Funk Continues to Impact the Game 30 Years After His First PGA Tour Victory

Fred Funk is a stalwart of the PGA and Champions Tours. Winner of the 2005 Players Championship and 3 Senior Majors, Funk has proven time and time again that you don’t need to hit the ball a county mile to compete in golf. I had the chance to speak with Fred towards the end of 2021 on a myriad of topics. Read on below about Fred’s career in golf, why he believes Q School needs to be brought back, his thoughts on the distance debate, and his budding career as a golf course designer.

Q: Where are you originally from, and how did you first become interested in golf? 

A: I was born in Maryland and raised in College Park, Maryland. My dad was about a one or two handicap in his heyday and he took me golfing when I was 10 one day- it was my stepdad. My mom remarried when I was seven, and we moved from Langley Park to College Park, and that was close to a little nine-hole golf course and the University of Maryland Golf Course. And when I went caddying for him one day when I was 10, I decided to take up the game and try it out. And I started going down to a little nine-hole course called Paint Branch. And then at 11, I started working at the University of Maryland, as a park boy and range guy and would just do any kind of thing they wanted me to do like cleaning the carts, picking up golf balls, and I was always around it. But I played all the other sports growing up, I played boys club level football and baseball and basketball and actually was on a junior golden gloves boxing team from eight-years-old until I was 16. And I did all that at the same time, but I really loved golf and I was always around it when I started working there.

Q: Do you think having that multi-sport background growing up helped you become a better athlete?

A: Yeah, I think so. I think the discipline of boxing really helped. We trained pretty hard. We had a big tournament at Andrews Air Force Base in April and we started training in October, and it was pretty hard training. And then you were sitting there getting your butt kicked every night sparring with your buddies and going the heavy bag and doing a lot of running and exercising. So yeah, it was really good. Good discipline, I thought. The other sports I didn’t get into as much. I enjoyed playing them, but I was too short for basketball and I was too little for football, and so I really fell in love with all the guys that were working at University of Maryland, where we had a little fraternity, and all my best buddies were there. So it was easy. When I went to University of Maryland, I was always around it, so we were either hitting balls or playing or working, one or the other, or going to school. So that was kind of my life back then as a kid.

Q: What did you study when you were at University of Maryland?

A: Well, I wanted to be a forestry major. I wanted to be a forest ranger or something. I wanted to be something outside, and I couldn’t get through the sciences. I actually flunked out my freshman year in 1975, fall of ’75. I came in and tried out for the golf team. I didn’t make the golf team. They kept 12 guys and I finished 13th. And then my grades were poor. So I transferred to PG Community College for two years to get my grades up. And during that time we had a really, really good team. We had all the like number one players from all the PG County schools that showed up at the same year and we were all the best players. We all knew each other. And just ironically, five of us showed up—actually six of us showed up at PG Community College that year because we were all struggling with grades. We had a great team. We went to Junior College Nationals both years and had a great time. I transferred back to University of Maryland with good grades and then I was the number one or number two player my last two years there.

Q: During your time playing in college, what would you say was your biggest highlight?

A: I can’t even think of one. I was a pretty good high school player. I was a good solid player in college, but I wasn’t anything at all special. Back when the University of Maryland was in the ACC, we had Wake Forest, which was a perennial powerhouse every year. University of North Carolina had a great team, and then Duke started getting really good. And then Clemson got really good, then Georgia Tech got a new coach and they got really good. And then my buddy got the coaching job at University of Virginia. They became really good, NC State had a good team. So we were the worst team in the ACC. I couldn’t recruit. Well back then—well wait a minute, I fast-forwarded too much. So when I was playing, all those teams were getting good. But we didn’t have the depth. We had a good team, but we didn’t have depth that those teams had. And then I can’t really think of me winning anything in college. I won a couple of smaller events, but anytime the studs were there from Wake Forest and all those teams, I couldn’t beat those guys. So I did go on to try to be a mini tour player, decided I was going to try the mini tour in 1981. And I went belly up—I was putting up all my savings that I’d made from work and a lot of my parents’ savings to go down there and play a mini tour. It was called the Space Coast Tour that was based in Orlando. I lived in Daytona, so we played the High Florida Corridor, where we played from Daytona to Tampa. And you put up a lot of money and you’re basically playing for your own money. And I did okay in the spring, I did okay in the summer, and then in the fall I didn’t do well and I spent all the money, came back and I was working manpower, in essence, in this burned-out warehouse in the middle of wintertime in D.C. and I hated that. It just was an awful and miserable day, I looked like a coal miner when I came back every day. My coach got promoted to assistant AD and he offered me a coaching job and I jumped all over that. So I did that from the very end of ’81 to ’88.

Q: How much of a transition is there from when you came out of college and started playing the mini tours? How much of a learning curve is there from being an amateur to turning pro?

A: Oh man. It’s a big difference. First of all, I went down to Florida and I didn’t know how to play in Florida. The grasses were different. A lot of wind. It was a different game down there, and being a northern guy, I didn’t know how to play on that kind of surface. So that was a learning transition. And then all the guys were really good. I mean, now all these guys from the mini tour were trying to get to the tour. And back then, they just had a qualifier, you didn’t have to go to a preliminary event or anything. And they used the mini tour to gear up to get ready for the Q School and I just realized I wasn’t near ready to go for the tour. So I went back home after I went broke and I stumbled into that coaching job. It was unbelievable timing of the whole thing.

Q: So after you coached for several years, you decided to give the PGA Tour another run. What prompted that decision?

