You know about golf’s Ryder Cup, a three-day passion play matching the best players from Europe against the best players from the U.S. every two years.
But did you know about the Junior Ryder Cup?
The latter, also every two years and played in conjunction with the Ryder Cup, matches the best U.S. junior golfers (six boys, six girls) against the best from Europe in three days of match play.
Jackson’s own Wilson Furr knows all about it. In fact, he will play in it, beginning Monday at storied Interlachen Country Club, one of the world’s most historic golf courses, in Edina, Minn.
“I can’t wait,” said the 18-year old Furr, a senior at Jackson Academy. “I am playing really well right now. I’ve never played Interlachen before but I’ve heard all about it. I know some of the history of it.”
Part of that rich history is that the fabled Bobby Jones won the U.S. Open there in 1930 en route to golf’s Grand Slam.
Furr, ranked No. 4 among U.S. junior boys, is no neophyte when it comes to representing his country. At 15, he played for a U.S. team against China in China. The U.S. lost 8-4, but Furr scored three of the Americans’ four points.
Mississippians probably better remember his waltz to the 2015 State Amateur championship, when he became, at 16, the youngest winner in State Am history and what’s more won by eight shots at Country Club of Jackson with a 72-hole score of 14-under-par 274. (The same score would have placed him in the top 10 of last year’s Sanderson Farms Championship on the PGA Tour.)
Furr, who has committed to play college golf at Alabama, had several Top 10 finishes this summer in national/international junior tournaments. That becomes all the more impressive when you realize he was coming off complicated wrist surgery that sidelined him for six months. For a 17-year-old who has accomplished so much, so soon, the surgery and recuperation amounted to prolonged torture, more mental than physical.
“Since I was 10 years old, I played or practiced golf practically every day,” Furr said. “And then for nearly six months, I came home every day and had nothing to do. Couldn’t practice, couldn’t play. For the longest time, I couldn’t even putt or chip. Heck, I couldn’t sweat because that made my cast smell so bad.”
The good news: Furr says he is 100 percent recovered – “as good as new.”
The Junior Ryder Cup competition will consist of three days, three 18-hole rounds. Monday’s first round will be four-ball play, boys against boys and girls against girls. The second round will be mixed four-ball play. And the third round will be individual play.
Furr already knows that his partner in the first round will be Knoxville, Tenn., native Davis Shore, also committed to Alabama, who will be Furr’s roommate when both are freshmen at Alabama.
“That ought to be a lot of fun,” Furr said. “It will be nice to play with him, not against him.”
You should know that the Junior Ryder Cup has a history of producing future Ryder Cup heroes.
Sergio Garcia played in the first Junior Ryder Cup, actually just an exhibition at the time, in 1995. Rory McIlroy played on the 1999 European team. Hunter Mahan, a two-time Ryder Cupper, played on the 1999 U.S. team. Jordan Spieth twice played on the U.S. team and once was coached by Jackson’s own Ken Lindsay, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer and a past president of the PGA of America. Hattiesburg’s Davis Riley, who now plays at Alabama, played on the victorious U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team two years ago that smoked the Europeans 16-8.
That’s quite a legacy of players, but Furr belongs. He is a remarkable athlete who happens to play golf.
Ten-time Mississippi State Am champ Mike Taylor, the most accomplished amateur player in this state’s history first told me about Furr when Furr was but 14.
Said Taylor, “Wilson Furr is the best junior golfer I’ve ever seen. I’m not talking about best 14-year-old. I’m talking best junior — period. There are no limits to how good he can be.”
After the three competition rounds, Furr and the rest of the Junior Ryder Cuppers will move to Hazeltine, site of the Ryder Cup, where they will play a nine-hole “friendship match” two days before the real Ryder Cup play begins on the same course.
If it sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime, keep in mind, Wilson Furr is on course to have plenty more.