, and Phil's help, the older we got and the more experience we had. I think helping Davis (Love III) as a vice-captain in 2016 was very key to my progress. I think the history of it, also probably my passion for the event, and how excited I am for it, how important I hold this event in my heart. All of that. But really I think (it's) the experience of it all.
I'll have a lot of great help. Playing and captaining are quite different. As a player, I think you start your first couple of Ryder Cups and think the best way you can help your team, I felt like, was if I could show and play my best. I'm going to help the team. That's true. But as a veteran player, you start looking around that room and you realize you can't win that event all on your own. You need a team effort from 12 guys. It has to be a team effort. And that's the way to look at those matches. I started to reach out and try to help younger players, help out friends on the team. It became, how can I make an impact not only on the golf course, but off the golf course? And now as a captain it has kind of come full-circle. It's a wonderful role when I've got an amazing cast of players at this point, and help from not only the PGA of America but some very experienced vice-captains. I'll rely on all those assets heavily.
Q: When I say "Brookline, 1999," where the U.S. battled back on Sunday from a 10-6 deficit, what are your fondest recollections?
Furyk: I don't have a lot of memories from Friday and Saturday, I'll promise you that. But the fondest memories, to me … I played late that day (he actually was in the penultimate match, against Sergio Garcia, who was 3-0-1 into Sunday). I remember mid-to-late on the front nine, just the roars and the electricity in the air. I mean, you could feel and hear the momentum turning on that golf course. I remember how those maybe two hours transpired for me from probably holes 7 through 15. Just about the time I finished my match (Furyk beat Garcia, 4 and 3), Justin Leonard made his putt on 17 to clinch the Ryder Cup. It was an amazing comeback. I remember the celebration, and I remember the group … those memories, they don't fade. I feel like I remember that event better than almost any other in my career. There was a lot of different things. I get flashes in my mind, almost like still pictures, of different things. I wish I could have been on the 17th green to watch Justin make that putt; I was maybe 300 yards away, on the 15th green. One of the cameramen had them play the putt back on his camera and I watched it. That was pretty cool.
Q: Finish this sentence: The U.S. team will win the Ryder Cup on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years if we:
Furyk: Well, I think that could be a very long-winded answer. In order to be successful in the Ryder Cup, in order to win the Ryder Cup, it's not just one thing. You could say "score more points," or "play great golf," but I think it's a number of different things. I think if we communicate as a team, if we bond as a team, I think if we worry about the task at hand and the process to be successful, I think we can do that.