A: Well, I had the coaching job and I was an assistant pro with the Mid-Atlantic Section there, which was basically Maryland and Virginia and a little bit of West Virginia, but mainly Maryland and Virginia—and D.C. We had a really good section and I started playing in the section and my game started getting better and better and better. In 1984, I won the National Assistant PGA Professional Championship. And then I started dominating the section with Webb Heintzelman. I was just playing really, really good golf and then I kept qualifying for the PGA Championships and the U.S. Opens and making the cuts during that time and it told me that I was a lot closer to being good enough for the Tour than I thought I was at the time. And then in ’86, I was playing the best I’ve ever played. I think I won every event I teed it up in in July and August. Then at the end of August, I was playing in a Pro-Am at Woodmont Country Club and I hit it in the trees on the 18th hole and I was trying to chip out and the club got stuck on the branch on the way down and I tore my rotator cuff. That shelved me for a couple of years. I didn’t have it operated on, but it didn’t heal very well either. So in ’87 and ’88, I was playing hurt, but in ’88, I qualified for the tour for the ’89 season through Q School and I went out there overwhelmed. I was out there and I really wasn’t 100% and lost my card. And so I basically lost my privileges to play on the tour and I had to go back to the Q School. So I went back to the Q School in ’89 for the ’90 season and I got it back and I never had to go back again. I’ve had my card ever since. So it was a long progression of maturation, I guess—maturing as a person and maturing as a golfer. And getting out on tour and then it was a long time, probably until ’95 or ’96, after qualifying in ’89, for the first time that I really felt comfortable out there on the tour, or I felt like I belonged. So it took a long time. I was almost 40-years-old by the time I started feeling like I belonged and then from age 40—I’d have to look up the records but the way I remember from 43 and 44 to 52, I played some really high-level golf. And that’s when I had my most wins and I played on the Ryder Cup and two Presidents Cup teams and won when I was a 50-years-old on a regular tour and finished in the top 30 almost every year on the money list. It was something that was unusual, usually guys that age are aging and not playing their best golf. But I think the difference with me was I got on tour when I was 32, 33-years-old and I didn’t play straight out of college like a lot of the guys, so a lot of the guys had 10 years on me on the tour before I even got out. And I wasn’t burned out, I was hungry. I was really hungry to play well and was driven to see how good I could get. And then I won the Players when I was almost 49, which was for me my signature win.

Fred’s first career win at the 1992 Shell Houston Open. Photo Credit:

Q: I want to discuss a few of your wins now. You won your first tournament in ‘92. What’s it like when you’re in the hunt looking for that first career win?

A: Well, that year was really an odd year, or at the very least an odd win, because I’d had a horrible West Coast Swing, which was the way we started our year, out on the West Coast. I missed almost every cut. Next was the Florida Swing, I almost missed every cut. I don’t really recall whether I even made any of those cuts. I wasn’t playing good golf. And then I missed the cut in Hilton Head, which is a good golf course for me, and then I pulled out of Greensboro and I went to Houston with my tail between my legs and just felt like, you know, I don’t know whether I’m going to make it or not. I was thinking this is going to be my last year playing on the tour. For whatever reason, my game was in the shithouse and I went into Houston, where I’ve gotten through two Q Schools and I’m very comfortable and love that golf course and I just lowered all my expectations and I just went out there and I played golf and I don’t remember the order, but I was -4 after 2 rounds and made the cut. I think I shot 68/72 or vice versa. I go out on Saturday and shoot 62, which is still the course record, 10 under on the whole course. And I had the lead and I held on for a two-shot win over Kirk Triplett on Sunday and that was pretty nerve-wracking. I was so nervous before I teed off, and once I teed off, I was okay until the last hole, and then I wasn’t so okay. I almost had a six iron in the water. And I got lucky there and it stayed up and I got up and down to win by two. So I went from being about as low as you can get to winning my first event, which was really strange.

Q: Yeah, it’s quite unexpected when you’re in a slump and all of a sudden, everything just clicks and everything’s perfect.

A: Yeah, I think what happened was I just stopped trying so hard. I was working so hard. I was trying to be perfect and trying to figure out what was wrong. Then I just decided, let’s go back to fundamentals and let’s play the game for the reason you play the game—because you love it. So I ended up doing that and it turned out and it worked out, but I still thought that that was a fluke. And I wanted to prove it wasn’t a fluke. So winning my second event was a big goal, to prove that I wasn’t a one-time wonder. And I think in ’93, the next year I won twice and I started feeling more and more comfortable with myself and started playing pretty good golf from there on.

Fred Funk after winning the 2005 Players Championship. Photo Credit:

Q: Your win at the Players Championship. Walk me through that week. Were you playing well coming into that week? What were you experiencing?

