You know that series where Jerry Seinfeld rides around in cars with comedians? Well, here’s a different twist on that: A one-session series that was done with RyderCup.com writer Jeff Babineau driving along in a courtesy car in France with U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk from Le Golf National to what is the team’s hotel on the one-year-out celebration of the 42nd Ryder Cup in September 2017.
Furyk, now 48, played in nine Ryder Cups and was honest and candid about the challenge ahead for the U.S. team. So please enjoy this one and only episode of “Riding Along With … The U.S. Ryder Cup Captain."
Q: Jim, in the summer of 2017, after being named Captain, you visited Le Golf National outside Paris with your family. What was that like?
JF: It was a fun trip. It’s been a long process to get to this point. But we went on a cruise in Europe, then we came here, and we met my wife’s parents, as well. My dad (Mike) and I just came out and rode the golf course, talked about the course, what we thought about it. It was great to have somebody with me, just to share perspective, sharing ideas. He’s used to looking at a golf course from a different perspective than I am. Where I’m playing, he’s watching, so it’s fun to get his ideas. We were in the Ryder Cup cart, the red one with USA on it, driving around. It was a cool experience. And then we got to play the next day. My son (in eighth grade at the time) doesn’t really play a lot of golf, so my dad, my father-in-law and my son, Tanner, went out to play. We had a nice little match. I played them, one on three. And I lost 18 to halve my match.
Q: Did it get the wheels spinning as far as what lies ahead of you?
JF: Driving around with my dad and playing the course, yes. It’s hard for me to play golf and not work. Almost every round of golf I’ve ever played in my life has always been about the next tournament, getting ready, trying to fix something in my game. Rarely can I just go out and just play. Maybe I can not care about the score, but I’m still working on my driver, or working on something. So that was a fun day, a day for the guys. We had a hamburger and a beer at the end, talked about the day. That’s going to be a good memory. From my perspective, having three generations of my family and Tabitha’s father, that’s a great day.
Q: You had the opportunity to play in nine Ryder Cups. What’s your favorite snapshot?
JF: It’s really easy to go back to either Brookline (1999) or Valhalla (2008), and think about the winning aspect, and the team, from two different perspectives. One (’99) was coming from a four-point deficit, and we were kind of left for dead. That Sunday was really exciting in the way that team came together. And then in ’08 we won in kind of dominant fashion. We jumped off to a good start. Every time they tried to mount a little charge, we kind of squelched it. It was nice to have those totally different experiences. A sidenote would be Medinah (2012), when the tables were flipped on us. We were four points ahead and that one flipped on us. So I got a taste of the same medicine. All the times we lost as a team, I remember those moments, and I remember how hollow that feeling was. But the one that really sticks with me is the one we really let slip through our fingers (in ’12). That would be my third moment. The wins were a lot more fun.
Q: What are your lasting memories from the comeback in Brookline in 1999?
JF: The (clubhouse) balcony. Payne Stewart. He’s one of my first thoughts. He was always a team leader in being fun and boisterous, and he was a blast partying afterward. I think a lot about Justin Leonard. I didn’t get to see the putt live (a 45-foot birdie putt to clinch at least a halve), which was a bummer, but I’ve seen the tape of it 100 times. I won my match and after the post-round interview, the guy with the camera said, ‘Justin is on 17, here’s how the match stands, he has a putt to win the Ryder Cup.’ I didn’t realize how long the putt was. The camera guy said he could run it through the camera, and I’m looking through the eye hole, and I’m watching it, and you could hear the roar. The crowd near me asked, ‘What just happened?’ And I said, We just won the Ryder Cup. I ran over to the 18th from there. I had Sergio that day (in singles), his first Ryder Cup, 19 years old. He played with Jesper all week, and they were tough.
Q: OK, so it’s been 25 years since the U.S. won an ‘away’ Ryder Cup...
JF: (Smiling) “I’m well aware of that.”
Q: There are so many challenges involved. Now you’re heading off to a country where you don’t even speak the language. What are the biggest obstacles that you and Team USA will have to overcome?
JF: The biggest challenge, I think, is that team will be reminded of it. Twenty-five years. I’ve already heard it a lot, and I really haven’t done that many Ryder Cup interviews. I think one of the challenges of playing on foreign soil, their fans are – I’ll give them credit – they’re amazing. They’re loud, they’re fun. I think the best way I’ve always found is that I actually have a lot of respect, and when you show that, when you tip your cap, when you kind of give them the due they deserve, they tend to actually be pretty polite.
