Jim Furyk doesn’t live year-round in South Carolina, but for at least one week every year, the Pennsylvania native might as well be an honorary citizen – and, perhaps, an adjunct member of the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce.
The player with perhaps the most recognizable golf swing on the PGA Tour (his trademark looping takeaway) makes no bones about what his favorite week of the year is: the seven days in April when the Tour visits Harbour Town Golf Links for the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. That’s not a surprise – Furyk has won two Heritage titles and the plaid blazers that go with those victories, including in 2015 when he beat Aiken, SC, native Kevin Kisner in a playoff – but it’s about more than that, he says.
“This is my favorite event (on Tour),” says the 45-year-old winner of 16 Tour titles, including the 2003 US Open. “It’s always been one of my favorite stops, and definitely my favorite golf course. Plus I think half of Pennsylvania has a second home down here. It’s a beautiful island, and the fans are great. It’s a party atmosphere (during the Heritage), but this is a classier party.”
Then there’s the golf course. “It’s the best we play, in my opinion,” Furyk says. “It’s a shot-makers’ course with these tiny greens, and you have to hit every shot in your bag. If you can’t move the ball off the tee and into the greens, you can’t compete here.”
Furyk obviously can do that. What his game lacks is the monstrous distance off the tee that rules much of the PGA Tour, but his precision irons and solid putting give him an edge in the relatively tight confines of Harbour Town.
Not that his game hasn’t been good enough in his 22-year career. Besides that Open title and his two Heritage crowns, Furyk has won 16 times, most notably the 2010 Tour Championship and the $10 million payday that came with capturing the Fed Ex Cup title that year. Perhaps coincidentally, that was also the year he first won at Harbour Town.
Normally, Furyk would’ve looked forward to defending his title at the 2016 Heritage, but off-season surgery to fix a wrist injury (overuse, he called it) forced him to sit out the start of the season. He had hoped to return before the tournament, but it didn't work out.
Still, that April week in 2015 at Harbour Town remains a highlight. “It meant a lot,” he says. “I was frustrated because I hadn’t won since the 2010 Tour Championship. I wasn’t able to get over the hump.” But after he closed out Kisner with sudden-death birdies on the 18th hole and his winner at the par-3 17th, Furyk’s fist-pump relieved that frustration. “It felt good to get that under my belt,” he says.
How good? The next day, after an all-night drive home to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Furyk and wife Tabitha hosted a charity event and concert for their Jim & Tabitha Furyk Foundation. His wardrobe choice for the concert was a T-shirt … and his second plaid blazer.
So yes, the Furyks are sort of honorary SC citizens – and, he says, it was almost more than that. “I actually looked at going to (the University of) South Carolina,” he says. “I went on a recruiting trip there, got recruited by them in the fall of 1987. Steve Liebler was the coach then, and I know (current USC director of golf) Puggy Blackmon really well.”
Instead, Furyk wound up playing college golf at Arizona. These days in South Carolina, it’s like he’s making up for lost time.
Hometown: West Chester, Pa.
Bio: Learned golf from his father, Mike, including his unique looping swing; played college golf at Arizona, leading the Wildcats to their only NCAA title in 1992; turned professional in 1994; missed three months in 2004 from his first surgery on his wrist, but rebounded to finish second on the PGA Tour money list in 2006; was PGA Tour player of the year in 2010.
Highlights: Won 2003 US Open and 2010 Tour Championship; member of 15 consecutive US National teams; nine-time Ryder Cup team member and seven-time Presidents Cup player; fourth on all-time PGA Tour career earnings list; only the sixth player in PGA Tour history to record a score of 59, during the second round of the 2013 BMW Championship.
Where I play: “I remember years ago playing a Web.com Tour event in Florence at the Country Club of South Carolina, and I liked the course. I still remember the 18th hole: a dogleg left, around the water, to an elevated green. And the 17th was a par-5 that you could reach (in two shots), but you had to hit it over some trees. No. 11 was a par-3 over water."
“On Hilton Head, besides obviously Harbour Town, I’ve played over at Haig Point (on Daufuskie Island), got a friend who’s a member there. And as a junior, I played an AJGA tournament at Oyster Reef. I played that a couple of times. In Myrtle Beach, I’ve played the last five-six-seven years in the Monday After The Masters (Pro-Am), at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club– or wherever they dropped me off (laugh). “My wife’s family used to go to Myrtle Beach when she was a kid, and she goes back now and goes, ‘Wow, how much it’s grown up.’"
Where I eat: “We always rent a home here (during the Heritage), so we eat half our meals there, and the restaurants have all kind of changed in that time. But I always stop at the pizza place in Sea Pines (Giuseppi’s) on our way into the resort. They’ve got all sorts of (Pittsburgh) Steelers paraphernalia on the walls. And on our way off the island, there’s a pizza place that has all (Ohio State) Buckeyes stuff in it (Mangiamo’s); even the toilets have the Michigan logo on the bottom.
“If you go across the first traffic circle, to the first strip (shopping center) on the left, there’s a nice Italian place in the back (Ombra Cucina Rustica). And when we were younger, we’d always go to Aunt Chilada’s. In South Beach Marina, there’s the restaurant with the white woodwork – Salty Dog Café. I can get on my phone and point us to the places, even if I don’t know the names.”
What I do for fun: “First of all, Hilton Head Island has got a great culture to it. The fans here have always been wonderful. The golf course is on a small piece of property, and the tournament is more of an intimate gathering than a lot of places we play. And Hilton Head provides a lot of fun things to do outside of golf as well."
“We used to bring the whole family, but now with the kids in school, they come for the weekend. They do a lot of the beaches and bikes while I’m playing golf, and afterward we all head to the beach. We rent a house where they can walk over there, and we’ve rented bikes at the other golf course, and you can rent and ride around the island. They go swimming, or head over to the shops. At night, we usually try to find a restaurant where we can all hang out together and relax. During the tournament, that’s about all I have time for.”