A: Well I was living in Ponte Vedra at the time. I had moved there in ’91, so it was sort of my home course, not that I played it that often, but I practiced there all the time. But yeah, I went there and I played that course pretty well over the years. I had a lot of top 20s, a couple top 10s, the way I remember it anyway. And I went in that week and it was just one of those weird weeks, weather-wise, for everybody. We had so much rain that we only played 40 holes in four days. So we’re on and off and on and off the golf course Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And I had 32 holes to play on Monday when we restarted, so we’re still on my fifth hole in the third round on Monday. That’s how little golf we got in. And we woke up to 30 plus mile an hour winds, bright and sunny day. The rough is super deep because nobody could get a mower out there all week. And I ended up I think I shot 65/72 And then shot 71 to finish that round in that wind and the leaders were everywhere because we didn’t re-pair. So I was playing with Adam Scott, who won the year before and Vaughn Taylor and we were—leaders could be playing five holes away from me on the other side of the golf course just because we didn’t re-pair. And I was just concentrating on what I was doing and I told my caddie that, it was during the seventh hole, and I was two or three back and I said, “You know if I can make a few birdies and get myself back in this thing.” And then I was a little bit behind and then I went on a birdie run. I told my caddie if I could make a few birdies and get in this thing and my caddie said it would be a good time to start. I ended up making a 30-footer there and about a 40-footer on the next hole, and I think I birdied five of the next seven holes and let’s see 7, 8, 9, and 11, 12 and 13. Yeah, five to seven holes I think, and I didn’t want to look at the leaderboard now. I knew I was doing well. I was probably leading. I didn’t want to see it, and usually I do want to watch it. And by accident, I saw on 14 that I had a three-shot lead and I went, “Shit.” And he says, “What?” I said, “I just saw the board, I got a three-shot lead.” He said, “Oh, that’s great!” I said, “No, now it’s my tournament to lose”. Well, I had taken a negative thinking and I had a really difficult putt, and I three-putted 14 and I hit a bad shot into 15 on the front of the green; I had about an 80-footer and three-putted. I had a 20-footer for an eagle on 16 and I missed it for eagle, but made birdie. I go to 17 and there’s three groups on the tee, another one on the green. And then we walk up and I watched two of the three hit it in the water three groups ahead, two of the three hit it in the water two groups ahead. And Adam and Vaughn hit it in the water. And now I’m up and I’m like, “Shit, how do you get it on this green?” And the wind’s blowing so hard and I got it on the green and I almost had a great shot, it almost rolled down to where the hole was, down on that right pin, but it stayed up and I ran it by about six feet and I missed it. I go to 18, I hit probably the best tee shot under any circumstance I’ve ever hit in my life and hit a six-iron. Plugged it just a little bit and it almost buried in the bunker to the left of the pin. I actually thought I hit it in water. I forgot that bunker was over there. And then I blasted out of the bunker and I left it about five feet short. And I made that to not win the tournament at that time because Scott Verplank and—Lehman was finished, Tom Lehman was done, so I got him by one and I’m the leader in the clubhouse. And then if Luke Donald and Verplank don’t birdie 18, I win the tournament. So it was unlikely they were going to birdie. Scotty drove it in the right rough, so he was done. Luke hit it just over the back edge of the green, but it was a pretty easy chip and he almost made it, and I ended up winning the tournament. So that was huge. It was such a huge win, being the local guy there. I moved there like I said in ’91 and that was 2005. So to actually pull it off coming down the stretch, with all the stuff I was going through, to have a three shot lead under those conditions was like, wow. I couldn’t believe I did that, but I almost blew it. But I didn’t. 

Video featuring Fred’s putt to win the 2005 Players Championship:

Q: I couldn’t imagine playing with that much riding on a single shot. I play golf in my spare time and I suck. I get nervous hitting a three-footer for, like, five bucks. I couldn’t imagine putting for millions of dollars.

A: Well, I got over that putt and I’m reading it and I went to my caddie—and I’m reading it dead straight. I hate dead straight putts because you can’t play the whole hole. If it has a little left to right or a little right to left, you can play and use the whole hole, play inside the edges. But dead straight you’ve got to play right down the middle and hopefully you don’t pull it, you don’t have the whole hole to work with. So I was reading it dead straight and I go to my caddie Mark and I say, “Mark, what we got?” He goes, “Dead straight.” I go, “God, I hate dead straight.” And he goes, “What are you talking about?” I say, “I don’t have a, you know, it’s got to have a little break. If you have a little break, it’s easier to make a little bit,” and he said, “It’s dead straight.” I’m like, okay, okay. So, because I just three-putted three of the four holes coming in, and I hit such a bad putt on 17; I just dead pulled the second putt when I went six feet by on the first one. So I just stepped over the putt on 18 and said you’ve just got to put the best stroke you’ve got on it and you can live with yourself if you miss it. But if you just put a weak stroke on it and you miss it and you end up losing this thing, you’ll never forgive yourself. So I put more pressure on myself, but I said just put as good a stroke that you can on it and see what happens. And the minute I hit it, I knew I made it and I slammed my putter, or slammed my hat into the ground and I was just so excited. My caddie actually gave me a hug and he says, “Hey, great, but we haven’t won it yet,” or, “We’re not done yet.” I said, “This is finished for me. I’m done for me.” Knowing that Verplank and those guys were still coming in. But anyway, it was pretty exciting. It was awesome.

Funk after winning the inaugural Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya-Cancun in 2007. Photo Credit:

Q: I also want to talk about your win at the Mayakoba after you turned 50. Walk me through that week. What was you experience like?

