Matter of mind over magic for Jim Furyk

Muted performance on Saturday after his 59 was a case of dwelling on achievement


The first clue that Jim Furyk would follow his Friday birdie binge at the BMW Championship with a more muted performance surfaced during his news conference after his PGA Tour record-tying 59.

In trying to make sense of how every break seemed to go his way during the round, Furyk said: “If you sat me down 10 feet from the hole 18 times today, I wasn’t going to make 12 out of the 18, more than likely. So I alw’ays scratch my head and try to figure out how you get to 59.”

Furyk’s two-under-par 69 at Conway Farms Golf Club on Saturday, which left him at 13-under 200, one stroke ahead of Steve Stricker, was a case of mind over magic.

The moment he stopped to consider how he had shot a sub-60 score, he doomed himself to not coming close to repeating it.

Rob Polishook, a mental coach who does not work with Furyk, said a common trap golfers fell into after a career-low score was thinking: “Great round. How did I do that?”

“They immediately think about what they did to make the score, and just this process alone takes them out of the present moment and into the past,” said Polishook, the founder and director of Inside the Zone Sports Performance Group.

“On the flip side, by scoring low, they now have a set of expectations and thoughts on the outcome, again taking them out of the moment and into the future. Both are recipes for failure.”

During yesterday’s final round of the BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedEx Cup play-offs, it will be Matt Kuchar’s challenge not to look back or ahead.

Kuchar, fourth in the play-off standings at the week’s start, followed the pixie-dust path forged by Brandt Snedeker (a 63 in the first round) and Furyk with a bogey-free 61 on Saturday to move to five-under for the tournament and into a tie for 16th.

Kuchar charge
Kuchar birdied the first two holes, causing a few in his gallery to start chanting, “Fifty-eight today.”

A sub-60 score crossed his mind when he made the turn in 30 strokes, and again when he went for the green in two on the par-five 18th.

“I got off to a good start and then had a thought on the last hole of, Gosh, if I hole this out from the fairway, it’s a 59,” Kuchar said.

His second shot came to rest 26 feet from the pin and he two-putted for the last of his 10 birdies.

As Kuchar knows only too well, the hard part comes next. He carded a 63 in the second round of the Sony Open and followed it with a 70. He opened with a 64 at the Northern Trust Open and shot a 73 in the next round.

He chased a third-round 64 at the Canadian Open with a closing 71.

“Seems like it’s difficult to follow up any kind of low round,” Kuchar said. “I’ve never quite understood why, exactly.” He added, “There shouldn’t be a reason why a guy playing good golf shouldn’t keep playing good golf.”

Furyk did his best to focus on the round, and the shot, at hand, but it was difficult with fans shouting, “Hey, Mr 59.” The front nine, he said, “kind of felt like a victory lap. People kept cheering for me all the way around,” Furyk said. “It took me a few holes to really get in the flow out there and feel good.”

‘Mental battle’
The challenge of posting back-to-back low scores, he said, “seems to be a mental battle more than a physical.”

The “mental game,” as Furyk described it, is not unlike what a player experiences when trying to close out a victory.

“I’ll play my best if I’m focused on the task at hand, not on the results,” he said.

Furyk, who is winless in the last five tournaments in which he has had a 54-hole lead, will need to be focused to hold off a group of contenders that includes Stricker, a three-time runner-up this year who carded a 64; Snedeker, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, who was two strokes back after a 71; and Tiger Woods, who posted a 66 and was four shots back.

Woods, a five-time winner this year, would be within two strokes of the lead if not for the penalty he was assessed after the second round for moving a loose impediment near his ball behind the first green, causing the ball to move.

Woods penalty
It is a one-stroke infraction, but because Woods did not replace the ball, he was penalised two strokes.

“It’s one of those things where I thought the ball oscillated, and I thought that was that,” Woods said. “I played the shot, played the round, and then they replayed it and gave me two.”

He added, “I was pretty hot because I felt like, as I said, nothing happened.”

Woods put the penalty behind him and concentrated on the next round, the next shot, as Furyk also tried to do Saturday. “Following a 59 is a breeze, man,” Furyk joked.

“How upset are you going to get today?”
New York Times