CARMEL, Ind. – Long and strong, Fred Funk is the most ferocious driver of the golf ball on the Champions Tour.
In his dreams.
In a 21-year career on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, Funk has been known as a guy who rarely misses a fairway but doesn’t hit the ball very far.
Well, move over, Mr. Cup Cake, because the new model Fred Funk has arrived.
When the 1991 PGA Championship was played here at Crooked Stick Golf Club, Funk averaged 252 yards off the tee and tied for 57th in the event. “I was still learning,” he quipped.
Through three rounds of the 2009 U.S. Senior Open, Funk is averaging 293 yards on his drives. And, oh yes – he is leading the championship with a 13-under-par total after 54 holes.
“Fred Funk, he’s a bomber,” said Joey Sindelar with a laugh.
“The pure power that I have is incredible,” said Funk, playing along. “I’m just overpowering everything.”
It may be time to evaluate Funk in a new light. He is hitting the ball farther than ever before, and he is taking advantage of it. For example, through three rounds of the U.S. Senior Open, he is 9-under-par on the par 5s.
Which is a major reason he is leading the golf tournament.
What is Funk’s secret for his dramatic improvement over the past 18 years, from the 1991 PGA Championship to the 2009 U.S. Senior Open? Simple. His golf swing is better, his physical conditioning is better and the fairways at Crooked Stick are firm, fast and to his liking.
Funk lost a playoff for the Senior Open Championship at Sunningdale in England, then immediately flew he re for the U.S. Senior Open. His consistency is remarkable considering he is battling a bum right knee and a torn left shoulder ligament.
He wears a brace on his knee, which has cartilage damage. “Eventually I’ll need a new knee,” he admitted. “This week I’m definitely limping. I have trouble walking downhill. I can hit full shots OK, but the knee hurts a lot when I hit shots out of the sand.”
And then there is the torn labrum in his left shoulder. “Practice swings kill me,” he said, “so I don’t take them. I don’t hit many punch shots anymore.”
To get his body loose and comfortable enough to play, Funk spends an hour to an hour-and-a-half in the fitness trailer before every round.
Despite these physical hurdles, he is singlemindedly focused on winning this championship.
“I want it really bad,” he said. “I don’t want it so bad that it affects my game, but I do want it really bad. I’m going to go out there and play my hardest. I’m going to be aggressive. I’m not going to play defensive golf.”
That’s the way long hitters talk.