A: Well, that was the first tournament where the tour went to Mexico. So first time we ever had an event in Mexico. The Mayakoba Resort was just a beautiful place and the golf course was a Greg Norman design, which normally I’m not a big fan of Greg Norman courses, but he did a great job on this golf course. And it was very unique with the—I forget what they call those water features they have there, it’s a certain Mexican name—but it is really, really pretty. They have paspalum grass and I wasn’t that familiar with paspalum grass at that time, which is saltwater grass and it’s wall to wall. So its tees, fairways, rocks, greens—everything’s the same grass, and they just mow it different heights. And I didn’t know what the heck to expect. I couldn’t read the greens. It looked like there was grain, but there really wasn’t much grain. I learned you just read the slope. And they weren’t super fast greens either. And I think I shot a 62 in the first round and obviously had a hell of a start and held on. I think I made about a 15-footer for par, maybe 20-footer for par on the last hole in regulation to go to a playoff against José Cóceres. We tied our first hole, then went to number 10 for our second hole, which is a really hard par three with water—the pin’s tucked right next to the water on the right side in the back. And to even go for that pin is insane. And I actually hit it right at the pin in between the pin and the water, that’s about six feet. I made that to win the tournament at 50, so that was pretty cool. That was my last win on tour, unfortunately, but it was a really neat place and I went back there every year for quite a few years. And then they changed the date from a spring date to a fall date, which totally changed the golf course and the course ended up being really dry. Or maybe it was always drying in the spring, and it was soaking wet every time we went in the fall. And I didn’t play that good when I was playing that kind of game. So when playing firm and fast, it was always imperative to hit the fairways. And when it was firm and fast, it would roll into trouble and when it’s wet, the fairways are playing a lot bigger than they play when they’re firm and fast. So it ended up being a long hitter’s paradise when it was playing long.

Q: You were 50 when you won the Mayakoba and you had recently began to play on the Champions Tour. What are some of the major differences between the PGA Tour versus Champions Tour?

A: The biggest difference is three rounds except for the majors, three rounds versus four rounds feels like a sprint. You play your first round, you only have two left and you feel like any bad stretch really is hard to come back from with only 54 holes. I’ve always liked 72 hole tournaments better, but you’ve got to just put the pedal to the metal right out of the gate and you’ve got to go low. Even back when I turned 50, we had a lot of really good players and they just keep aging up. You get your new breed as the year progresses. There’s always a new guy coming along, and they’re hungry to play good and it’s even more so now. But probably the biggest difference is three rounds versus four.

Fred after winning the 2009 U.S. Senior Open. Photo Credit:

Q: You’ve won nine times in Champions Tour so far, three of which were majors. What does it feel like winning a senior major; does it carry the same feeling as if you won a major on the PGA Tour?

A: It did to me when I won the U.S. Senior Open. That was a big one. I was paired with Greg Norman on Saturday and Sunday at Crooked Stick and it was just the two of us playing. I was playing really good all week and we were both shooting pretty low because the golf course was playing firm and fast and the greens were holding. So it wasn’t playing that long, but it was still a really hard course. And I separated myself from the field on the front nine of the last round. I shot like 32 or something, I’d have to look. I got some separation and then I ended up getting to 20 under, which is the all-time, to this day, still the all-time lowest 72-hole score in USGA history in any USGA event—big tour, senior tour, amateur, doesn’t matter. So I’m really proud of that. I ended up winning by six. I beat Norman I think by eight and going head to head when everybody’s talking about Greg Norman this, Greg Norman that, and I was The Little Engine That Could, I ended up beating him. And I felt really good. That was probably one of my most satisfying wins. I let a quite a few majors go. I think the year before I won that one, I handed Eduardo Romero the U.S. Senior Open at Broadmoor. I had a three-shot lead and I hit a three-wood and—that’s a long story, but I ended up making triple bogey and giving that one away. And I think there was—I think I finished second in four U.S. Senior Opens to go along with the one win. So I had a quite a few chances at that event.

Q: What were your favorite stops on the PGA Tour and on the Champions Tour, and what are your favorite tournaments?

A: Well that’s funny, because two of them are ones we play on both tours. So Pebble Beach I like because we play The First Tee event on the Champions Tour and it’s a great event on the PGA Tour. The other would be the Houston Open. The Shell Houston Open moved out of out of The Woodlands and then the Champions Tour came into The Woodlands, so I always loved that tournament. And Endicott, the B.C. Open turned into the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open up in Endicott, New York and I always loved that course. And I stay with a family there and in Houston—we’ve become really close. So a lot of the venues are ones that we played on the PGA Tour that are still my favorites on the Champions Tour.

Q: How has the aspect of travel changed since you first began playing professionally?

A: Well, I had a stretch for about seven years that I had a private plane, a Lear 31 that I shared with Dave Pelz and another guy that ran the program. Jeff Sluman had a share of a separate one and so did John Huston. So we kind of piggybacked on each other a little bit. And that made travel easy other than paying for it. It was expensive. But traveling, other than when we had the private plane, was my least favorite thing to do. Airports are a pain in the ass, and hotel rooms get old. Eating out all the time, that gets old. So the one good thing was my wife homeschooled my kids and they all were with me probably 90% of the time. I didn’t have to deal with missing them. They were on the road with me because my wife sacrificed herself with homeschooling.

Q: What’s an average week like on tour? Let’s say you’re playing in a tournament. How do you prepare for that over the course of a week?

A: Back in the day, we used to have a lot of Monday Pro-Ams. I’d play a Monday Pro-Am and a lot of times, it would be in a different city. And you’d make a little extra money from those and then fly back in and play a practice round on Tuesday. You’re usually in the Wednesday Pro-Ams on the regular tour. So you play the Wednesday Pro-Am and then you’re teed up on Thursday. Hopefully you make the cut. And you’re there through Sunday. You start all over again and do it again the next week.

Q: Now when you show up for a tournament, do you ever do any sightseeing or anything when you’re in town or is it just strictly business from when you arrive to when you leave?

