Funk leads list of U.S. Open dreamers

By Doug FergusonJune 13, 2011, 10:28 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Fred Funk felt as if he had won the U.S. Open, his voice cracking when he tried to speak, the tears flowing moments later. He didn’t earn a trophy that day, only a tee time.

That’s how much this major championship means to him. That’s why he made the effort to go through 36 holes of qualifying when there are plenty of signs that he should sit this one out.

Funk turns 55 on Tuesday. He had knee replacement surgery more than a year ago, and now is dealing with tissue that connects the hip to the knee and is causing him great pain. That explains why he hasn’t made it to the final two rounds in any of the six PGA Tour events he has played this year, and why he only had two top-10s on the 50-and-older Champions Tour.

So why punish himself in a U.S. Open qualifier against kids half his age?

For starters, Funk grew up not far from Congressional, a course that at one time in life he could only dream of playing. He was the college golf coach at Maryland. He wound up playing his first PGA Tour event at Congressional. And this surely would have been his last chance playing in the U.S. Open before a hometown crowd.

That explains his reaction when he narrowly qualified.

“The first question I get is, ‘What does this mean to you?’ And I broke down,” Funk said. “I didn’t really expect that because I didn’t know I had that kind of feelings, or emotion, in me for that. But I think it was a combination of things – how I’ve been playing the last few months, and then making it here, my hometown.

“It meant a lot to me because it’s my hometown, and Congressional is a very special spot. It’s pretty neat.”

No other major has so many dreamers, from the 13 amateurs in the 156-man field to the 28 players who had to go through 18-hole local and 36-hole sectional qualifying. The last player to win the U.S. Open after going through both stages of qualifying was Orville Moody in 1969 in Houston.

Despite a career that features The Players Championship among his eight PGA Tour victories, Funk could fall into that category.

He is the oldest player at Congressional this week. On a course that measures 7,574 yards on the scorecard, Funk was among the shortest (albeit straightest) off the tee even when he was young. And he has nearly 10 years on the oldest U.S. Open champion in history; Hale Irwin was 45 when he won at Medinah in 1990.

A dreamer? Funk isn’t buying that.

He found something at that qualifier last week. Instead of worrying about his mechanics, he went back to enjoying himself. And with his 15-year-old son Taylor on the bag – he will also caddie at Congressional – Funk played like he was back in his prime. After getting into the U.S. Open, he closed with a 62 on Sunday in a Champions Tour event to finish in a tie for third.

“Nobody knows how good they’re going to play, but I still have high expectations,” Funk said. “I’m not here just to walk two rounds or four rounds and just show up. I want to be able to be competitive, and I truly believe I can still be competitive when I’m playing well and feeling good.”

Funk played the U.S. Open last year as the reigning U.S. Senior Open champion and he tied for 70th. The year before, on what many consider one of the strongest U.S. Open courses at Bethpage Black, he still went through qualifying. Funk made the cut and wound up in a tie for 60th, better than expected from a 53-year-old on a beast of a course.

Then again, Funk has been defying odds for nearly as long as he has been playing.

He didn’t make the golf team at Maryland as a freshman, so he transferred to a junior college until he was good enough to play for the Terps. He tried the mini-tours out of college until he ran out of money, then took over as Maryland coach and kept working on his game until he realized he wasn’t far off from the big leagues.

He qualified for his first PGA Tour event in the 1982 Kemper Open. It was held at Congressional, and Funk tied for 51st to earn a check of a whopping $947.20.

“I don’t know why I made it,” he said. “I was just a very hard worker, tenacious, and somewhere along that line I started believing in myself. I look back and I just go, ‘Man, I did all right.”’

Only now is not the time to look back.

“I still expect to achieve a lot more,” Funk said.

He’ll have the crowd on his side, not only from being a hometown favorite but as an inspiration as a guy who wouldn’t quit. He’ll need much more than that on a Congressional course with greens that already are getting firm under warm sunshine, and in a major which only twice in the last five years has yielded a winning score under par.

Monday was the first full day of practice. The range was filled with mostly amateurs and local qualifiers wanting to soak up the experience. Others spent the day chipping and putting, hitting balls, perhaps getting in nine holes of practice, knowing to pace themselves for what figures to be a long week.

Ten players have won the last 10 majors, suggesting parity is greater than ever in golf, especially with Tiger Woods no longer on top of his game – and not even at Congressional for the U.S. Open as he tries to mend his left leg.

Even so, PGA champion Martin Kaymer figures only 30 or 40 players have a realistic chance of winning. He didn’t mention names, although Funk was probably not on that short list.

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Reed match taught McIlroy the need to conserve energy

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:18 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – One of the most memorable Ryder Cup singles matches in recent history was also one of the most exhausting.