Q: When our guys go to the first tee and they give them a wave, or do a little dance for them, they seem to really enjoy that. It’s obviously going to be a partisan crowd, they’re going to be loud, going to be boisterous. They’re going to be cheering like hell for them, and I’d expect that. That’s part of what you have to overcome. A big key, and I think its brilliant of Ryder Cup Europe, this event, they play the French Open here every year. In 2018 they’ll play here less than three months from when we play the Ryder Cup. So for their players, it’s a home game. They know the golf course, and they really like the golf course. Most of the players I talked to when I was named captain, they’d ask, have you played Le Golf National? And I’d say that I haven’t. They’d tell me, well, it’s a phenomenal golf course. You’re going like it. A lot of players from the European Tour put it in their top three, their top five.
Q: I’ve talked to a couple of American players, and Brooks Koepka said the same thing, it’s a good golf course. So it is a home game. We have to get over that home-field advantage, not just from a fan perspective but from a player perspective. We do have our work cut out for us. We have a good, solid team, a core group of guys. We had some guys step up and win majors this year. I’m excited. I’m excited that we’ve had some success in these events the last few years and won at Hazeltine. So I’m excited to see how they handle the challenge.
Twenty-five years without a victory in Europe also can be a pretty good motivator, right?
JF: Absolutely. The word that is used a lot is ‘scars.’ The era of folks that I’ve played with, we definitely bear a lot of scars from the Ryder Cup. I loved seeing Phil (Mickelson) play at Hazeltine, and some of the wily veterans. We also had some great youth in there as well, and players who have had a little more success.
Q: You used the term ‘scar’ … for a tournament you play that offers no prize money to participate, there’s been a lot of heartbreak that the U.S. team has gone through. I remember speaking to you off the 18th green at Gleneagles in 2014, where the U.S. had just lost for the sixth time in seven Ryder Cups. You look at where American golf was then, and where it is now, winning in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. It seems that something has changed. Is there that big a difference?
JF: I would say first and foremost, you look at the players. We have a lot of young talent. Good, solid players. We had Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. Now you have Brooks Keopka standing up, and you look right behind him, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas. P-Reed has played wonderful. And then we have a good corps of veteran players … we have a good core of American players. What I like is that we have a lot of youth in the U.S., and it seems to be a great movement. I give the players in the U.S. a lot of credit for allowing us to be in that breath and talk about that excitement. I also think the veteran leadership we’ve had from Davis Love becoming captain in ’16, and our committee coming together and really joining forces, and the players and the PGA of America really coming together. I won’t say for the first time, but we really put our heads together and said, ‘Hey, we need to jointly talk and be open about doing everything we possibly can to put these guys in a position to be successful.’ I think that in the future going forward, that moment was really good for us as a team. First and foremost, I’d give the players the benefit of the doubt and what they’ve done. And Davis was the perfect guy to lead that through because of the respect that everybody has for him.
Q: As a Captain, you’ll shape your own imprint in how you lead the team. What do you look forward to in that regard?
JF: It’s not turnkey, but we have an idea – both sides – of what we’re going to accomplish and how we’re going to get there. I wouldn’t call it a blueprint, but we have a nice form set up. It can’t be the same every year, because each and every captain is a little different. Each personality is different. If I hop in that team room and start to rah-rah and cheerlead, everybody in that room is going to look at me and go, ‘Who in the hell are you?’ I’ve been quiet and stoic, and I still need to do things in my own manner. I think that makes people comfortable. Most of the guys on the team are going to know me pretty well, I think they’ve been around me on tour, and I think it’s important for me … now, Davis was able to be 52 years old, and he knew a lot of those kids because they played with his son, Dru. Justin Thomas stayed at his house, and he knew Jordan Spieth. He’d been around them before. For me, personally, it was important to do this before the age of 50 when I’m still playing the Tour. If I don’t know someone, I can go to Jordan and say, ‘Hey, I don’t know this young guy over here, let’s set up a practice round, I want to get to know him.’ Not so much about his game, but I want to know more about him as a person, and that’s going to help me be a better captain for him.
Q: How would Jim Furyk describe Jim Furyk’s personality?
JF: I think my personality as a player on Tour was always a hard-worker, dependable. I think the guys who played alongside me in Ryder Cups know that I wasn’t going to be out-prepared, and that I was going to be there for you. I would have liked to have that same personality and trait as a captain, so the guys know what they’re getting. If I could provide one thing on that team I would want it to be confidence, honestly. From the way I captain, the way I put them together in their teams and their pairings, the way I put them out on the golf course, if I could instill anything in them, I want it to be confidence. Honestly, when I look back … when I look back at a Paul Azinger (winning U.S. Captain in 2008), he had a look in his eye that I knew he believed in us. That means a lot to a player.