Welcome to Earl's Golf Blog
August 9, 2016
Jim Furyk broke a barrier that is more mental than physical. He realized early in his round that something special was happening. After turning the front nine in a torrid eight under par 27, he could have backed off and hung on. Instead he seized the opportunity and became the first to go one lower than Allen Geiberger's 59 at the 1977 Memphis Classic at Colonial Country Club. Only five other players on the PGA Tour have broken the magical 60 mark. The last being Jim Furyk himself in 2013. Having been in that surreal position before, certainly helped with him coping with the mental challenges that he faced.
Jim was certainly in the zone. All of us, to some degree or other, have experienced a "state" where golf seemed remarkably easy and all was going your way. You shoot an even par 36 on the front and follow it up with a 50 on the back. What changed? Your mental approached changed! Jim could've gotten out of his zone and faltered and no one would have faulted him. Great front nine and wonderful 62 or such and within a day the great round would've been forgotten. Jim was quoted as saying that he "just wanted to stay out of his own way". In other words, not to over-think or let his mind cloud or confuse his body from performing how it was trained to perform.
We all have goals and obstacles that we want to overcome. Breaking 80 wasn't a challenge for me (probably did that around 11 or 12 year old), but 70 was tougher. I shot 68 at 15 years old in tennis shoes and in a light rain. I felt it was going to happen soon, so it wasn't an unbelievable event. Winning a Southern California Junior tournament was, in my mind, a great accomplishment. So when I came from behind and won my first tournament, that was a time of great joy. But my first experience with "playing out of my mind" or getting into a surreal or magical place on the golf course took place in a high school match at El Dorado Park Golf Course in Long Beach, California. We were playing Warren High School from Downey. I three putted the second or third hole and birdied the fourth. Made two more birdies and came to the ninth at two under. On the par five, from the back tees, I hit driver and 3 wood to ten feet and made it. The tenth was an easier par five and I hit a four wood to 20 feet and made it. I'm now six under after only 10 holes. Standing on the 11th tee my world stopped. I suddenly went into another realm of consciousness. Time stood still and slowed down and everything was crystal clear. I suddenly became aware of everything. I had never experienced anything like it in my young 17 years, it was totally uncharted territory. But I had eight more holes to play and I just wanted to keep it going. Solid par on 11 and two long shots into the par five greenside bunker on 12. At the time I was almost automatic out of a bunker, so I was already counting on another birdie. Left it in the bunker on the first shot and made bogie. Lost focus and got ahead of the task at hand. But I regrouped and played the next five holes with pars and came to 18 with a chance to set the course record with a birdie. We were the last group and the players and coaches were around the 18th green. I hit a sand wedge to 10 feet and needed that putt to beat the course record. Now it gets weird. As I'm walking up to the green a dog runs onto the green and snatches my ball in his mouth a runs down the fairway. I can still see two of my teammates chasing after him. I'm standing on the green with no ball, nervous and having to wait while my friends are retrieving my ball. After five to ten minutes, they got the ball from the dog and gave it to me. It had noticeable teeth marks, so I got to replace it and the coaches determined where the ball was on the green and I finally got to try the putt for a 66 and the course record. Somehow I regained focus and hit a pure putt that went straight in. I was mobbed and a great relief came over me. I had accomplished something and stood up to a challenge and succeeded. The lesson learned has stayed with me and has helped when faced with similar situations.
My experience pales in comparison with Jim Furyk's 58, but the emotions were as real. You can't take away what you felt and what was experienced. My great friend, Don Keffer, was never afraid of shooting a low score. He arrived on the first tee with the expectation that this day was going to be exceptional and every shot was special. Five under par was good, but seven was better and he never backed off when he could accomplish something great. Jim Furyk's hands were numb when putting on the 18th green, but his mind was in the present. He knew there was history to be made, but all the past experiences, successes, losses helped to get him to this position and he succeeded to break the 59 barrier. Someone will now have to go even lower to set the next record. I'm sure it will be done. It took 39 years for Furyk to surpass Geiberger's 59. With today's golf balls, clubs, course conditions, and talented and conditioned golfers, it could happen in the next 10 years. Hats off to Jim Furyk, Mr. 58, for the guts and mental toughness to excel when the golfing gods dealt you a round for the ages and you took full advantage.