Wilson Furr is back to his old golfing self. He won the State Am by 11 shots.

Every golfer has a favorite, most trusted golf club. For Jackson’s own 19-year-old golf phenom, Wilson Furr, that club always has been his driver.

It’d be your favorite, too, if you could slam it 340 yards, nearly always down the middle of the fairway with seeming ease.

Furr was doing that a lot last week at the Mississippi Amateur championship, played at The Preserve near Biloxi. On a long, demanding course, with firm, slick greens, Furr pretty much lapped the field. He shot rounds of 68, 69, 66 and 69 on the par-71 course to win by a whopping 11 shots. That’s right, he could have made a 14 on the par-4 finishing hole and still have won the tournament.

Rick Cleveland

Now then, here’s the deal: Six months ago, Furr making a 14 on a hole wasn’t completely out of the question.

Once one of the most promising junior golfers on the planet, Furr went through an eight-month period when he couldn’t keep his ball on the golf course.

Four or five times a round, he’d swing that once-trusted driver and watch the ball fly its usual 300-plus yards – in the wrong direction. “I called it my ‘Hi-yaaaaah’ shot,” he says smiling. “It was gone, usually out of bounds, two-shot penalty, and there was nothing I could do about it.”

That was what was happening when Furr entered the University of Alabama as a prized golf recruit last fall. He could have gone to college anywhere in the country on a golf scholarship. Then, he got to Bama and couldn’t crack the traveling team. Alabama played four fall tournaments; Furr did not play in a single one.

“I was awful,” he says. “I couldn’t keep it on the course.”

Wilson Furr interviewed at NCAA Tournament.

This was something Furr had never dealt with – abject failure, that is. Here’s a guy who won the prestigious Future Masters twice as a junior, a guy who was ranked as highly as No. 2 in the world in his age group. Here’s a guy who in 2015, at age 16, became the youngest golfer in Mississippi history to win the state’s amateur championship. What’s more, he won it by eight shots.

And, now, he couldn’t make the team.

“It was no fun, no fun at all,” he says. “As much as I love golf, I almost didn’t want to go to the course.”

John Wooden, the famed basketball coach, once said: “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

Furr was more than willing to change, but first he had to figure out what to change. He tried a lot of different cures, took advice from several experts. Nothing seemed to work. He kept trying, kept looking for the answer. In one Alabama qualifying round, he shot an 80. “First time I didn’t break 80 since I was 13 or 14,” he says.

He credits Alabama coach Jay Seawell for not giving up on him and encouraging him to keep going.

“You’ll figure it out, it’s a matter of time,” he says Seawell told him.

Furr was beginning to wonder. Finally, last December, he decided to put his swing on display in front of a different set of eyes. He flew to Las Vegas to see noted golf instructor Jeff Smith. Without getting overly technical, Smith saw that Furr’s backswing was putting him in a position where it was nearly impossible for his hands to keep up with his hip and shoulder rotation. The hands lagged behind the body. That’s why the ball often went further right than an Alabama Republican.

Smith gave him some things to work on. Furr worked. He is a practice fanatic.

“It wasn’t that hard a fix,” he says. “It was just getting me back to my old swing, really.”

He made all the Alabama team trips this spring, helping the team to a national runner-up finish. Shaking off competitive rust, he got better as the season progressed. He shot a 63 during a Top 10 finish at the SEC Championship. He shot a 64, finishing third in the NCAA Regionals at Stockton, Cal.

Now comes his victory in the State Am, which earns him an automatic exemption into the Sanderson Farms Championship in October at Country Club of Jackson, the course where he learned to play.

“That’s the main reason I played in the State Am, for a shot at that exemption,” he says. “It’s my dream to play on the tour, and to play my first tour tournament on my home course will be extra special. I can’t wait.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.