Jim Furyk isn’t one to waste shots.
That’s what his gritty 2-over-par 72 was about Saturday at Shinnecock Hills. That’s what his whole week is about here in the 118th U.S. Open.
Recipient of a special exemption from the USGA, Furyk is making the most of his visit to Long Island. The 2003 U.S. Open champion has a chance to win another national championship after completing 54 holes in 6-over 216, in a three-way tie for seventh just three behind co-leaders Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau. Were he to win, he’d become the first player to win the U.S. Open after receiving a special exemption since Hale Irwin in 1990 at Medinah.
“I got a special exemption this week and was very thankful for that and also kind of wanted to try to use that,” said Furyk, 48, who said he has been disappointed in his play this year after coming back from injury. “You know, you look at it two ways. I wanted to use that opportunity and hopefully make something out of it, and this week it's been fun. It was great to wake up this morning and know I've got a 1:53 tee time. That's pretty cool on a weekend. Haven't been able to do it in a while.
“I'll get that same opportunity [on Sunday] and looking forward to some rest and waking up with the juices flowing, being nervous again and having an opportunity.”
Furyk has been one of the most consistent U.S. Open performers of his generation, finishing in the top 25 in 12 of his previous 23 appearances. As recently as 2016 he was in the hunt, finishing tied for second behind Dustin Johnson at Oakmont. He drives it straight and manages his game with patience, something that is not just important but essential in this championship.
That is how he has cobbled together three solid rounds, mostly by keeping mistakes to a minimum. On Saturday, he offset four bogeys with two birdies after hitting 13 of 14 fairways and taking just 27 putts. A few times he happily accepted a bogey to prevent further damage. He has yet to suffer a double bogey through 54 holes, one of the few players in the field who can say that.
For the week, Furyk, who has one top-10 finish in nine starts in 2018, ranks third on the greens.
“It's definitely one of the most solid rounds I've played this year,” said Furyk, who hasn’t been himself this year because of wrist and chest injuries that sidelined him for five months last year. “I've just done a really good job this week of really not letting much bother me, not getting emotional on the golf course … not getting upset with myself and just accepting the mistakes because you're going to make them here. I hope to be able to do that tomorrow.”
Furyk did not play any golf after last year’s PGA Championship to let heal a nagging injury that he suffered in last year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Furyk initially thought he hurt his left shoulder hitting a shot out of the rough on the 14th hole during the third round. Eventually, it was determined that he pulled a ligament in his sternoclavicular joint, and he had to shut it down in August.
Perhaps contributing to his sub-par season is the extra distraction of serving as USA Ryder Cup captain. He would not use that as an excuse. “I just haven’t played very well,” he said in that matter-of-fact way he has.
That all changed this week, even after a poor practice round on Monday. “I didn’t think much of my chances at the start of the week, but I improved every day and gained some confidence, and I’m pretty happy with the way I’m getting it around on a difficult golf course.”
“That was one great round of golf he played, and I have seen him play a lot of great rounds,” said his caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowen.
One more and he might accentuate the term “special exemption” in a way that hasn’t been witnessed in almost 30 years.
“Being here has meant a lot to me,” Furyk said. “I’m very appreciative of it, and I’m excited to have a chance to make something of it. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and thinking about trying to win the golf tournament. I just want to go out and play and see if I can make something special happen.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.