Jim Furyk, with Steve Czaban and ESPN980 contest winners Dick and Rick McClure.
Sometimes, my life is just absurd.
Absurdly lucky, of course.
A year ago following the US Open at Congressional, I had what I thought was a "chance of a lifetime" to play a full round of golf with 2003 US Open winner and 2010 FedEx Cup Winner Jim Furyk.
At a PGA Tour caliber facility.
With a $240 bottle of Johnny Walker Blue, thrown in just to sweeten the deal.
He was in to help his sponsor fulfill a nice little "special clients" outing of about 40 guys, with two lucky stiffs who won our radio contest, getting to join me in our foursome with Furyk.
So how did that go?
I shot 77 on my own ball, and crushed Jim 7&6 in our friendly little match.
And yeah, we're gonna forget the fact he played the tips, and I played the golds. And yeah, as an 8 handicap, and with Jim being a Tour pro +4, I was getting 12 shots.
Forget all that.
I shot 77 on my own ball, as an 8 handicap.
So anyhoo.... with that awesome experience to take to my grave, I was approached by our radio station ESPN 980 to REPEAT the whole thing, because well, Diageo and Jim and TPC Potomac liked the event so much, they said "how about same time this year, after the AT&T National."
Like I said. My life is ridiculous.
Well, here's what I have to report from this year's round.
I did NOT shoot 77 again.
Nope. A herky-jerky, good hole-good hole - DISASTER - good hole round of 87.
Worse yet, Jim announced on #18 he "just wanted to make his 20-footer for birdie to see me sweat" over my 3 footer for par, that would have let me win the match, 1up.
Sure enough, his putt motored into the hole as calmly and easily as you pulling your car into your garage.
My 3-footer was a weak push that didn't even catch the lip.
Still, the experience was awesome, despite the underwear melting heat, and amazing constellations of bugs which inhabit TPC Potomac's low-lying swampy-streamlands in early July.
A massive, double-trunked oak at TPC Potomac which got slayed in the storm.
Jim is such a regular guy, and such a pro's pro, if you ever meet him, you'll be an instant fan.
So anyway, a few things from the US Open. (Yeah, I dove right in, after giving him one hole out of respect to not bring up bad memories. Aren't I such a sport?)
1. The USGA claimed they told all players to play practice rounds from "every set of tees" on each hole, because you never know what tees they might use on a given day. Then, on Sunday, they used the up tee on #16, some 99 yards in front of the way-back tee, and pushed tight to the left side of the hole. SURPRISE! Ha ha! To which I call bullshit, because that was tantamount to putting the pros on the red tees on that hole. Jim said even though he hit an un-disputedly bad shot, he and Fluff just had to guess as to both their line and distance. It obviously threw Jim off-kilter mentally.
2. They were not technically "on the clock" down the stretch, and were not even "officially warned." Jim said the rules official said "please, if you could...." and Jim asked "so you are BEGGING us, right?" The rules official said yes, we're begging. Jim said had he been put on the clock in the final few holes, he would have said: "Fine, you do what you need to do, and ignored them." I said well why did McDowell RUN up the 18th hole? Very odd. Most players don't like to get out of their smooth, even paced rhythm by RUNNING, especially at that moment. I thought it was a speed of play thing, Jim said Grahame must have just been excited.
3. Jim said he really likes McDowell. Very genuine. Very good to be around. This made me happy. I have a man crush on McDowell.
4. Jim said the 4-iron approach to #17 was the right club, but the ball didn't jump and carry like he thought it would from the right side of the fringe cut of fairway where he was. Then Jim went into a detailed discussion about how his new Calloway irons have different grooves than his old Srixon irons, and they spin the ball differently, and he still hasn't got read on those distances because he changed clubs less than a year ago, and blah, blah blah. It amazes me how Tour pros will go to any length rather than just say: "Yeah, hit the wrong club."
