OMAHA, Neb. – Fred Funk is a mess. He also is three under par after the first round of the U.S. Senior Open, which ought to tell you a little about the quality of his golf game and his ability to play hurt.
He has suffered from vertigo on and off since January. His repaired knee is holding up on the hills of Omaha Country Club, but his bad back is acting up. Plantar fasciitis is making this week’s already arduous walk more challenging – and painful.
“It’s been a pretty challenging year. I am somehow getting through it, but not exactly the way I want to,” said Funk, 57. “It’s been a little bit frustrating.”
Anyone would be frustrated to be hitting it as well as Funk but having to keep taking time off for various ailments, be it knee problems that started in 2008 and didn’t get cleared up until 2011, or thumb surgery, also in 2011. When he’s healthy, like in 2012, he was able to win twice and finish fourth in earnings on the Champions Tour.
This year, with all of his physical challenges, Funk has had just three top-10 finishes.
But Funk has proven to be immensely talented at navigating U.S. Senior Open layouts. Twice he has finished second, including last year at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Michigan. And, of course, there was the 20-under-par masterpiece he painted in 2009 on Crooked Stick Golf Club near Indianapolis, where he blitzed the field by seven strokes.
“No, no 20-under this week,” said Funk, who was the last of seven players to post 67 on Thursday. “Not a Crooked Stick. I don't see that here. You know, it's funny because you’ve got a lot of birdie holes here, but you have some really tough holes. If you just get out of position on these greens or in the fairway ‑‑ or not in the fairway, in the rough – you’re going to pay the price, more than likely. You have to be really careful here.”
Seems like Funk has to be careful everywhere. Don’t misunderstand. He looks fit, and he barely looked like he broke a sweat on Thursday. But he’s not made of stone.
Oh, wait a minute. Perhaps he is.
There is a 12-foot likeness of Funk on display this week outside the headquarters of Mutual of Omaha, one of his sponsors. The statue commemorates Funk’s record-setting ’09 victory. He visited himself a few days ago.
“I took a picture in front of it. It's ridiculous. It's 12 feet, 13 feet high. The nose is 3 feet itself,” said Funk.
Winner of eight PGA Tour titles, Funk always has carried himself professionally but also with good humor.
To wit, Funk was asked to compare the hills of Omaha C.C. with those at Augusta National. Here’s where he went with his answer: “You're either going up, or you're going down. There's no flat. It's pretty severe on the back. Then some of the holes – two of the holes where you're going from 11 to 12 tee, backwards, and then 14 to 15 – you’re climbing that same hill going backwards. And that gets to you. … You want to have honors, but you want to take a little time out when you get there, fake like you have gas or something… A senior problem.”
Funk is a senior problem. He’s a problem for all his fellow senior players if he starts to feel better. They don’t need to see his statue to be reminded of that.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.