Whether he’s posing with a winner’s check, a trophy, his 58 scorecard, or with wife, Tabitha, Jim Furyk breaks out of his on-course stoicism with one of the best champion smiles in professional golf. It’s a smile that symbolizes someone who understands the values that helped him get to where he is as one of the most accomplished golfers of the last 20 years.
Attendees at last night’s 68th Gold Tee Award Dinner of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association were treated to a short primer on what made Jim Furyk a champion golfer, major winner and appealing Everyman figure. He was given the evening’s main award, the Gold Tee, but was actually the 69th recipient since both Frank Hannigan and P.J. Boatwright Jr. were the joint honorees in 1986.
I’m not as old as the Gold Tee Dinner. I’m approaching 60 so I am feeling the Gold Tee and I are close to the same vintage. But I’ve seen nearly every Gold Tee Dinner since Kathy Whitworth was the honoree in 1984 and the acceptance speech Furyk gave at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, New York, was one of the best I’ve seen at the dinner. It was heartfelt, meaningful, with just the right pace and delivery. In the early years of the Gold Tee, the dinner was held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and major figures from show business and golf across the country attended. The talk Furyk gave would have been worthy of a national audience.
Anyone familiar with Furyk knows his reputation for being a hard worker who excelled despite his unorthodox swing. But his speech emphasized values, the kind of values that can only come from learning lessons from those people who are influential in a person’s life. Furyk went through his main influences: his parents, wife Tabitha (who herself gives her husband a run for his money as the ideal spouse of a tour pro), his agent Andrew Witlieb and caddie Mike (Fluff) Cowan.
As he described the influence each person had over him, Furyk warned the attendees he’d get emotional in discussing their importance and affect on him. He clearly believes in drawing inspiration from those close to him and he learns essential life skills from them. He was especially poignant in talking about how his parents were proud of him, not particularly because of winning but because he did his best and that’s all that can be expected. He hoped that he could be the type of father who would impress that quality on his own children, of loving them for their effort and not being upset with them if they failed.
The Furyks are proactive in charity work and with the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation, which supports, among other things, needy school children and military families.
There were several other awards given out during the evening, which I attended as a guest at the Golf Digest table. I encourage you to read about them at metgolfwriters.org.