5. We talked about long putters. He said the PGA Tour has approached the players advisory panel, and hinted that they were prepared to make some sort of clarification, or recommendation on them before the calendar year is out. Nobody knows what the TOUR is thinking, and what they might do, or advise, or suggest. But heads up, something's coming. I told Jim how I tried the ol' belly putter this past fall. Fell in love. Swore it was the holy grail. Started missing putts again. Now it's in the closet, soon to be on e-bay. Jim too, tried it at the end of last season, and has gone back to putting with a "normal" putter, cross handed like he's always done. I said I would have no problem if the Tour, or the ruling bodies effectively banned them, because hey, they make the rules. We just need to adjust. Plus, they can always rescind the ban. That said, I think the long/belly putter is a fad, and will subside over time. Jim claims he knows 70 year olds at his home club, who "couldn't play the game" without them. I said: bullshit. "They CAN'T PLAY THE GAME, without a long/belly putter? C'mon!" Jim said their hands shake too much, and without them, they would three putt every green. I was skeptical. I don't think a 70 year old who can still get a golf ball airborne and produce a solid dump the morning would ever WALK AWAY from golf, just because he had to putt with a regular putter. Jim, however, was pretty adamant. This issue is not going to just go away.
The newly revamped TPC Potomac is absolutely sensational from a visual and conditioning standpoint.
It is also hard as hell.
The revamped TPC Potomac, 2nd hole. Lovely, but lethal.
There are deep and contoured bunkers guarding every corner of most greens. More deep and oddly angled bunkers crimp your line and play tricks with your head off of the tee. There is water/stream/swamp in play on 11 holes, with several holes (#4, 6, 10 and 11) having the swampy creek area hug an entire side of the driving area, making those misses tantamount to a lost ball.
The greens are firm, lively, and full of humps, pockets, and ridges.
From the back tees, where Jim played, it is 7,124 yards, to a Par-70, which makes it a very heavy load in relation to par.
Jim is admittedly "average" on Tour in terms of length (his driver carry is 'only' about 270 yards) so you might think TPC Potomac would stretch him out pretty good.
Well, so much for that.
First of all, there is something amazing about actually PLAYING with a TOUR pro, more than just WATCHING them from close range, yet outside the ropes. The balls they hit are absolute rocket-ships, and they compress and fly with a "pfft!" and a "whizzzz" that even your best golfing buddy who is a "scratch" can't duplicate.
Furyk's driver just screamed into the distance like fighter jet at low altitude. And when he wanted to move it one way or another, it didn't so much as curve like yours or mine, it more or less yawed. On one hole, #8, Jim is his customary 50-60 yards behind us on the tips, when he launches and then starts urging his ball loudly to "stay left, stay left."
I look up in time to see the ball make a routine landing in the middle of the narrow 15 yard neck of the fairway between two bunkers, a cool 285 yards away. "Gee, Jim, you kinda micromanged that one just a bit, didn't ya?"
That drew a laugh.
I had to explain that when ME and MY BUDDIES shout "stay left", our immediate focus is on the right TREE LINE, and we go from there.
That's why they do what they do for a $10 million prize at the end of the year, and we subscribe to Golf Digest.
So anyway, Jim is there without his trusted caddy Mike "Fluff" Cowan. He's got a moron radio guy talking his EAR OFF about all kinds of things, starting good-natured devils-advocate golf arguments, and mixing in a dollop or two of smart-assery. He's graciously engaging our other two members of our group about their job and family.
We're riding a cart. We're playing out of turn. He is taking just a cursory glance at every putt he rolls.
After about 5 holes, you just stop saying the usual "great shot, Jim" because, well, they are all fucking great shots. They are shots so common in their awesome-ness to us mortals, that you start to wonder: "Wow. What WOULD a truly great shot from Furyk look like? Would angels break into song in the sweltering heavens above? Would a live rainbow unicorn come galloping across the fairway?
We get to the back nine, and we are winding up our round. I honestly haven't looked at our scorecard, or our match to this point, because hell, who cares? He's playing at least 700 yards more golf course than I am, and I'm getting 12 shots.
After Jim rope-a-doped me with the "I just wanna make this to see him sweat" episode I described to begin this post, we plopped back into our cart and Jim put the final official touches on my 87.
He then calmly tallies his back-nine 32, which coupled with a sorta-fucking-around front nine of 35, adds up to a ho-hum 67.
A sixty-fucking-seven on a course like this, just jackanaping around, NOT EVEN TRYING.
It just hit home with a thud when I saw that 67 get etched into the final little square at the end of his scorecard line.
These guys aren't just "good" as the Tour's tagline reads. They are un-real.