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.
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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