U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Funk Looks to Once Again Defy the Odds
August 9, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio
By Dave Shedloski
Fred Funk, who produced some of his best golf at an age when players used to retire, is looking for a turnaround in his recent fortunes at this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club. Unfortunately, this is not a new theme for the 2009 champion.
One of golf’s most energetic and animated players can’t seem to kick-start a game that once was one of the most consistent on both the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour Champions – at the same time.
“I come in here with the attitude that I’m going to play well from here to the end of the year,” said Funk, who turned 60 in June. “But it seems like I’ve been doing that for a few months now. Every week I say the same thing and then another week goes by. This has been by far my worst year, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t seem to get a healthy stretch.”
Indeed, Funk arrived at Scioto Monday with just one top-10 finish this year in 16 starts as nagging injuries have derailed his dependable swing. And things have only gotten more challenging the last few weeks, as he missed the cut at The Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie and then had to withdraw from last week’s 3M Championship because of muscle spasms in his back that first struck in Scotland.
“I can’t get it to settle down,” Funk said Monday afternoon as he embarked on a nine-hole practice round at Scioto. “Unfortunately, golf is one of the things that isn’t very good for it.”
Golf tends to not be good for many body parts, as Funk can attest. Knee problems have plagued him since 2008, requiring several procedures. Since then he’s also had tendinitis in both elbows, undergone thumb surgery and battled a case of vertigo. Strange for a player who for years seemed to defy the aging process.
A resident of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Funk won the 2005 Players at age 49 to become the event’s oldest champion, and he followed two years later with a victory at the Mayakoba Golf Classic on the regular Tour. Incredibly, the former University of Maryland golf coach won seven of his eight PGA Tour titles after age 45.
Still, nothing matched his performance in the 2009 U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., where he outdueled popular Greg Norman with a final-round 7-under 65 and 20-under 268 total to win by a record-tying six strokes. His 20-under total is still a record in relation to par. Ironically, Funk, one of golf’s straightest but shortest drivers, conquered what is still the longest course in Senior Open history. Crooked Stick measured 7,316 yards.
“That was a magical week. I’m not sure it ever gets much of its due,,” he said. “I was playing well and the putter was hot, and I was paired with Norman the last two rounds, and the media couldn’t get enough of what he was doing. But I just kept playing my game. It was a very satisfying win.”
He’s had several of those, most of them at an age when professional golfers see their skills deteriorate. His Senior Open record also includes three runner-up finishes, in 2008, 2012 and 2013, to go with his victory.
“I played my best golf from 45 to 54. I was very consistent with my ball striking. Tee to green I was very solid,” said Funk, who kept things very simple. “I had one swing thought in regards to getting my shoulders back, and that worked for a long time. I never varied from that. But it’s not working anymore. I shift from one thought to another all the time now. One more swing like that and I’ll shift again.”
Funk had just hit his approach into the par-4 10th hole at Scioto, and he found the bunker short and left of the green. He shook his head. His back is stiff and sore, he said. But he’s determined to play this week. He enjoys the U.S. Senior Open. He has history in the event and it suits his fairways-and-greens style of play – when he has it.
“I love to compete and I love playing,” Funk said, explaining how he remains enthusiastic. “But I also can see the end of the tunnel now, the dark side of it where I won’t be able to play anymore. I want to see how far I can keep pushing that off into the future. I feel like I can still play when I’m healthy, but I just haven’t been healthy for a while now. That is frustrating. Somehow, I have to circle the wagons.”
Hey, maybe this is the week he plays well until the end of the year.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.