BETHLEHEM, Pa. — He’s back in the Keystone State to defend his U.S. Senior Open crown. Manheim Township grad Jim Furyk shoots an even par round of 71 and is in the hunt once again at Saucon Valley Country Club.
The Lancaster County native draws the biggest galleries of the morning players. The number 58 is synonymous with Furyk. He’s the only player in PGA Tour history to go that low in a round. A pair of fans have the number on the backs of their T-shirts with "Furyk's Fanatics" on the front and on their baseball hats.
"He's given back so much and we just figured, hey he needs some support," explained one of the Fanatics, Tim Strausner of Shippensburg. "He actually told us that one time, he said no one really follows me anymore, we like you guys doing that so it was really nice."
"We've had our reservations at the hotel for almost a year and we bought our tickets as soon as they went on sale," added the other Fanatic, Michael Noggle of Carlisle.
As for the rest of the gallery, I asked Jim if he anticipated reconnecting with anyone from the past, perhaps as long as 15 or 20 years ago.
Furyk said no, most of the people that asked for tickets or that he expected to see he has kept in touch with but that he was surprised to see a former high school teammate, Kirby Martin, in the scoring tent after he finished.
Naturally, we tracked down the former Manheim Township Blue Streak.
"Playing with Jim was awesome," smiled Martin. "He was like the 2nd ranked junior in the country behind Phil Mickelson at the time. He walked in and I could still see Jim, the high school Jim."
The 2021 champ played in last week's U.S. Open in Brookline and is battle tested when it comes to these difficult challenges. Par is a good score when it comes to the open. He teed off on the 10th hole and finished up his first nine holes at one under par. Furyk got up and down on the tough par four 5th to stay at one under. The par five 6th sets up perfectly for the former Blue Streak. A strong drive and second shot allowed Furyk to go after a back right pin placement. His approach spun and stopped just behind the pin and he would convert the birdie putt to move to two under par. A pair of bogeys coming home at the 8th and 9th holes dropped him back to where he started at even par.
"It wasn't my best round but to get it in around 70 in a U.S. Open style never really hurts you," Furyk said.
Another local connection in the tournament is long-time Harrisburg golfer Kevin Kraft. He survived a playoff in a qualifier to get back in to the Senior Open. It was not a banner day for Kevin who shoots a nine over 80, but Kraft still appreciates the opportunity to compete at a high level.
"You can't really prepare for what you are going to see out there," admitted Kraft. "I haven't seen rough like that since last year (in the U.S. Senior Open). Omaha was rough but this is harder."
Even bigger galleries are expected on Friday with better weather and afternoon tee times for both Furyk and Kraft.