Skip to main content

POWs Positive Thinking and Funk

Hustling out of his hotel room in South Florida, Fred Funk considered the possibility. If he broke out the same skirt he donned at The Skins Game when Annika out drove him, he could take a run at victory on three different tours in the same year.
That would get a little coverage, he cracked.
Fred Funk
Fred Funk gives his son, Taylor, a hug after winning the Mayakoba Classic. (WireImage).
Funk annihilated the field in Hawaii to win on the Champions Tour in January, and this past weekend survived back pain in gutting out another on the PGA TOUR in Mexico. So how is a short-hitting, 50-year-old beating all comers?
Its a choice, he says plainly, between positive and negative thoughts.
And its a system developed by Lanny Bassham of Mental Management, a system that traces its roots to Egypt and the infamous Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.
Bassham was an Olympic marksman. From 300 meters he could hit a target the size of an eraser in between heartbeats. Hed taken silver at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Two years later, bound for Cairo and The World Championships, he found himself seated next to a man who listened to Bassham wallow in negativity. The gentleman, Bassham would soon learn, had been released from a POW camp in Vietnam, shot down and then held in a 4-foot box for months.
The man was dying. He began to talk to God. Let me not suffer, he prayed. Rain then fell. From the leaves of a tree overhead, water funneled into his mouth. Sustained, he resolved to live, and began to think of things he loved, like sports.
The man would tell the struggling Olympian of a fellow prisoner who passed the time in captivity playing golf -- in his mind. He hit thousands of drives. He made putt after putt after putt. The man weighed 90 pounds upon release. Returning home to San Diego, he saw a golf course and instructed the driver to pull into the pro shop. He wanted to play, but was told he needed to be a member.
The man shuffled to the grill and a roomful of people. He introduced himself. Im a commander in the U.S. Navy and was shot down in Vietnam, he began. I just want to play golf.
The people stood, saluted and cried. The man played his round. Miraculously, he shot even par.
Thats impossible, someone said when hed finished. You havent played in years.
You dont understand, the man said. I havent missed a shot in six years.
Parable or fact, it mattered little. Bassham absorbed the lesson, the question lingering.
Are you living in a box or a free world?
Bassham won gold in 1976 in Montreal. More than three decades later he dispenses those principles learned on the road to Cairo to athletes and executives looking for an edge.
The system is about the positive imprinting of your mind, explains Funk.
If I hit a bad shot and then say, Oh, that figures or Thats typical, it shrinks my self image, Funk said. Im better off if after the bad shot I say, Thats not my normal shot or Im much better than that; so Im simply more positive as I move forward. Im looking for solutions instead of dwelling on the negative and what just happened.
Last week was a good test as he fought lower back pain. The sciatica majigee, was the self diagnosis from Dr. Funk. At a point Saturday, when he nearly walked in, he could barely swing as he made bogey at the 12th. It was then he decided simply, It is what it is. Im just going to do the best I can.
He got an adjustment on 13. He got mad at 14. I sort of adopted this feisty attitude, he said. I told myself I was going to win despite my back.
He went on to shoot 64 in round three. I was real proud of that round, he beamed.
On Sunday, he wasnt striking the ball well. He countered with a hot putter, and a steady mind. I wasnt going to let it go because of a bad attitude or a bad back, he emphasized. I chose not to do that.
Late last year Freds wife, Sharon, told me of their new quest, preparing to silence the skeptics who figured Fred had his moment of glory when he won The Players at 48.
He beats himself up, Sharon said. Hes not Woody Austin, but he beats himself up.
Im brutal on myself, Fred added in the October conversation. Im an upbeat guy, but I hadnt been positive on the golf course. This game creates opportunities to be negative. It beats you up.
Funk pointed to Tiger as the reverse example. He pictures himself winning long before he tees off. Hes got the edge on everybody.
Upon turning 50 last June, Funk buckled under the early pressure of being tabbed a Champions Tour savior and sure winner. His putting floundered. He left The Senior Players in Dearborn certain only that he had to change.
Three wins later, he says defiantly, Im not willing to be pinned in the box of negativity.
Email your thoughts to Rich Lerner