NAPA, Calif. – Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson each celebrated their 50th birthday not long ago and wasted little time in becoming the 19th and 20th players to win in his PGA Tour Champions debut, respectively. But that doesn’t mean either of them is finished playing on the junior circuit just yet. Both are in the field this week at the PGA Tour’s season-opening Safeway Open at Silverado Resort & Spa, and whatever you do, don’t ask either of them if they’ve come to peace with making the inevitable transition to the senior circuit.
“Who said I came to peace with it?” Furyk said with an edge to his voice before breaking into a smile. “If you’d have asked me six months ago, I wasn’t sure. If you would have asked me literally five weeks ago, I wasn’t quite sure. I think I came to peace on it during a little reflection off of the season a little bit, where I’m at, where golf is at really in general, how we’re setting up golf courses on the PGA Tour, where equipment is at.”
Furyk is here this week because he recorded his best finish of an otherwise forgettable 2019-20 season at this tournament, finishing T-17, but he’s scheduled to play the next five Champions Tour events that follow.
“Scott McCarron probably put it best,” Furyk said. “He said the best thing I can tell you about the Champions Tour is it’s not that you can’t compete on the PGA Tour anymore, but how many times in a good year are you going to get in contention to win?’ He said, ‘You’re going to get in contention to win more often on the Champions Tour and you’ll still get just as nervous trying to win there as you do on the PGA Tour.”
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For Furyk, this much is clear: he doesn’t intend to split time between the two tours. His plan is to focus primarily on the Champions Tour – 80 to 90 percent, he said – and cherry-pick a few starts at some of his favorite stomping grounds such as the Valspar Championship, RBC Heritage and Travelers Championship, places where length isn’t the key ingredient to success. Perhaps the strongest measure of his commitment to PGA Tour Champions is forming his own event, the Constellation Furyk and Friends, which will be played in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, October 4-10, 2021.
Furyk formed his foundation in 2010, and hosted his first Furyk & Friends a year later, raising about $500,000 per year the last few years, he said, during a two-day event in advance of the Players Championship.
“It was about golf and food and drinks and fun, and not always in that order. Golf was usually fourth on the list,” he said. “But realizing that eventually I’m going to transition and start playing the Champions Tour and it’s inevitable that I’m going to lose touch with the PGA Tour – it just happens – we were thinking how do we evolve?
“I started seeing, you know, Steve Stricker has the Am Fam (American Family Insurance Championship) and my good buddy Davis Love has the RSM in Sea Island, and I had a couple meetings with (PGA Tour Champions President) Miller Brady and dinner with Jay (Monahan) one night a couple of years ago and we started talking about the possibility of running a Champions Tour event. And I asked, ‘Is that possible with our foundation?’ ”
It turned out it was a good fit in the tour’s fall schedule. So, how did they settle on the course? Allow Furyk to tell the story: “Miller said, ‘Where are you thinking about having it, what course?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got one in mind,’ and he goes, ‘I do, too.’ And I said, ‘All right, you go first,’ and he said, ‘Timuquana.’ And I go, ‘Great, we’re on the same page. That’s the place I would like to do it.’ ”
Furyk said the response from his fellow pros has been overwhelmingly positive and he’s working on his sales pitch to attract Mickelson and his other pals to join the field. In the meantime, Furyk’s success at the Ally Challenge has stoked his interest in making the transition to the Champions Tour.
“It felt like the first day of school all over again,” said Furyk, who enjoyed catching up with the likes of Steve Pate and Jeff Sluman in Flint, Michigan, as well as playing on a shorter course. “My first day in Flint it had rained the night before and a couple of guys said, ‘Man, the course is playing long this year, isn’t it?’ I turned to Fluff and said, ‘What’s the longest club I hit in out here?’ Fluff said, ‘7-iron.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can handle this.’ Medinah (site of last year’s BMW Championship) played at 7,650 last year. I’ll take my chances.
“My 4-iron is sore from the last few years and my 9-iron and wedge, they miss me. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been well-longer than average?” Furyk said. “That was kind of fun.”