A: I find that there’s very little sightseeing, but I get to every now and then. I know when I went to Seattle, I went hiking every day, early on. There’s trails everywhere up in those mountains. That’s a pretty area. You have Mount Rainier and places like that. But as far as sightseeing, unless there was something really special to go see, we didn’t really go very often. So no, we just kind of hung together and tried to find quick places to eat all the time. We didn’t want restaurants that would take forever when we would get dinner. So it was pretty simple. We didn’t really do that much. There usually wasn’t much excitement to see in a lot of the cities. There weren’t that many exciting things to do, and to me, that wasn’t a big deal. In San Francisco, back when San Francisco was really a nice place to walk around, we went there a couple times. Vancouver was gorgeous. Yeah, we went up to Whistler, we went on a plane trip, a seaplane trip to Sonora Resort. That was phenomenal. So that was really special. That was probably one of the most special trips we ever went to was Sonora Resort. Oh, and D.C. My wife’s dad, Bill Archer, was in Congress then and we went to the White House and we went when Bush 43 was President and went to his birthday party two years in a row, the last two years that he was in the White House during the Fourth of July, which was cool. We didn’t do that everywhere. It was just certain cities.

Q: What’s your average range session like when you show up at the range to practice? What’s your routine?

A: Back in the day, I liked playing a lot. But I say that I hit a lot of balls. I don’t know how many I hit. People say they hit 1,000 a day—I say that’s bullshit. 1,000 balls is a lot balls. I hit a couple hundred, maybe 300 balls, counting chips and putts and going out and playing it was probably 300 a day. But on the road, when my son Taylor was about nine years old, we never really pushed him into golf. With my wife homeschooling, the kids were always with me and Taylor finally showed some interest. So we would go to another golf course. I’d played a practice round and we’d go and leave and play another golf course with Taylor and on the Pro-Am day do the same thing. And so we were playing, I should say I was playing probably 9 or 10 rounds a week, counting all the rounds, practice rounds in the tournament and then playing two or three with my son. And that got to be really fun because that’s what I really enjoyed doing. I’d rather practice on the golf course than practice on the range. And the irony of that was that’s when I started playing really good. So that was, you know, if I look back on that, that probably was the biggest change. Instead of grinding on the range and working on things and changing things and thinking you’ve got it, I was going out on the golf course and trying to shoot scores. I remember one time I went to Jackson, Mississippi. We were playing Reunion Golf and Country Club, a course next door to Annandale, and I think I shot 83 with Taylor and my caddie. It was really windy, the greens were lightning fast and firm and I just had a horrible time. So I went Wednesday and played the Wednesday Pro-Am on the course and went over to Reunion wanting revenge and I shot 65, and I ended up winning the tournament that year. So I went from 83 to 65 to winning the tournament. So it worked. It worked out pretty good.

Q: How do you physically prepare for tournaments? Do you do any gym exercises?

A: Yeah, I was always in the workout truck and I’d do stuff. Early in my career, I used to run a lot. My running days are over. But yeah, I always tried to be in decent shape. I was never rock solid. I liked Blue Bell ice cream too much. But yeah, I was one that would work out quite a lot and try to get a little better. I didn’t work on the right things back then. I was just trying to do my own little things and it really wasn’t functional training like they do nowadays, or specific to golf and things like that. I was just trying to get stronger everywhere and try to have my golf swing work from there.

Q: We discussed the physical side, but how do you stay in shape mentally for tournaments?

A: I was really up and down with that. I was either really good or really down, so it was kind of in the middle. My wife works with me a lot on that. I saw different sports psychologists through years; Bob Rotella and Lanny Bassham—he was really good. He’s the Olympic rifle shooter. And David Cook. So those three, they’re really good. They all have different ideas, ideologies of how to get your mind focused and how to play. But the bottom line, it comes down to you and trust in what you’re doing and trying to figure it out. So I remember when I won at Crooked Stick, I was on the putting green and I was really struggling putting and I probably putted for two hours or more. I remember this and Jim Hiskey came out and we were just talking he said, “What are you working on?” And I said, “I’m just trying to find it. I’m not working on anything. I’m just trying to find it. I’ve really been struggling.” And I walked off the green, and when I finished and I had not figured anything out, I just spent most of that last hour just talking. And then the next morning on the putting green, something clicked. I don’t remember what it was, but something clicked and I putted so well that week. It was amazing. And to this day, I don’t know what it was, but I was just so comfortable over my putter. And that’s when I shot the 20-under, so it was a pretty special week.

Q: What sort of advice would you give amateur golfers who are looking to break 100 for the first time? What would you tell them to focus on?

A: Short game, be a better putter, a little better chipper. To get to 100, you can knock 10 shots off your score in a heartbeat if you just work on that part of your game. The better you get, the harder it is to improve and knock shots off, but 100 shooters could be 90 bogey shooters pretty quick, I think, if they have any kind of control at all of their golf ball. 

Q: Do you have a particular drill you would recommend them to practice? 

A; No, because most of the time, people that shoot in the hundreds, they never spend any time on the short game at all, period. They just go to the range and they hit balls and they have no idea what they’re doing there and then they have no idea how to chip and how to get up and down. So they’re usually pretty pitiful both on and around the greens. So they have got to spend time doing it, but they just don’t want to do that. They want to go hit a ball and when they see that one out of however many that they hit actually gets airborne and that drives them to get the next one airborne, but they don’t do it very often. 

Q: Let’s say you were made the Commissioner of the PGA Tour. You can do anything you want, make any changes to any area of the tour. What would you do on your first day? 

