There are long shots at the 2021 U.S. Open, and then there’s 22-year-old Wilson Furr
LA JOLLA, Calif. — This is Phil’s Open. After all, how many people this week are trying to complete the career grand slam in their backyard? This is Bryson’s Open. He won last year and the last guy to win consecutive Opens was his close, personal friend Brooks Koepka. You could go on down the list and make a similar case for every last player in the field. Xander and Tony and Rory and JT and DJ and the rest. Wilson.
Yes, Wilson. This is his Open, too, and for the best reason of all, at least for him. This tournament is his baptism. This U.S. Open at Torrey Pines is his professional debut. How cool is that? Maybe, someday, he’ll be one of those travel-the-Tour-on-one-name golfers, too.
Wilson Furr is 22. He’s from Jackson, Miss. He graduated from the University of Alabama last month, and in four years. He has, for the first time in his life, a Tour bag, stamped with Srixon and his uncommon name. Wilson Furr, now driving.
Uncommon runs in the Furr family. Wilson’s kid sister is Hartwell Furr and their kid brother is Prentiss Furr. Prentiss an electro-pop musician — Justin Bieber follows his swelling Instagram account — and a rising ninth grader at Jackson Prep. Hartwell, a burgeoning entrepreneur, has a summer gig working as a nanny for a family on Long Island, while also supplying Southern nannies to other Long Islanders. She’s a rising junior at Ole Miss.
“My sister’s the smartest of us,” Wilson said. “I had the golf. Our brother he didn’t really have his thing, until he got with the music. It’s not really my kind of music so I didn’t get it at first but then you see all these other people getting drawn into it, so that’s cool.”
The Jackson Water Department really should do some sort of investigation, because something’s going on there, over at the Furr house. This is not normal. Why are there no Gen Z slackers in the Furr home?
Oh, this just in: The social phenomenon known as Generation Z, is not a thing in Jackson, Miss. Repeat: is not a thing in the state capital of Mississippi.
Bill works for Tyson Foods, from his house, which gives him time to work on his 13-handicap golf game at the Country Club of Jackson. Denise Furr is eponymous founder of the Furr Group, a real estate company in Jackson, and she volunteers at the Sanderson Farms Championship each year, an early-fall Tour event played at the Country Club. Wilson played in the event in 2018, as an 18-year-old amateur, and almost made the cut! (Cameron Champ won that year. The trophy is a rooster. It looks almost live.) Wilson has played golf with Archie Manning, legendary Mississippian, NFL quarterback and NFL father.
The Furr Fam: the American Dream. Sounds like an HBO five-parter, don’t you think?
And there they were — or the parents and Wilson, anyhow — at The Lodge at Torrey Pines on Wednesday, taking in the course and the ocean and the promise of Wilson’s week and career, because that’s what it is, right now. He had an 8:57 a.m. tee time for Thursday — fog-delayed to 10:27 — and a 2:42 p.m. for Friday, playing with Mario Carmona and Davis Shore.
This same story, of course, or at least a version of it, could be written about Carmona, a native Mexican who played at Rice. Or Shore, who is still on the Alabama golf team. Or any other 153 players in the field. Each one has a story, loaded with pathos and luck and likely a healthy strain of OCD, about how he got on the tee sheet here. (Golfers have that OCD gene. They need it.) In the Carmona-Furr-Shore group, each player enrolled at Southern universities as teenagers, each is in his 20s, each is playing in his first U.S. Open. But each man’s life story is wildly different from the other two because, you know, we’re talking about three different people.
On the USGA’s U.S. Open website, there’s a feature where you click on the player’s face which brings you to a link marked ROAD TO TORREY PINES. It has nothing to do with Google Maps or Waze. It has everything to do with what makes the U.S. Open the U.S. Open. You earn your way in. Once there, you see a schematic diagram that shows how the player qualified.
In Wilson Furr’s case, he started at an 18-hole local qualifier at a Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail course in Glencoe, Ala. His 69 there made him a second alternate to advance to a 36-hole Final Qualifier, which he eventually did, playing at the Long Cove Club, in Hilton Head. His scores there — five under for the day — got him into this 120th U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he’s promised 36 holes and hopes to play 72, all in.
One thing about his late-afternoon tee time on Friday: He’ll know exactly what he needs to do, to make the cut. No group is playing later than his.
Wednesday morning, while playing the back nine in a final practice round before the opening bell, Furr told the extraordinary story of how he got in the field. On Sunday, June 6, Furr played in a qualifier to try to get into the PGA Tour’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree. (This qualifier are played on Mondays He didn’t make it. As the second alternate, he didn’t expect to have any chance of getting into Monday’s 36-hole qualifier. His brand-new agent, T.J. Mitchell of Mac Barnhardt’s Rock Sports Group, encouraged Furr to show up at the Long Cove qualifier. He did. Second alternates in these events seldom get in. Furr got in, 30 minutes before what was suddenly his tee time. He had 36 holes in front of him, a chance to play his way into the U.S. Open, and no caddie.
“On the 8th hole, I saw a guy walking and I said, ‘Are you a member here? Do you think you could help me find a caddie?’ He says, ‘I think I can get you one.’ So he takes my bag on 9 and says, ‘What do you need?’ And I said, ‘Food.’ And he got me enough chicken wraps to get me through the day.”
There were five spots. Five players shot five under. They were the medalists, and they were the players who advanced to Torrey Pines. Furr’s caddie at Torrey is Michael Sims, a former University of Rhode Island golfer who works with Rock Sports golfers as a life coach. The most prominent Rock Sport golfer is Lucas Glover, winner of the 2009 U.S. Open. The second-most prominent is Andy Ogletree, winner of the 2019 U.S. Amateur. Ogletree is from Mississippi, too. Furr has been trying to beat him his whole life. Glover plays some of the most natural, untechnical golf you could see on Tour these days. Furr plays similarly. He aims and swings, seemingly without a thought in his head. It’s a pleasure to watch.
His hair — head, arms and legs — is bleached by the sun. He looks more country strong than gym strong. He oozes confidence but is exceedingly polite. On every tee, he greeted the volunteer marshals with, “How y’all doing today?”
Their answer was his answer: great.
He oozes confidence but is exceedingly polite. On every tee, he greeted the volunteer marshals with, “How y’all doing today?”
His parents watched from a safe distance. They know enough to know they don’t know anything, except that Wilson is at a point in his professional life where he really needs to do only one thing: get better at golf. That’s for him to figure out.
He’s going to try to Monday qualify for PGA Tour events through the end of the year. But this week first. This week can change things, or not.
He was asked if he ever expected to make his debut as a pro in a U.S. Open.
“No, sir, not ever,” he said. “I figured it’d be some tournament in a mountain town in North Carolina on a tour nobody ever heard of.”
Yet here he is.
At 10:30 on Thursday morning, he stood on the first tee, here at Torrey Pines, with two other U.S. Open rookies, everything in front of them. The Lodge was in their backswing. The Pacific was beyond the green. The morning was finally here. Wilson Furr drove it in a fairway bunker, played his second shot smart and short, got up and down for 4, for par. That’s how you do. It. That is how the pros do it. Assess, play, move on.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com