Wednesday, February 21, 2007

We want the Funk! Give us the Funk!" No, you're not at a George Clinton concert. That's the sound of a raucous PGA Tour gallery when undersized underdog Fred Funk is in the field.

How did Fred Funk, a 49-year-old who is unable to pound the requisite long drives that make fans delirious, become one of the most popular players on Tour? Passion. In a sport where the top players often resemble automatons programmed solely to hit golf balls (which admittedly isn't bad work if you can get it), Funk plays with unbridled emotion. And the fans love it.

We caught up with Grandmaster Funk to ask him what it's like to get more cheers than Tiger, what his future holds and whether he really is having that much fun out there.

With your win at the Players Championship in March, you're now exempt on the PGA Tour through 2010, when you'll be 54 years old. Can you see yourself competing on the big tour in two or three years?

I have no idea. My goal is to make the Ryder Cup team next year. After that, who knows? I really see myself making an eventual full-time switch to the Champions Tour, because I feel like I can really help their tour a lot. They need guys like me and Jay [Haas] and Peter [Jacobsen]. Guys with name recognition, but more importantly, guys who can get out there and excite the crowds. When I'm playing well, that's what I do best. I really enjoy acknowledging the crowds. And I feed off it.

A lot of pros hide that emotion and keep the crowd at arm's length. Why are you different?

When did you come up with that theory?

At Hazeltine in '02 [at the PGA Championship]. I remember playing with Tiger on Sunday, walking up 11, and hoping we had a 36-hole day because I was having so much fun. I didn't want it to end. That had never happened to me before. It's usually with Sunday pressure you can't wait to get to the house. But I couldn't wait to get to the next shot. And I really enjoyed the atmosphere of being with Tiger. You know, he brings his own circus, everybody following him, cheering for him. Well, they were cheering for me. He even said to me, "I've never had the guy I'm playing with get more cheers than me. This is pretty cool." And that was even more cool to hear him say it was cool. I can't say Tiger and I are close friends, because I don't hang around with him, but he's a great guy. And I would like to get to know him more.

One of your Funkiest moments came at that PGA. Tiger chipped in for a big par save and gave the crowd his signature fist pump. You then sunk a par putt and followed it with your own mock fist pump celebration. Did Tiger take offense to that?

Is golf a business to you, or is it more a hobby that pays extremely well?

But when you are playing well, you must pinch yourself each morning to make sure you're not dreaming.

What's your swing speed?

You weren't swinging out of your shoes?

Do you think championship setups are getting out of control in terms of length?

Pinehurst fit that definition at the U.S. Open this year, didn't it?

Tell us about your win at the 2005 Players Championship at Sawgrass.

That was the defining moment in my career. Against the strongest field we have all year, no question, including the majors. And it's on a really tough golf course. I played 32 holes [on Monday], under some really extreme conditions. Guys had to put up with that wind all day, and deal with the rough. I live there, and if you have a day like that, you don't go out and play. You're not even going to hit balls in it. So it felt really good to come out on top.

Did it mean more to win at home?

Your putt to win at 18 wasn't exactly a gimme, was it?

Are you really having as much fun as it looks?

You mean you're grinding?

It's surprising that equipment companies haven't been able to match a ball or create a ball that fits your swing speed. You don't exactly swing like an old grandma.

No, it's not slow. But what happened was, this generation of golf balls--the original Pro V1 and the original HX ball from Callaway--changed things. There were three guys over 300 [yards] and 13 guys over 290 the year before the new balls came out. The next year, it was 13 guys over 300 and 65 guys over 290. The gains were just unheard of. And you kept hearing it up and down the range from all these guys with high swing speeds. And I don't even know what the threshold is. Maybe it's 115 mph-plus. They were saying, "Yeah, I got this new ball and I picked up 15 yards in the air," or "I picked up 20 yards in the air." And I'm going, "All they did was switch balls?" So I got this ball, and I picked up like two yards.

Why didn't you see those gains?

You seem to be doing pretty well with what you got.

Did you always want to be a pro golfer?

No, no, no. I didn't. I played junior golf, but I was doing all the other sports, too. I was a good boxer. I did that for 8 years, until I was 16. But I just never got big enough. Back then, the Junior Golden Gloves [16 and under] was age and weight and then Golden Gloves was just weight. So I said, no, that's it, I'm out. I don't want to fight a Marine Corps guy who wants to kill me and really knows how. So I got out of that. But I didn't really get involved with golf until my late teens. And as far as being good enough, I was just an okay college player. Nothing great. I went broke on mini-tour in '81 after I got out of college. That was when I thought, "Naw, I don't want to do this." So I went home to Maryland, and my coach had been promoted and offered me a job as the coach, and I took it. That was the end of '81, early '82.

Did coaching allow you to play in more tournaments?

You took some flak last year for deciding to skip the British Open. Do you still think that was the right decision?

Where is the game today compared to when you first came out on Tour?

30 Second Bio

Fred Funk

  • Joined the PGA Tour in 1989 at age 32

  • 7 career wins, including the 2005 Players Championship

  • $2,536,153 in 2005 earnings, eighth on the PGA Tour money list

  • Member of 2003 and 2005 (upcoming) U.S. Presidents Cup and 2004 U.S. Ryder Cup teams

  • Seven career Driving Accuracy titles in 15 full years on Tour, including his third-straight in 2004

  • Entered the 2004 Tour Championship .10 percent ahead of Scott Verplank in Driving Accuracy and hit one more fairway than Verplank during the week to capture the title at 77.23 to 77.13 percent.

  • Loves water and snow skiing

  • One of the first Tour players to have LASIK eye surgery for 20/20 vision

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