Funk Debuts in US Senior Open

By Golf Channel NewsroomJuly 3, 2006, 4:00 pm
USGAHes exempt on the PGA TOUR until age 54, thanks to a Players Championship victory last year. But he turned 50 during the U.S. Open last month, and now he belongs to the Champions Tour, thank you very much.
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.
Fred Funk
Fred Funk's enthusiasm will make him a fan favorite on the Champions Tour.
I think its important for the guys like Nick Price, Jeff Sluman, myself to come out and play (the Champions Tour) when we turn 50, said Funk. At the same time, I still feel like I have some unfinished business out there on the PGA TOUR.
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.
Related Links:
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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”