Funk Cherishes Relationship with Paralyzed Teen

By Associated PressNovember 29, 2005, 5:00 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Fred Funk wore a shade of pink, the color of his eyes stained with tears.
Sitting below the stage at a PGA Tour charity luncheon was Jerry Townsend, a 19-year-old kid who means more than any trophy or cup Funk won this year. J.T. fixed his eyes on the microphone placed in front of his mouth, then slowly moved his head away from the tube that controls his wheelchair.
Tuesday was the first time he spoke publicly since an awkward hit at a high school football game last year nearly took his life, and left him paralyzed. Measuring his words, J.T. thanked everyone for support, then returned his gaze to Funk and smiled.
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    Funk, the happiest guy in golf, wiped his eyes.
    'Mr. Fred, you pulled it out,' he said. 'Pink skirt and all.'
    This has been a year like no other for the 49-year-old Funk. He became the oldest winner of The Players Championship in March, making a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a one-shot victory. He became the oldest player to qualify for the Presidents Cup, a year after becoming the oldest to qualify for the Ryder Cup.
    But for all he did, Funk now is best known as the guy who wore a pink skirt in the Skins Game.
    That was the price he paid for Annika Sorenstam hitting her tee shot seven yards past him on the third hole Saturday, a prank that brought life to the Skins Game. When he returned home to Ponte Vedra Beach, Funk dropped his car off to be cleaned and someone thought he looked familiar. Told it was Funk, the light came on.
    'Hey, that's the guy in the skirt!'
    But what Funk remembers from the Skins Game is taking home most of the money. With a birdie on the par-5 18th, he wound up with 15 skins worth $925,000 from the $1 million purse to beat Tiger Woods, Fred Couples and Sorenstam.
    It wasn't his biggest victory of the year, but it might have been the most meaningful.
    Players pick a charity of their choice for 20 percent of whatever they win, and it was a no-brainer for Funk.
    His introduction six months ago to the two-sport star at Episcopal High School made such an impression that Funk earmarked $185,000 to Builders Care, which goes toward building a new home for Townsend, and a chance at a better life. The PGA Tour recently gave $100,000 to buy a lot for the house.
    'The wins and the achievements are shallow victories compared with what you do, or what you feel, when you can help someone else, and to see the impact,' Funk said. 'It was great to win The Players Championship. It was great to be in the top 30, and be on the winning team at the Presidents Cup. But it doesn't feel nearly as good as how it felt today.'
    He felt good the first time he met J.T.
    Townsend was a two-way starter for Episcopal, a small private school in Jacksonville, and coaches felt he had a chance to get a Division I scholarship in basketball. He was playing defense against rival Bishop Kenney when he went to make a tackle and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him in critical condition.
    He managed to graduate in May, and enrolled at the University of North Florida this year. Funk only heard about the story -- he was playing a tournament that week -- and didn't think much of it until mutual friends asked if he would be willing to meet J.T. early this summer.
    Funk figured it would lift the boy's spirits, but it worked the other way.
    'It was a smoking-hot day, and they had one window air conditioner that couldn't keep up,' Funk said. 'At the time, he was still on his ventilator in his wheelchair. I remember introducing myself, and he had an infectious smile. He's such a good-looking kid. You go in there with the attitude that you're going to be the highlight of his day, and he was the highlight of my day. I walked out of there and said, 'I've got to do something for him.''
    Funk set aside $40,000 from the Presidents Cup for the J.T. Townsend Foundation, and he and Bill Kratzert have organized a charity tournament in May with hopes of raising more money for the new house.
    Townsend now is a golf fan.
    'I never played, but I'd watch once in a while to look at Tiger Woods,' he said with a grin.
    Truth is, he wasn't sure who Funk was when the seven-time PGA Tour winner walked through his door. His father told him about The Players Championship, and then J.T. remembered.
    His family huddled around the TV on Sunday during the final nine holes of the Skins Game. Funk believes he was meant to win all the money that day.
    'My worry was I'd get shut out, especially after wearing a skirt,' Funk said. 'You look back and you see all the putts that were missed. ... Tiger Woods doesn't miss all those putts. Freddie Couples doesn't lip out every time. I knocked it in the water on 17, I'm out of the hole, and they've got to tie for the skins to carry over.
    'I get to the 18th ... there's no way I should win that hole with a birdie. Incredible.'
    It was an incredible year, and Funk could not think of a better way to end it. He was the keynote speaker as The Players Championship awarded $2.5 million to local charities.
    The star this day was Townsend, who received a standing ovation when he finishing speaking. When it was over, Funk walked down to his wheelchair, wrapped his arms around his neck and kissed his brow.
    'If I had 10,000 tongues, I could not say enough thanks,' said Carmen Townsend, his mother.
    One suspects the feeling was mutual.
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    McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

    By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

    One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

    McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

    It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

    McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

    Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

    Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

    Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

    The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

    The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

    Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

    The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

    A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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    Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

    Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

    South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

    Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

    The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



    Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

    By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

    It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

    Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

    Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

    "We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

    Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

    Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

    Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.