A: Wow, that’s a hell of a question. Golly. I’d like to take care of the young kids. Since they’ve developed the Korn Ferry Tour, it’s pretty much your only path to get to the PGA Tour. And back in my day, they had a Q School and you could go straight to the Tour through it. You wouldn’t have to spend a year or however long it would take you to get out on the PGA Tour through the Korn Ferry Tour. And these kids are going out there with the same expenses as the guys on the regular tour and they’re not making any money. Finally this year, they jacked the purses up enough on the Korn Ferry Tour. I think that they can do a little bit better and cover caddie fees and other costs so they can eat. Obviously, it’s always been said that it’s not meant for people to have a career out there. But the guys are spending a lot of money and if you’re finishing outside of the top 15, you’re not making enough money to even cover your weekly expenses. And that may change a little bit now. But they’re not really taking care of them. They’re starting to see it, I think, finally, but I would actually get rid of that tour. I would go back to the old school way so that there’s a Qualifying School to get to the tour. And if you don’t make that, then you would play the Korn Ferry Tour and get your feet wet with that and go to the Q school. Because there are a lot of kids coming off—not even kids, you’ve got guys on the PGA Tour that lose their playing privileges and have to drop down to the Korn Ferry Tour. They may never get back. It’s so difficult to get back through that Korn Ferry Tour. So whether that’s good or bad, in my opinion, it’s bad and that’s what I would change. I’d go back to the old way to get back on the tour, and you play the Korn Ferry Tour and all the other qualifiers or all the other mini tours or Canada or Latin America or Europe or whatever. It just gets you your experience and then you go to the Q School. Or you have a situation where you do both. You have access through the Korn Ferry Tour, X amount of guys coming out of the Korn Ferry Tour would get out and X amount of guys come out of the Q School. It shouldn’t be just the one way out, in my opinion. So that’s what I would change. I would change the 125 too. I would probably drop the 125 to 100, maybe even down to 90 guys, and you’re playing for more qualifying spots. And it would free up that. That 125 number was thrown out there by Gary McCord a long, long time ago and I think another guy that Gary was talking to, I forget who that was, back when it was the top 60 that was the key number on the money list on the regular tour. And if you finish out of that, you didn’t have full privileges. And they said, “Well, let’s just change that number.” So they changed it to 125, it was just an arbitrary number. “Yeah, that sounds good. 125’s good.” And it’s been that number ever since. Well, I think they could drop that down to 90 and do a combination of the Korn Ferry Tour and Qualifying School for golfers to make the PGA Tour. 

Q: In your own personal experience, how big of an issue is slow play on tour?

A: I think it’s BS they’re even talking about it. You know who the slow players are, and you could talk to them. And they know who they are. But you’re talking about 10 or 15 minutes difference. And it’s more that slow play is involved with how the golf course set up is. So nowadays, it’s become a little more of an issue because these guys are hitting it so far. They’re all reaching the par fives. So these par fives are backing up everybody. So it’s surrounding the golf course and the way golf courses are playing and the length, the size we’re hitting it. It makes it a little more of an issue, but you’re talking 10 or 15 minutes. These guys are playing for a lot of money. It’s not going to change. It’s more the way the golf course is set up. If they’re reaching a par five, everybody’s waiting to get on. That backs everybody up. And that’s a whole different issue with how far the golf ball’s going. 

Q: That brings me into my next area of discussion. Everyone’s talking about distance and that we’ve got to roll back the golf ball, we’ve got to roll back certain clubs, do this to courses to make them harder. Is it as bad as the USGA and all the upper brass are making this out to be? Is it that big of an issue? 

A: Yeah, I think it has. I think the golf ball is going a little too far. The easiest club in the bag to hit is the driver. If you go back to the days when I grew up, the driver was a small wooden head with a steel shaft 43-inches long with a ball that spun a lot. For now you’ve got drivers that are say 46 inches, 45 inches. Super light shafts, big heads, very forgiving, by far the easiest, most forgiving club in the bag to hit with a golf ball that’s made to just fly like crazy if you have the speed to get it up there. So you’ve got a lot of components of what is happening with the equipment that has allowed these kids to swing out of their shoes and train to just hit it a long way, which has totally changed the game of golf to the point where—my son is trying to get out on tour and he’s like McIlroy long. So when I go play with him, he’s 70 yards by me in the air, you know, he’s flying it 320 yards and never hits more than an eight iron into a par four. He reaches every par five in two, and that’s what these guys are doing. It’s not that hard of a game when you’re not hitting five and six irons. They’re hitting their five and six irons into par fives. So it’s a lot easier if you’re hitting eight iron, nine irons, and wedges into all these par fours. You can hit it in the rough and still get it around the green and in for par. So it’s not the same game. I don’t care what everybody says. I actually think the talent level is amazing. But if you took these kids and they had to hit four irons and three irons and five irons into par fours again, it’d be a different animal. 

Q: What do you think would be the best way to combat this? Should they roll back the golf ball? Should there be more restrictions?

A: I don’t know what they can do. Not being an engineer of a golf ball, the only thing I’d say is if you add a dimple pattern or whatever you had to do to add spin to the golf ball, that would be one thing and then just minimize the size of the driver heads and get them down to where you’ve got to be somewhat accurate now. I mean, they’re hitting three woods off the fairway now and they’re flying from 280 yards to 300 yards off the fairways. So I don’t want to ever penalize somebody because they’re long. I think it’s fantastic. Everybody likes to see the long ball, but it’s gotten to the point where they take the one aspect of the game, and that’s the driver, and made it the easiest club in the bag to hit. And they’re all hitting it long, even the little guys. They hit it 290 yards in the air and that’s a long way. So there’s hardly any golf course that can defend that. The only way you can defend that is to make the golf course really quirky and stupid. Like, ridiculously narrow fairways and ridiculously high rough and super-fast greens if you can get them that way. And then it becomes goofy golf. It’s not real golf. So the game is not what it was. And I think they opened Pandora’s Box and it’s hard to put it back in.

