U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk talks Paris, Tiger, Justin Thomas and more in Q&A
Fresh off his trip to Paris for the 2018 Ryder Cup Year-Out Celebration, we had a chance to sit down for a chat with U.S. Captain Jim Furyk.
During our talk, Furyk recapped his unforgettable trip to Paris, explained what it was like to hit balls off the Eiffel Tower, gave his thoughts on the latest Tiger Woods swing videos and called Justin Thomas's recent accomplishments, "something I have a hard time even fathoming."
With less than a year to go until the 2018 Ryder Cup, here's our Q&A with Furyk.
PGA.com: The Year-Out Celebration in Paris last week looked to be quite the extravagant affair. Have you ever experienced something like that before?
Furyk: No. It was really cool. I didn't know what to expect going in.
I learned a little about how the Year-Out events went in the other years, but this was incredible. I was amazed. I had seen the course and the hotel and they were beautiful.
I was prepared for the media part and trying to talk about U.S. Ryder Cup team and the process. I was excited about that, but as I mentioned over there -- I was blown away by the things we were able to do.
Everything from the Palace of Versailles, dinner in the Hall of Battles, heading to Élysée Palace, having met the President of France -- and funny enough, even his dog Nemo who was made news this week (Editor's note: The dog urinated during a televised meeting at the palace). I didn't realize that those events would happen. It was unbelievable.
I know Thomas (Bjorn) and I were looking forward to hitting shots off the Eiffel Tower. It's something Arnie did years ago, so getting to add to history was fun. It felt like a video game.
The Champs-de-Mars looked like a giant fairway. I was a little nervous. I'm not afraid of heights, but I'm leery about edges like that. I visited there years ago for a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf and went to the top. I was near that railing and was nervous back then.
This time around, the photos were deceiving. We weren't as close to the edge as it looked, but I wanted to get comfortable with the pad we were hitting from. The photos made it look like we were dangling. We weren't. It was a tremendous view and it was a lot of fun to hit shots and then walk to the end to see where they landed.
PGA.com: You were an assistant captain for the U.S. Presidents Cup team that just picked up a convincing win at Liberty National. Did you get anything out of it that will be helpful in Paris?
Furyk: First off, that win was a lot of fun. Those guys played spectacular golf. I was thankful that Steve Stricker included me and made me an assistant. It gave me another opportunity to spend a lot of time with the team and see a similar process behind the scenes as what I saw as an assistant for Davis Love last year in the Ryder Cup.
We had Fred Couples added to the assistant captain mix this time too and it was nice to be able to work with him and learn a little from the success he's had as a Presidents Cup captain.
So what I got out of it was more experience. We shared ideas, I got to see how certain pairings interacted. They just all played fantastic golf.
PGA.com: The youth of these U.S. teams lately has to be encouraging. Not only are most of the players in their 20s, but they also bring experience to the table.
Furyk: Every good team has a good mix of folks. It's good to have a mix of youth with veteran status -- like Jordan, Rickie, Brooks and Patrick Reed -- and guys who have played a bunch -- like Kuch, DJ and Phil -- and then guys who are playing for the first time like Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner, Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman.
Good mix makes for great team atmosphere.
PGA.com: What do you make of Justin Thomas's play these last 12 months? Six wins, a major, the FedExCup. Pretty special stuff, isn't it?
Furyk: I'm looking right now -- seven career PGA Tour wins and six of them in the last 12 months. That's pretty amazing and it's something I have a hard time even fathoming. I've never done something like that in my career.
I guess when he first came out, he was compared to the Spieths of the world and everyone expected immediate success. It's a "now, now, now" world we live in. Justin took a couple of years to improve at his own rate and now he's just kind of blowing the doors off the building with his amazing play.
He possesses a great combination of power and a strong short game. There are no weaknesses and he's got a good head on his shoulders. I'm really happy for him. He's somebody I consider to be a friend. He's great to be around. I think you have a lot of folks rooting for him on Tour. He's just a likable guy.
PGA.com: Once the calendar flips to 2018, Ryder Cup points will be available on a weekly basis. Is that something you're excited about?
Furyk: I think everyone is. Maybe except for Justin Thomas since he's already won 42 times and only one counted for points (laughter).
I had years where I played real well and qualified in the first year. For the 2004 at Oakland Hills for Hal Sutton's team, for instance, I played great in 2003, won the U.S. Open and then I started 2004 hurt and had wrist surgery. But I still made that team on points.
With this newer process, we've got that emphasis on identifying the players who are playing best in the year of the event. Then I have plenty of captain's picks to make the puzzle complete. But, yes, I'm excited to get the year underway and see points every week.
PGA.com: The U.S. has won each of the last three team competitions -- the 2015 and 2017 Presidents Cups and the 2016 Ryder Cup. How much of that is the players and especially the youth being served and how much of it is the continuity of the leadership with guys like you, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and others?
Furyk: I'd say we had youth in the 1990s too when I was on teams with Tiger, Phil, Justin Leonard and David Duval, to name a few. The difference now, though, is we're winning and everyone is happy. The press is excited. Everyone is telling you how well you're doing, correct?
If we wouldn't have won, we'd be getting the same criticism the other way. Winning cures everything. What we talked about a few years ago was providing consistency year after year. It's the same guys -- captains and assistant captains. We've had success in Presidents Cup format taking pages from Freddie Couples and Jay Haas. We've tried to provide a similar atmosphere from year to year so that the guys know what to expect and what's going to come from the captains.
All we're trying to do is provide consistency so they can prepare and play as well as they have the last few years. I don't think any of the captains would take any credit for this recent run. We're trying to provide an atmosphere for the players to have their best chance to shine and succeed. They hit all the shots. We're not going to take credit, we're just going to help as mush as we can.
PGA.com: I'm sure you've seen the recent Tiger Woods swing videos. Any thoughts?
Furyk: I saw one while I was in Paris. It was the one where he's swinging a driver. I thought it looked good. It looked like Tiger. Compared to what we saw of him in the last 12-24 months, this swing looks a lot more fluid. It looks like his golf swing. In Paris, I said it doesn't look like full speed. The golf strength comes with time. I'm wishing him the best. I, and everyone else, would love to see him come back and play competitively, but first and foremost, we all want him to be healthy. It's hard -- even for Tiger -- to lay well at this level when you're not healthy.
PGA.com: Do you have some time to relax these next couple of months?
Furyk: I've been working on my health as well. That's been a puzzle. I've been working hard -- spending a lot of time on the Ryder Cup, actually. For me, November, December and parts of January are the offseason.
I'll look forward to hopefully getting back in February. But I'm still licking some wounds and trying to get better.