Hes Fred Funk, clown prince of golf, and though he can play exclusively now with gents who are 50 or over, he politely declines. This week, when the U.S. Senior Open unreels at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan., he will make his Champions debut. Next week, he plays in his second Champions major, the Ford Senior Players Championship, and for the moment at least, his focus is totally on the older set.
I still feel like I can finish in the top 30 and maybe make these teams (the Ryder Cup this year, the Presidents Cup next year.) Theres not a big hurry for me to get out there in one aspect, and in the other aspect Im really looking forward to getting out there and moving on. Obviously the talent is very strong out there on the Champions Tour, just not as deep.
Hes overwhelmed by the questions, hes overwhelmed by some of the forecasts. At this point, he just cant bring himself to feel like a 50-year-old golfer.
Some guys have asked me if Im going to play the Champions Tour full-time and then ask why Im not going to play full-time, he says. Some guys have said they expect me to win every tournament. Its a little overboard on some of those predictions.
Its been kind of fun, but its still hard for me to fathom that Ive gotten that old - although some times when I wake up in the morning I feel that old.
And yet, the enjoyment factor is definitely there, the progression of moving from the serious tour to the not-so-series tour.
Ive heard a lot of guys are having a lot of fun out there on the Champions Tour. I even asked (Craig) Stadler this year when I was in Hawaii - and you know how Stadler always looks gruff on the golf course, but he said he loves it, said Funk.
Its great to have the extension in our careers with the Champions Tour and being able to compete and challenge yourself. I think the biggest thing is that a lot of the guys coming out now have had great careers. These guys arent playing for the money like some of the initial players on the Champions Tour. Now its more about the competition. They just want to feel that competition and have something to practice for and to compete against.
I think thats the biggest thing because no one wants that to end in their careers. Were lucky we play a sport that youre able to play for so long. I think everyone really pinches themselves when you think about the fact that at age 50 you can start all over again.
Jay Haas knows all about Funks confusion. When Haas turned 50 in time for the 2004 season, he was still playing well on the regular tour. And Haas finished well with the youngster, earning more than $2 million and finishing 27th on the money list. However, in 2005 he was No. 151 and had learned his lesson ' he was definitely a Champions Tour player. Haas sympathizes with Funk.
Well, he's in a little bit of a position like I was as I turned 50, still fully exempt on the PGA TOUR, he said. So he's going to have a tough decision to make.
I know for me it was very difficult to leave the PGA TOUR and to focus just on the Champions Tour. Fred is obviously still playing very well and capable of winning as he won last year at the TPC. But I expect that his game - to me - is made for the Champions Tour. He's very straight, hardly ever misses a fairway out here, much less out there. His lack of length - I am also in that boat - doesn't seem to hurt us as badly on the Champions Tour as it does out here.
Funk, Haas believes, will be a dominant force when he decides to commit totally to the Champions Tour. I don't know where his head is at right now, said Haas, but he'll be 'The Man' when he shows up.
One thing is certain ' anytime Funk shows up on the Champions Tour, he is going to be a big crowd favorite. He loves the fan-friendly emphasis among the elder set.
Im really looking forward to that aspect of it, he said.
I pride myself on interacting with the crowd. Im certainly no Lee Trevino or Chi Chi Rodriguez or anything like that. I like getting them involved and when Im playing my best golf thats something Im really conscious of is trying to acknowledge the crowd after they acknowledge me. The crowd seems to appreciate the fact that you recognize they are there and they get involved. I think they appreciate the fact you realize theyre there and supporting you.
And that, realizes Funk, is the ultimate reason that golf is a professional sport.
In the big picture, he said, were entertainment. Ive been able to make a great living playing a game that I have to play. At the same time, were out there to entertain.
Its great that were out there hitting great golf shots and were scoring well but were hitting bad shots as well. Its all about how you react to that and how you react to the crowd. Its fun to get them involved, and with the Champions Tour having that as their focus, its a little better for me.