Wendy’s Three Tour Challenge logo. Photo Credit:

Q: Several years back, there used to be an event called the Wendy’s Three Tour Challenge. You had the PGA, the LPGA, and Champions Tours represented. Do you think there should be more crossover events between the different tours?

A: Yeah, I love those. Those were some of the silly season events. We had the Skills Challenge, then we had the mixed team event, the JCPenney back in the day at Innisbrook with the LPGA and PGA Tours. The Wendy’s Three Tour Challenge was fun. Anything that would bring a little variety would be fun. But you almost have to do that in the silly season. It’s hard to do that when it counts for FedEx Cup points or World Ranking points. You’ve got to separate them from those events because you can’t really have both.

Topgolf logo. Photo Credit:

Q: So there are several programs in place like The First Tee to help continue to grow the game. What do you think is the best approach to introducing young people into the sport? 

A: I think Topgolf is one of the best growing of the game ideas there is in the world. It’s incredible. You can get people that never even think of playing golf or going to a golf course and they go to Topgolf and they have a blast. So I think that’s really good. More opportunities for them to do that. I think you couldn’t have enough Topgolfs out there. I think they’re super, or any model of that. It’s easy. It’s like going bowling. You have your bars, you have your music, you have pool tables and all the other activities and then you have the golf. And you just get people out there swinging a club and they go, “Hey, this is pretty cool.” 

Q: Are there any new venues you’d like to see added to either the PGA or Champions Tour schedules?

A: Well, the Champions Tour is going to add a Ryder Cup format with the rest of the world facing off against the U.S. I believe it’s happening this year and Ernie Els and Jim Furyk are the captains. So that’ll be pretty cool for the Champions Tour. And then we need to get our team event back. So I think that’ll be cool.

Q: What are your thoughts on the proposed Saudi Golf League? Like, if you’re a top 20 player in the world, can you realistically go and try to play both the new league and the PGA Tour? 

A: Well, Monahan already said with the Saudi and that Premier League thing that if you leave, you’re off the tour. And that’s pretty intimidating when they say that. I’m not sure what differences there are with the league Greg Norman is doing. I read a little bit about it last night, but I still don’t get what he’s trying to do and how he can pull it off. So we’ll see because if it does anything to try to draw the best players away from the big tour, Monahan has to protect this product and say, “Okay, you go over there, then you’re done over here.” So a lot of guys aren’t going to give up that. But if you have a Premier League with Saudi money, and you can guarantee these guys $50 million a year by just showing up to a few events that really don’t mean anything, or $100 million, you know, whatever they’re going to be paying these guys. It’d be hard to say no. But then again, you’re not going to get the guys that are playing for history and playing for how many majors they can they win and tournament titles. So, it’s a fine balance. I don’t know how he’s going to do it. 

Q: You mentioned earlier that you played in both the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup. What are the major differences between the two? Do they both carry the same amount of prominence?

A: No, I don’t think the Presidents Cup will ever catch the Ryder Cup because the Ryder Cup has so much history. So that’s the only difference. You actually look at the teams head to head against the Ryder Cup team, European team or the Presidents Cup World Team, it always looks like the world team looks stronger than the Ryder Cup teams. But the Presidents Cup, they’re having a hard time winning any and now we just won the Ryder Cup finally for the first time in awhile. They’ve had our number for awhile. But history-wise, you’ll never catch that history.

Q: Have you ever had a hole-in-one?

A: Yeah, I’ve had about 18 at least. I’ve lost track. 

Q: When you’re not playing golf, what do you like to do in your spare time to unwind?

A: Well, I used to like exercise, but I’ve been really fighting a bad back for four or five years now and it’s limited what I can do. I used to work out and hang out with the kids and water ski and snow ski, but I’m pretty sedentary now, unfortunately. Trying to do as much as I can. My game, I can’t even play golf now very easily. That’s depressing.

Q: In terms of pop culture, what kind of music do you like to listen to? What sort of TV shows are you into? 

A: Now I like dramas like The Blacklist and shows like that. I can’t wait for the new Top Gun movie to come out. The Top Gun movie, the first one, besides all the aerial stuff, the music was so good too. I’m into the old time rock and roll and the current top 40. And I like country music. Modern country music, not the old bluegrass stuff. 

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Q: Who are some of your favorite musicians right now? Who you listening to the most? 

A: Well, geez, I can’t remember the names of all these guys. But back in the day, it was Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I love Bob Seger. Bob Seger’s probably my favorite just to listen to. And then Vince Gill and George Strait and all of those guys.

Caddyshack movie poster: Photo Credit:

Q: Favorite golf movie?

A: I thought Tin Cup was really good until the very end. Probably the best, but when he kept filling the lake up with golf balls, that was a little far-fetched. They lost me at that point. Nobody in their right mind is going to keep hitting shots into that green and do what he was doing. Caddyshack is by far the best golf movie though. The original Caddyshack was by far the best, no question.

Q: What do you think the strongest area of your golf game is currently?

A: I don’t have one right now. {Laughter}

Q: Okay, when you were playing, what do you think your best area was?

A: Oh, I was always really accurate and a good driver of the golf ball. So I’d say the driver. And I was a streaky putter but I could be pretty good at putting when I got on. So, driver and putter. Sand game was pretty good too. 

