Interview: RYDER CUP USA CAPTAIN JIM FURYK ON THE MASTERS, DUSTIN JOHNSON, BIG MOVERS AND MORE
The 2017 Masters Tournament was the third opportunity — of nine total this year — where U.S.-born players had the opportunity to collect points toward the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris.
While it turned out to be two Ryder Cup Europe veterans in Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose who stole the show at Augusta National, a few U.S. players made some big moves in the USA standings — guys like Matt Kuchar (No. 15 to No. 2), Kevin Chappell (No. 25 to No. 4) and Rickie Fowler (No. 26 to No. 10) just to name a few.
We tracked down Ryder Cup USA Captain Jim Furyk the day after the Masters to talk about the tournament, Dustin Johnson’s late withdrawal, the Ryder Cup movers, Fred Couples and more.
Here’s what Furyk had to say as he drove over to Hilton Head, S.C., for this week’s RBC Heritage, a tournament he won in 2010 and 2015.
PGA.com: We often hear that the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. Players might not feel that way about a 72-hole event. What are your thoughts?
Furyk: I definitely think it’s true about the back nine on Sunday in the Masters. It turns into a brand new golf tournament. We saw how that unfolded again on Sunday.
That back nine lends itself to tons of drama. As a player, you want to get through Nos. 10, 11 and 12 and then if the course is playing short and fast — like yesterday — it’s set up for excitement.
The par 5s, 13 and 15, present chances for eagle and lots of birdies. No. 14 had a pretty benign pin position and there were lots of birdies there yesterday. No. 16, there’s always a chance for a birdie on Sunday. No. 17 is a tough hole, but then there’s a chance for birdie at 18 if you hit a great drive. It’s very exciting down the stretch.
Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia really separated themselves from the field and put on a ball-striking clinic. I also thought they hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in. But, it was so much fun to watch — two great ball strikers just going point, counter point.
Sergio hit a great tee shot on 16 and then Justin matched. Justin hit a great approach on 18 in regulation and then Sergio hit it closer. It was an exciting Masters.
PGA.com: Let’s talk about Dustin Johnson. You missed the 2016 Masters to recover from a surgery, so you can likely relate to the disappointment Johnson experienced when having to withdraw one minute before his first-round tee time due to injury.
Furyk: You’re right. I did miss the Masters last year and it was disappointing. I was hopeful I’d be able to play, but when you have surgery on February 1, you’re pretty much resigned to the fact that you’re not likely to play. I had a couple months to come to terms with that.
For Dustin, it was a much different story and, I’m sure, a lot harder. He’s the No. 1-ranked player in the world. With three consecutive wins going into the Masters — two of them World Golf Championships events — he was undoubtedly the hottest player in golf.
To get injured on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the tournament starts, is a major disappointment. That late in the game, all your preparation is done. You’re not only thinking about the next day, but you’re raring to go.
I’m sure Dustin was disappointed to have to miss it because of how well he’s been playing. Maybe he thinks it’s a missed opportunity. But he’ll have plenty more chances. I really feel bad for him, but more importantly, I hope he gets back to 100 percent soon.
PGA.com: The conditions in the first round, many have said, were as difficult as we’ll ever see Augusta National. Only two players shot sub-70 rounds — Charley Hoffman (65) and Will McGirt (69), with Hoffman’s being the best of the day by four. How impressive was that?
Furyk: It was very impressive. You know, that’s what separates great rounds from really good ones. As nice as it is to go low with say a 62, 63 or 64, if there were a bunch of other low numbers, you know the course was accessible.
That wasn’t the case last Thursday. That was a tough, tough course under very difficult conditions. It was a tremendous round by Charley.
PGA.com: I need to know. What is it about Fred Couples and Augusta National? It feels like — and he sort of is — always right there.
Furyk: It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? What Fred has been able to do there from age 47 to 57 is significant. He’s had back issues too. But he obviously loves that place and it brings the best out of him.
I think there are places on tour for each and every player where you just feel like you can compete even when your game isn’t in the best shape. At those kinds of courses, you seem to find a way to get out of your funk. It’s pretty cool for Freddie that that place for him happens to be Augusta National during Masters week.
