More and more, golf is becoming a young player’s game. Exactly half of the world’s top 24 players are 30 years old or younger, the difficulty of reaching the PGA Tour after leaving college notwithstanding. Jordan Spieth, 21, won the Masters just a couple of weeks ago. Last summer, Rory McIlroy, 25, did him one better by emerging victorious at both the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. Players are coming out of college more polished than ever before and each week the results prove it.
But while professional golf’s youth movement may be alive and well, you cannot count out the older guys just yet. On Sunday, forty-four-year-old American Jim Furyk went low, shooting a closing 63 at the RBC Heritage to finish eighteen-under par for the clubhouse lead. Countryman Kevin Kisner tied him with a clutch birdie at 18, but Furyk, known for his accurate play and unconventional swing, hit his ball to within 10 feet of the cup on the second playoff hole, allowing him to don the tartan jacket for the second time in his career.
With the victory, he moved to No. 5 in the world rankings and to the 19th spot on the FedEx Cup points list.
For Furyk, a native of Pennsylvania and a nine time Ryder Cupper, the win was long overdue. In the time between his victory at the 2010 Tour Championship and Sunday, he endured a victory drought of almost five years, seemingly losing his ability to close. He had at least a piece of the 54 hole lead on nine occasions but never found the winner’s circle.
Some of his failures to convert can be attributed to the fine play of others — if an opponent gets hot and shoots a Sunday 65, like Tim Clark did at last year’s RBC Canadian Open, then there is only so much that a player can do. More significant were the instances of him cracking under pressure.
In the final round of the 2012 U.S. Open, Furyk hit an ugly snap hook into the trees on the 16th hole en route to a bogey. He lost his share of the lead and wound up tying for fourth. Some weeks later, Furyk, holding a one stroke lead, needed only a bogey on the 18th to force a playoff with Keegan Bradley. He was not up to the task, missing a short putt and settling for a double bogey and a tie for second place.
With all of these missed opportunities, many fans — especially younger ones — began to think of Furyk as something of a punchline, a has-been that could not close out a tournament for his life. It was an unfortunate development, especially since the 2003 U.S. Open champion boasts a career that inspires the envy of many of his peers. Thanks to Sunday’s win, Furyk has ensured that he will not be remembered as a bungler and a choker.
Instead, we will think of the warrior of a player who dropped his flatstick and let out a primal yell after sinking the final putt of this year’s Heritage. Even if it does wind up being his last victory, he proved a lot of people wrong, and moreover, he proved that people of a certain age can still be a force on the PGA Tour.