Fred Funk and his son Taylor celebrating after Fred made the cut in the 2020 Bermuda Championship. Photo Credit:

Q: So in 2020, you made the cut at the Bermuda Championship at 64-years-old. You and your son were playing in it together. Walk me through that week.

A: Well, I was I was hurting; my back was killing me. And I was playing because it was so cool to play a tour event—I always dreamed of playing a tour event with my son. And the year before we played in Bermuda, we both missed the cut. And I was just there hoping he was going to make the cut. But we weren’t paired together. And that week we were paired together the first two rounds, which was really exciting. And I was rooting for my son big time to make the cut, and I really didn’t care whether I made the cut or not. But my competitiveness came out, so I was trying my best. And the second day on Friday, it was blowing really hard. It was blowing 30-40 miles an hour and the course was almost impossible for me. And I gutted it out. I ended up making the cut. My son missed, but yeah. That was pretty cool to make the cut at that age. And they said, “Well, you know, you just tied three guys” and I go, “Who’s that?” And I think they said Snead, Watson, and Nicklaus. Never heard of them. {Laughter} But that was pretty cool that they did it at that age and I did that with that kind of company. So yeah, that was fun. 

Q: Now you’ve always sort of been a shorter hitter compared to a lot of the other guys out there on tour. How do you focus on your own game when you see guys that are out driving you by 40 or 50 yards on their drives? How do you stay in your own game and not try to match them?

A: Well, I didn’t have an option, I had to. My whole game is ball control. And my dispersion was a lot tighter, so my misses were not that bad. I could keep the ball in the fairway, which was my goal, and then hit a lot of greens or be around the greens and then hope my short game was not that weak. So I just had to play a long game.

Q: Did you ever play with Tiger on tour? 

A: Yeah, quite a few times. You’ll never see another one. He’s the best of all time.

Q: Do you think he’s going to bounce back from this most recent injury? 

A: I have no idea. Everybody’s in the dark on this one. So I have no idea what he’s like. I did play with a doctor that knew the doctor and said that if it wasn’t Tiger, they would’ve amputated the leg, that’s how bad it was. And now this is all hearsay, I’m just going about what I was told, that he’ll be lucky to not walk with a cane the rest of his life. So we’ll see. Although, if there’s one guy that would come back from this, it would be that guy. 

Q: Who do you think is the best player on the PGA Tour right now? 

A: There’s a whole handful of now. Obviously Jon Rahm is really, really good and Bryson DeChambeau is really, really good and Rory McIlroy and I love Xander Schauffele. Collin Morikawa is having a hell of a start to his career, and I think Victor Hovland is the real deal. I thought that before he won at Mayakoba, but that kid, he’s pretty special. Jordan Spieth, I love watching him play. So you’ve got a handful guys, I just don’t think you’re going to find a guy separating himself from the field like Tiger did. It’s too hard to do. 

Q: The same question again, but this time the Champions Tour. Who do you think’s the best player out there right now?

A: Still Bernhard Langer. Bernhard is ridiculous, the most consistent golfer of all time. I mean, he was consistent his whole life, but what he’s done on the Champions Tour at age 64, from 50 to 64, is just remarkable.

Q: So let’s say you step away from playing the game in a couple years. Would you still be a part of the sport? Would you like to be an instructor, or have you ever given any thought to like what you would do after you step away? 

A: Well, I designed my first golf course, we just finished seeding it in Colorado. I’ve been doing that for the last 15 months and it’s been phenomenal, so much fun. So I would love to get into golf course re-design or design, and that would be a ball to do that. So when my golf course opens in July 2022, I think we’re going to get rave reviews. We had an incredible piece of land to work with and I think we did a great job. It’s called RainDance National and it’s located in Windsor, Colorado. Course designing is such a fun thing to do. It’s amazing. I also represent Discovery Land Company in Austin, TX, and the Driftwood Golf and Ranch Club.

Q: What goals have you set yourself for 2022, whether it be playing-wise, career-wise or just in general?

A: I’m really hoping I can get rid of this nerve pain and I can practice and give the Champions Tour another shot. I still want to try to compete. I just haven’t been able to be competitive for the last four or five years. So I’m wanting to do that. I’ve got a long way to go to get there. So we’ll see. I’m going to put—if I start getting out of the pain, I’m going to go Rocky-style. I’m going to get back in golf shape and make another run at it. I think if I’m healthy, I can do it again. Just got to get there.

Q: You still have the desire to play, but your body just isn’t quite working on its end to do that. How hard is it to balance the expectations versus the reality of that when your heart’s in it, but your body isn’t? 

A: Well, it’s hard because I know for a fact that as long as I have this that I’m fighting, I will never get that back. If I can get rid of this nerve pain, I feel like I can go full tilt again and start practicing and hitting balls and start swinging at it again. I’ve lost a lot of distance. Like you had said, I was already short to start with, and now I’m really short. So short that I can’t really compete in that way. But I’m always in pain. I got to get out of that. 

Q: What sort of advice do you have for youth golfers who are just starting to take up the game? What words of wisdom would you like to impart on them?

A: Well, I’d tell them all to go get a lesson early. Get the fundamentals down and then work on it from there. But if you just go in there and have no idea what you’re doing, you’re going to be lost. You’re going to get a lot of bad habits. You just have to go see someone that’s really good, and they can help you get started. Learn how to hold the club first. Simple as that, you’ve got to learn how to hold it first. And you’ve got to learn how to set up to it. And then you’ve got to learn how to get the body moving in the right sequence, so it’s all in the sequencing. 

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