|Under a benign sky, Fred Funk celebrates his first U.S. Senior Open victory Sunday. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. – There was no Sunday swoon, no catastrophic triple-bogey, nothing left to doubt or chance. Fred Funk wasn't about to let another U.S. Senior Open get away.
Leaving the field behind, Funk shot a flawless final-round 65 at Crooked Stick Golf Club on Sunday, avoiding any speed bumps, slam-Funking his first national championship. Then, in typical selfless fashion, Funk used his first words for television to pay tribute to others, dedicating the win to Phil Mickelson, Ken Green, Chris Smith and "all the families" in the professional golf community that have suffered adversities this year.
Both the Smith and Green families have suffered severe circumstances involving automobile accidents, while Mickelson's wife Amy and his mother are both battling breast cancer.
"It's something I've thought about when I had opportunities all week and I didn't say it," said Funk, 53. "I really feel like we're a big traveling circus out here on the both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour, we're all a big brotherhood.
"When tragedy happens – and those were big tragedies, between Ken, Chris, and with Amy Mickelson and Phil's mom - I felt like it was a good time to say something, and I wanted to take the opportunity to think of them and put the focus on people who really need it."
At Crooked Stick, the focus was on shrinking scores. Disarmed by green-softening showers throughout the week, including again on Saturday night, the golf course was hard pressed to defend itself. The result was an uncharacteristic conclusion to a USGA open championship, a finale that featured 25 sub-par rounds, including a 64 by Loren Roberts and a 66 by Olin Browne.
With Crooked Stick bending, the Senior Open simply went to the lowest depths score-wise.
"We didn't see a lot of wind, and we didn't see firm greens and we didn't see the entire golf course, so don't let the locals get all whacked out about that," said runner-up Joey Sindelar.
What the galleries did see a lot of was Funk. After suffering the triple-bogey calamity on the back nine of last year's Senior Open Sunday, Funk wasn't about to let the sea of red numbers sink his ship. Starting the day at 13 under, Funk did a championship limbo on Pete Dye's design, cashing in seven birdies without a bogey receipt, rolling in a 15-footer on No. 18 for good measure, leaning to a "how low can you go" score of 20-under 268.
Over the 72 holes of prime Indiana real estate, Funk hit 47-of-56 fairways and 55 greens. He smothered four bogeys for the week with 24 birdies.
"I wanted to keep the pedal down," said Funk who was the first player eliminated in a three-man playoff at the Senior British Open last week. "If I ended up winning, or if I ended up losing, by giving it a good shot, then that's fine.
"There were a couple of opportunities last week that I know I let go and it hurt. Because you can always look back. I didn't want to look back this week and say 'woulda, coulda, shoulda.'"
The victory was even more impressive because Funk hobbled around the course this week with a bum knee that could lead to replacement surgery. He's also got a torn labrum. He intimated earlier in the week that it didn't bother him all that much.
The winning total shattered the previous championship low of 17 under set by Hale Irwin in 2000. What's more, Funk's terrific 20 under is the most strokes under par for a winner in any USGA championship.
Sindelar had a final-round 70, which would be promising in most championships, but it left his 14-under total a distant, six-stroke second. Russ Cochran carded a 68 to finish third at 12-under, while Roberts and Greg Norman settled one more back at 11-under.
"It was awesome," said Sindelar of Funk. "You know, he's that kind of golfer. He's feisty. He's really good. He doesn't show weaknesses ... He just doesn't, he rarely goes backwards. And that's why you always see his name there. So, congratulations to him."
For Funk, it was a second senior-circuit major, to go with his 2008 JELD-WEN Tradition title. He also has eight PGA Tour wins, including the aforementioned Players Championship. But the Senior Open might top them all.
"I put the Players right there with it, although this might be a little notch higher, just because it is a national championship," Funk said. "Plus, it was a qualifier for Pebble Beach (site of the 2010 U.S. Open) next year, so it's nice to know I'm in that. Now, if it was Bethpage again ..."
The joke got one more laugh from a gathering of press. Funk didn't have to finish the thought. His finishing 65 on Sunday said it all.
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.