Questions for ... Fred Funk

Questions for … Fred Funk

"When I'm healthy and playing well, I'm a better player now than I was when I was 30 years old."
Darren Carroll/SI

How’s your game?
I’m trying to figure out my putting. It’s been my Achilles’ heel here recently. I need to get more consistent with it because you’re only as good as your putter. It’s let me down a little bit in the past. I think I’ve found the direction that I need to go. It’s not rocket science or anything. It’s just a little position with my elbow. Fundamentals.

Last year in a conversation with Tommy Armour III, I joked that the Champions Tour was a putting contest and he told me that anywhere that you play for money is a putting contest.
I would agree to some extent that on the Champions Tour that there is a greater premium on putting than the regular tour because of the course setups. But no matter where the guys are playing, the ones that you see on the leaderboard are the ones who are getting it in the hole. The bottom line is that you still got to hit them close and make the putts. It doesn’t matter what tour you’re on.

You won the Jeld-Wen Tradition last year, one of the Champions Tour majors. You’ve said that you really enjoy when the Champions Tour has four-round events. Why is that?
I feel like the odds are more in my favor over four rounds. When you’re playing well you can get some separation from the field.

Would you like to see more four-round tournaments on the Champions Tour?
No. I’m not saying that. What we have is perfect. We have the two pro-ams on Wednesday and Thursday and the three rounds with no cut over the weekend. I think it’s the perfect scenario for what we’re doing. Our formula is in a good place and at the right price point for our sponsors. I think the Champions Tour is really healthy right now. Having Freddie Couples out there is huge. There are only a few guys out there who are a really big draw. Freddie’s our icon right now.

Speaking of iconic figures, how important is it for the PGA Tour to have Tiger find good form?
I don’t think anybody can fill Tiger’s shoes. Everybody always wants to see what Tiger is doing. But he probably has created a separation in his fan base due to what he’s gone through over the last year. There are people who really follow him and want him to do well. Then he’s probably alienated another group who couldn’t care less how he plays. People are going to paying attention to him whether they love him or hate him. So I think Tiger is a huge focus point on a stage that is as little as golf. You’re always hearing “When will Tiger come back?” Yet we have all these young guys coming up like Rickie Fowler, Jhonny Vegas, Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa. When we had the period last year when Tiger wasn’t playing we had an opportunity for the world of golf to see the up and comers. And the media didn’t totally take advantage of it. We could have really gotten to know some of our young guys.

What’s your take on Tiger being fined this week for spitting on a green in Dubai?

There was somebody last year that was spitting sunflower seeds on the greens and I said, “What is this guy thinking? Somebody has to pick these things up.” Out on the tee or in the fairway, I don’t care, but on the green where the ball has to roll it’s pretty disgusting. If you’re one of the guys who has a little Skoal or Red Man in your cheeks and you’re spitting on the green that’s taboo too. There are times when you can’t help it when you have a cold or some phlegm up there. But to just spit because you’re pissed off is not right and Tiger admitted that he was wrong to do it.

One of our Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers said that he would rather Tiger spit than cuss.
Well, Tiger does both. Everybody does something. I’m a big fan of Tiger. The issue is that Tiger is always on TV for most of his round and everybody sees it when he does one thing out of line and he gets slammed for it.

Some of my colleagues believe that more of the top players in the world are on the European Tour than the PGA Tour.
The European Tour doesn’t have the depth that we have over here, but it’s pretty close and definitely a lot closer than it used to be.

In late 2008 you had a staph infection in your right knee and a year later you had knee-replacement surgery on that same knee, while playing both tours. How did you play through the pain?

My body put up a defense mode to try to protect something that was hurting. I didn’t have the strength in it and I was trying to play and run down Jay Haas during the 2008 Charles Schwab Cup. I actually caught him and passed him, but by the end of the season it was getting really bad and I just couldn’t maintain the level of play that I needed to because I was favoring my knee so much. It hurt the most on uneven lies and uphill lies, where all my weight went on to my right side. I couldn’t dig into the sand with my feet on bunker shots. But hopefully the new knee will outlive me.

You must have spent all your free time with the trainers.
We have two tractor-trailer rigs on the Tour. One is a therapy truck and one is a workout truck. If everything is going well you’re walking in the workout truck, and when things aren’t going well you’re walking in the therapy truck. I was spending all of my time in the therapy truck.

You’re fully exempt on the Champions Tour and the PGA Tour. How do you decide where to play?
I plan on playing a lot on the regular tour. I had planned to play the Northern Trust this week because Riviera is one of my all-time favorite golf courses. But my game isn’t quite where I want it to be and I have a bit of cold so I didn’t want to fly across the country. So I’m playing in Naples this week at the Ace Group Classic. But then I’m going to play four in a row on the PGA Tour.

The two tours are very different. How do you play both?
I don’t think golf knows an age. When I’m healthy and playing well, I’m a better player now than I was when I was 30 years old. Equipment has obviously helped, but it’s still a matter of getting the ball in the hole. There are golf courses on the regular tour where I can’t compete. So I have to pick and choose the events that have golf courses that suit my game.

Can you still shoot numbers on the PGA Tour?
A 68 or 69 is still a good number out there. You’re going to be right there at the end of the week if you can post that kind of number round after round. I just have to be hitting on all cylinders. More than anything it’s mental for me. I just have to get out there and relax and enjoy it. I still put a lot of pressure on myself and that actually hurts me in the big picture.

Couldn’t you relax a little after eight PGA Tour wins and six Champions Tour wins and close to $30 million in combined Tour earnings?
I still have goals. I don’t want to rest on my laurels. I still feel like I’m learning a lot about the golf game and the swing. There are so many different little facets of golf that there is always something to learn. No one plays good every week. Tiger, in his prime, was probably the only person who has done that. A bad week for him was a fifth-place finish.

How different is the regular tour from when you joined the PGA Tour in 1989?
There are better athletes in the game now. The body types have changed. There are long, lean guys who can hit the ball a long way.

What are you goals for this season?
Obviously I’d like to win the Charles Schwab Cup on the Champions Tour, but the one problem is that when you do play both tours you are diluting yourself a little. When you’re going up against someone like Bernhard Langer who is playing every week you’re losing chances to pick up points. It’s the same thing with the FedEx Cup. So you’re kind of stuck in limbo.

So why do you do it?
There have been very few people at my age who have ever been exempt on both tours. Tom Lehman has helped me with this because he’s been bouncing back and forth between tours. It’s nice to play with the young guys when you have a chance and then play with the old guys on the other weeks.