From knee surgery to foot massages, Fred Funk is doing all he can to stay on Tour

Fred Funk made six birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Sometime tonight, Fred Funk will get a foot massage — not a massage on his feet but a massage on his body from two other people's feet. They'll squeeze his muscles like a sponge, wring out the toxins and usher in healthy new blood to Funk's tender spots.

All in all, it's the most painful four-footer in golf.

"We call it mashing," said David Stiles, a flexibility therapist from Palm Desert, Calif., who watched the final nine holes of Funk's masterful 66 (six birdies, one eagle and two bogeys) at the Players Championship on Saturday. "We can get much deeper into the tissue with our feet."

Funk remains golf's Little Engine That Could. The former Maryland golf coach gave up 25 years and more yards off the tee to his playing partner John Merrick on Saturday — and beat the kid by five.

His heroics tied Phil Mickelson for the low early round and briefly elevated him onto the first page of the leaderboard. Oh, and he'll turn 54 next month.

Granted, there are some concessions to age. The physical therapy is necessitated by Funk's right knee replacement last November.

"The knee's probably 75-80 percent," Funk said. "Getting better all the time, but it was killing me on the last four or five holes."

Stiles and partner June Lohner work on Funk for an hour to 90 minutes each morning. Funk goes out and plays golf, then gets his massage at night.

"My goal was to be ready for this tournament," he said, because he loves Sawgrass; the Players is his favorite event. He loves to compete, period, but downplays his chances of taking the Champions Tour by storm. The other Fred, Couples, has it covered.

"Actually, I'm 'The Other Freddy,'" Funk said. "He's Boom-Boom. I'm Poof-Poof."

Be that as it may, Couples, exhausted, withdrew from the Players this week. Funk, the 2005 Players champion, played through and proved he still has it. This, even after getting his knee drained 18 times in 2008, leading to a staph infection. Back then, he said, "I was a cripple." Not anymore.

"There's no switch that turns off at age 50," said Peter Jacobsen, who followed Funk's third round with his characteristic enthusiasm, taking special delight in the eagle on 16 (driver, hybrid to five feet), and the par on 18 (22-foot putt). "Watson, Haas, Funk — the Champions Tour guys can still play."

Perhaps, like Watson, Funk won't peak until 59. He has played musical drivers this week, and even when he catches it perfect he gives up 30-40 yards. "Demoralizing," he calls it, but he's being facetious. He plays the game his way, and he's used to it.

More alarming was that Funk changed to "the claw" putting grip after a miserable even-par 72 Thursday. It worked just well enough to shoot 70 Friday and make the cut on the number.

Saturday, he said, "was a good day with the putter."

Mark Long, Funk's longtime caddie, predicted this run of good play, and is so bullish on his boss these days that he's a bit worried.

Long has a second career mapping out yardage books, which he sells to players and other caddies, and he'll be in Denver next week, at Colorado Golf Club, making a book for the Senior PGA, May 27-30.

One problem: Funk will be at the 50-and-over circuit's Regions Charity Classic in Birmingham, Ala. He'll have to use an alternate caddie.

"He's going to win again soon," Long said. "I'm a little worried about next week."

 

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