Rory McIlroy was asked on Wednesday at Le Golf National about his singles bout with Patrick Reed two years ago at Hazeltine National, when the duo combined for eight birdies and an eagle through eight frenzied holes.

“I could play it for nine holes, and then it suddenly hit me,” said McIlroy, who was 5 under through eight holes but played his final 10 holes in 2 over par. “The level sort of declined after that and sort of reached its crescendo on the eighth green, and the last 10 holes wasn't quite as good.”

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In retrospect McIlroy said the match, which he lost, 1 down, was educational and he realized that maintaining that level of emotion over 18 holes isn’t realistic.

“It looked tiring to have to play golf like that for three days,” he said. “I learnt a lot from that and learnt that it's good to get excited and it's good to have that, but at the same time, if I need and have to be called upon to play a late match on Sunday or whatever it is, I want to have all my energy in reserve so that I can give everything for 18 holes because I did hit a wall that back nine on Sunday, and it cost me.”

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U.S. team gives Tiger 'cold shoulder' after Tour Championship win

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:08 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods was one of the final members of Team USA to make it to the team room late Sunday in Atlanta after his travel plans were delayed by his victory at the Tour Championship.

As the team waited, captain Jim Furyk concocted a plan for Woods.

“I ran into Jim Furyk and he said, ‘We were thinking about giving Tiger the cold shoulder like they do in baseball when the guy hits his first home run.’ He asked, ‘Do you think Tiger will be OK with that?’” Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava told Ryder Cup Radio on Sirius/XM. “I was like, ‘Of course he would. He’s got a sense of humor.’”

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The U.S. team had plenty to cheer on Sunday with vice captain Steve Stricker also winning on the PGA Tour Champions. But it was Woods’ reception following his 80th PGA Tour victory and his first in five years that provided the best reaction.

“Tiger shows up about a half-hour later and is looking for some high-fives from everybody and they wouldn’t give him the time of day. They weren’t even looking at him, they all have their backs to him,” LaCava said. “He’s looking at me like what’s going on? He’s not a guy who is looking for fanfare, but these are his boys. He’s looking for 11 guys to run up and give him a good hug.”

LaCava said the team ignored Woods for about two minutes before breaking the silence with cheers and congratulations.

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How FedExCup has changed Ryder Cup prep

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:56 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The improved play of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might be attributed to more than just youthful exuberance or camaraderie.

Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour schedule is also a factor.

Mickelson argued this week that the advent of the FedExCup Playoffs, in 2007, has contributed to the Americans’ better results in the biennial matches. Save for the disastrous blowout in 2014 at Gleneagles, the Americans have either won or been locked in a tight match with the Europeans.

“I think the FedExCup is a big asset for us,” Mickelson said. “In the past, we’ve had six weeks off in between our last competition and the Ryder Cup. This year, although we might be tired, we might have had a long stretch, our games are much sharper because of our consistent play week-in and week-out heading into this event.”

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When presented with Mickelson’s theory, Justin Rose, the new FedExCup champion, countered by saying that the Europeans are the fresher team this week – and that could be more important during such a stressful event.

Seventeen of the 24 players here were in East Lake for the Tour Championship, meaning they not only played the minimum number of events for PGA Tour membership, but also played in at least three of the four playoff events.

Some of the European players, however, have remained loyal to their home tour and taken more time off. Henrik Stenson missed a few events to rest his ailing elbow. Sergio Garcia didn’t play for four weeks. And even Rose has adjusted his schedule during the latter part of the season, to make sure that he was as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup. That meant skipping the pro-am in Boston and flying in on Thursday night, on the eve of the tournament, and reducing his number of practice rounds.

“It’s interesting,” Rose said. “They might feel like they are playing their way in and our guys are going to have a bit of gas in the tank. We’ll have to evaluate it on Sunday, but I’m hoping our strategy is going to be the one that pays off in the long run.”

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Rose hoping for FedEx/Ryder Cup party on Sunday

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:41 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Justin Rose is hoping for the biggest party of all on Sunday night.

With the quick turnaround with the Ryder Cup, the newly crowned FedExCup champion hasn’t had much time to celebrate his season-long title that he earned Sunday at the Tour Championship.

“The FedExCup, for me, it finished on the plane,” Rose said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the plane ride over, but once I landed in Paris, I was one of 12 guys. I didn’t want it to carry over into this week. This week is about another job to do.”

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Rose said his Ryder Cup teammates have resorted to the usual tactics – “Apparently all the drinks are on my tab this week,” he joked – but just as Team USA may have used a boost with Tiger Woods winning, the Europeans can take confidence in having the FedExCup champion on their side.

As for any premature celebrations, Rose said: “I can shelve that for another week or so. I will certainly enjoy it. It’s kind of a season-long title that you really want to enjoy. But I’d like to maybe start that party on Sunday night and here for the right reasons, because of this week.”