Wilson Furr plays championship golf at 14
(This is an expanded version of my column that is syndicated in more than 20 Mississippi newspapers.)
Recently, 14-year-old Wilson Furr of Jackson won the prestigious Future Masters golf tournament at Dothan, Ala., shooting 3-under par for 54 holes.
The following day, Furr played 36 holes, competing against older teens, and was by three shots the medalist in U.S. Junior Championship qualifying at Birmingham Country Club.
You should also know Furr beat many well-known PGA Tour pros in U.S. Open qualifying at Colonial in Memphis recently, shooting a 31 on the last nine. He will play in the U.S. Junior in California next month and leave there for China where he will represent the U.S. in an international competition.
If Furr’s credentials sound impressive, know this: He gets better every day. That’s partly because of his natural born talent. And it is just as much because he works so hard at it.
Says 10-time Mississippi Amateur champion and Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Mike 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.”
When Mike Taylor, who often plays with Furr, says that, I listen. And I wanted to see for myself. Recently, I spent an hour with young Furr, first just talking and then watching him practice. At times, he seemed a 14-year-old going on 30. His maturity is even more impressive than his swing, which, to these eyes, is purely flawless.
Furr is a natural athlete. He played elite travel baseball before giving it up for golf. He will quarterback Jackson Academy’s ninth grade football team this coming fall, before, he says, giving up that sport forever.
His future, as he sees it, is in golf, first elite college golf and then the PGA Tour.
Says Taylor, “He’d be an elite college golfer now.”
But he has four more years of high school golf. Furr stands 5 feet, 10 inches and weighs about 155 pounds. Like Taylor, a high school linebacker, he is sturdily built with broad shoulders and muscular legs and trunk.
Seemingly effortlessly, he generates remarkable clubhead speed for a 14-year-old, averaging about 280-290 yards per drive with the slightest of fades. You watch him hit golf balls, and the braces on his teeth and his youthful countenance are much-needed reminders he can’t legally drive a car.
Furr is not infallible. He shot a 79 in the state high school tournament at the Hattiesburg Country Club. But here’s the deal: The next day he went to Memphis and shot 68 at much more difficult Colonial to advance to the second round of U.S. Open qualifying. With his instructor, Country Club of Jackson teaching pro Jon Howell, caddying in the final round of Open qualifying, Furr shot a 31 on the last nine. He missed qualifying for the U.S. Open by two shots. He beat many of the pros we watch on TV any given weekend.
“He shot 31 and it could have been 28,” Howell says. “It was the best nine holes of golf I’ve ever seen played. The two pros he played with were in awe.”
Golf is often described as a game of inevitable failure. The most successful golfers are those who learn how to deal with the inevitable bad shots or poor rounds and the bounce back. Young Furr has displayed that ability time and again.
Furr opened the last round of the Future Masters with a triple-bogey 7, going from two shots ahead to two shots behind on one hole. Then he gathered himself and shot one-under par over the next 17 holes to win by a shot.
He’s a smart kid. He made one B, the rest As in the eighth grade. That intelligence translates well on the golf course. He knows that more than half the game is played from 100 yards and in. He spends much of his practice time working on his short game, particularly his putting, which has improved greatly over the past few weeks and months. Currently, Howell, his coach, has him working hard at his wedge game, working to control the trajectory of his shots.
“Right now, Wilson wants to hit every shot full, and his full shots have a naturally high trajectory,” Howell said. “To play well in windy conditions, he’ll need to learn how to hit lower trajectory shots that will stay under the wind. He’ll get it. That’s the thing about Wilson, he’ll work at until he gets it right. He doesn’t mind the work.
“The difference between Wilson and most young golfers is that he’ll be out there hitting balls and working on his game when it’s 40 degrees and raining and everybody is else is inside staying warm and dry.”
His Godfather, the late, great Ole Miss and New York Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly, ol’ number 42, would surely be proud. Conerly, a most humble man, might be most proud of young Furr’s modesty.
Says Furr, “It’s like my mom says, ‘Nobody likes cocky.’”
Chunkin’ Charlie died about two years before Wilson Furr was born, but Furr has heard about the Hall of Famer all his life.
“Forty-two is my lucky number,” he says, grinning. “My tee off time the last round of the Future Masters was 10:42. I knew something good was going to happen.”