He feels so comfortable there and the fans love seeing him come back. I played a practice round with him last week and got some insight. I saw how he practiced around there and it was interesting to watch.
PGA.com: Let’s talk Ryder Cup USA points standings. You had some big movers, notably Kuchar, Chappell, Ryan Moore and Rickie Fowler.
Furyk: It was an exciting finish for Kuchar. He birdied 12, 13 and 14 and then had that ace on 16 and shot a 31 on the back. Let me tell you something, that back nine at Augusta National on Sunday can turn into a tournament within a tournament and you can make up a lot of ground in a hurry with scores like that. For Matt, it meant a tie for fourth. Great finish.
Kevin Chappell tied for seventh. I was actually paired with him for the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday. What a great driver of the ball. He drove it real long and real straight, which is a terrific combo to have at Augusta National. It was fun to play with him.
It’s nice to look at some points, but it is still early in the process. Obviously you’re going to see significant movement in the majors just because those are worth full value, while the World Golf Championships and the Players are worth half value.
We changed the process a little after talking with the committee and with Davis Love III. The reason was that we wanted to identify the events that bring about the most pressure and give those the most value. When you get to a Ryder Cup, you want to have a team of guys who competed the best against the best fields in golf.
Like I said, it’s exciting to have some points, but it’s real early. Things will heat up next year. Guys that win majors this year will definitely put themselves in the driver seat and will be in a nice position to qualify on points next year.
PGA.com: Previously, both Tom Watson and Davis Love III said it was a little difficult to get excited about points until the U.S. Open played the year of the Ryder Cup. Do you feel any differently about that since you tweaked the system a little bit?
Furyk: I can certainly understand why they thought that way — the summer hits and your just a few months away.
I mean, I’ll have an eyebrow raised this year just out of curiosity, but I think I’ll start to get excited next January when points are at full value. Even then though, I’m going to try not to single guys out because I don’t want them to feel like they’re under a microscope. Just go out and play. Nobody needs the extra pressure.
PGA.com: Your Ryder Cup experience — nine straight as a player and one as a vice captain — is second only to Phil Mickelson. Having experienced a lot in Ryder Cup, do you see great value in having a younger captain such as yourself, someone who is still on Tour and can build relationships?
Furyk: For me personally, No. 1, I always wanted to be a captain. But, part two of that, is I also wanted to be captain before turning 50. That’s how it played out. That second part was important to me because I wanted to do it while I was still relevant on the Tour, playing and competing.
What that allows me to do is stuff like last week with Kevin Chappell, who I mentioned earlier. I know Kevin, but not well. To see him compete and in action is important to me. There are some younger players who I maybe don’t know that I’ll have that same opportunity with, whether it’s in the tournament, or seeking them out for practice rounds. You know, Kevin shared some things with me about what he went through last year being so close to making the team. He played well in the Tour Championship and told me what all that was like for him. It was great for me to hear.
We talked earlier about some of the minor tweaks made to the system. I’ll be honest, I got a couple of those ideas from players who went through the process and got their thoughts and ideas. It was valuable. I got those ideas because I saw how everything played out and I was at Hazeltine in the room with everyone as a Vice Captain. I spent time with all those folks. For me in this captaincy, I want that close bond. It will help and I think that closeness will reflect on the team.
And let me say this too — while Davis was in a similar situation as far as being a Captain and still playing the Tour, you can’t discount what the relationships he had with younger players because of his son, Dru. Dru played golf growing up with guys like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas (who came close to making the team). Because of that, they already know Davis and they were comfortable with him.
PGA.com: Last thing, Jim, what’s been going on behind the scenes on the Ryder Cup front?
Furyk: I don’t have any dates planned right now in terms of a trip or anything, but next time we talk after the Players, I think I’ll probably have things more mapped out. I’d like to get to the site at least twice, possibly three times, before the Ryder Cup. Three times would be very realistic. One of those would be the year out in the Fall, but I’d like one more site visit or possibly two on my own.
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