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March 22, 2006

Fred Funk


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Fred Funk, thanks for joining us, defending your title this week at THE PLAYERS Championship. Must be nice to be back here at TPC Sawgrass.

FRED FUNK: First of all, am I following Tim? Did he already speak?


FRED FUNK: I'm safe.

Q. You can bring your "A" game anyway, even though you're following Tim.

FRED FUNK: Okay, good, because it's hard to follow a guy like that.

It's great to be back. Obviously it's been a whirlwind a little bit with the media requests and demands and other things I've been doing, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. The fact that a year has gone by already, everybody feels the same thing; wow, where did that year go.

Great to come back and all the publicity and notoriety and accolades I've gotten to winning The Players have really been a lot of fun. It's almost overwhelming this week. It's been a nice ride. Although I feel when tomorrow morning shows up and that first ball goes in the air, I disappear off the map unless I do something again to defend my title.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: After this tournament, next year THE PLAYERS Championship moves to May, and they're going to do a lot of changes to the golf course and the clubhouse. As a past resident and also a resident of Ponte Vedra, maybe some comments about the changes in store.

FRED FUNK: From what I hear, I don't think they're doing that many changes, other than the grass changes to the golf course. As far as the golf course design and the basic golf course that we have, the structure that it is now, it's going to remain pretty much the same.

But May I think is going to be a really good date for the tournament. Obviously where it falls with the other majors, it'll line up with those.

I think we'll have a lot more consistent weather. I think it'll be a lot hotter, which I like, and hopefully we'll dodge some of the thunderstorms that come in this time of year and these fronts that come through.

The golf course will be in a lot more consistent condition that time of year. The main change they are making to the golf course is that sand cap. The ones that they've done already it makes a big difference. To get the firm, fast conditions that they want to have, that they have right now, is going to be a lot easier on a May date. Plus it'll be playing more on bermuda than ryegrass. That's the main change, with the greens.

Q. With the changes, do you think they're just trying to Funk proof the golf course?

FRED FUNK: No. That was good (laughter).

Q. You win and they blow up the clubhouse. What does that tell you?

FRED FUNK: Every time I win a tournament they either eliminate the tournament or they move it, change the grass or whatever. It's going to be a much better time of year for this golf course to play the way they want it. We all love firm, fast conditions, and hopefully that will happen. I think their biggest issue is wondering how that grass is going to come in.

Q. With your trend of bad luck, you probably should be playing Hartford and Booz Allen, too, this year.

FRED FUNK: Yeah, they're gone. Well, it is somewhat true that they've gotten rid of a lot of tournaments I've won, but I think THE PLAYERS is safe.

Q. This tournament seems to be so identified with 17 and 18, those two holes. I'm just wondering, what are the demons about water that you guys fight? You see hackers get all puckered up, but it affects you guys, too, to a certain extent?

FRED FUNK: 17, especially when the green is firm, it becomes a much more difficult shot. And then if you add any other element, whether it's wind or rain or anything else, it's an all or nothing shot. You don't have to be that far off to be in the water, especially if the wind is blowing and you're guessing a little bit where the ball is going to come down.

If the green is really firm and you land it a little too deep into the green, it'll bounce over. When it's soft, if you land it and you have a lot of spin on the ball, on that front mound you've seen a lot of balls come backwards. It's just a hole that scares you and it creates a lot of anxiety when you're on the tee. I actually can feel my heart through the shirt on that hole.

Practice rounds I don't feel anything, and playing it for fun when I come out here, it's not a big deal at all. And then you get in the tournament in the first round, you lean over and you still feel your heart coming through your shirt; wow, this is ridiculous. You've just got to suck it up.

As scary as 17 is, 18 is the hardest hole, I think, on the golf course, and probably one of the hardest holes in all of golf in any kind of conditions, whether it's calm, what we had last year or any other condition Mother Nature can throw at you. It's just an intimidating golf hole.

Q. This is pretty subjective, but is it hard to imagine somebody having for fun being the defending champion than you have?

FRED FUNK: I've had a lot of fun. It's been a nice ride. I think the biggest thing is winning my home tournament was great. This is my adopted home, and I love the community. Obviously this is such a huge tournament, and to be always a Players Champion, past champion of this tournament is always something I'll be proud of. But being hometown, that's what's made it so much more fun. I can sit here, see my banner driving up the driveway. That's really neat.

I was really proud of the American flag hanging in the Circle of Champions and getting my plaque on there, just the notoriety. And now everybody I see or run into, and they all generally seem like they're really happy for me to win and had a lot of fun watching the tournament last year.

Q. Is there something about an event like this, the money eventually gets spent, the exemptions eventually run out. You talk about your name on the plaque out there and everything. Is there something to be said for something that's never going to be taken away from you or never going to go away?

FRED FUNK: That's it. I'll always be the past champion of THE PLAYERS Championship, and it's a huge tournament and growing bigger all the time. It's one that all the players on the TOUR, because it's our tournament, we really want to win.

It's gaining a lot of notoriety. Each year it's talked about more and more as being the fifth major, and the golf course is getting better and better, and the field is the best in all of golf. It's really something to be proud of.

Like you said, the money gets spent and all the other things just kind of you forget about a little bit, but when I drive up there, and being home, I get to see will always be reminded of the fact that I was a PLAYERS Champion in '05.

Q. Obviously you're turning 50 later this year. What are your plans? I know you had talked about wanting to make the Ryder Cup team. What's your schedule like? Are you going to try to go out on the Senior Tour?

FRED FUNK: Yeah, I'm going to play three or four, Prairie Dunes Senior Open is going to be my debut, and then the following week is the Senior PLAYERS, so I'll play those two. I don't know if I'll playing the British Seniors, I might go to Milwaukee instead, because if I can get some points running it's such a volatile system right now, if you can have a good week, a win, you can really move up in the points. If I can play well enough to gain some points by that time, then I'll go to Milwaukee instead because it's been a good tournament for me, and I'll try to gain some points.

But that's yet to be seen. Then I'll play Oak Hills in San Antonio because I love that golf course. When it used to be on our schedule I loved it, and the Champions Tour loves being there. And then I'll go back to the regular schedule].

I'm probably going to cherry pick a little bit next year but probably focus more on the Champions Tour. I'll just see how I'm playing. I'm really torn between that right now. I don't know what I'm going to really do. I know my wife doesn't want me to go.

Q. This tournament has historically been one that you don't have to be a bomber to win. What is it about this golf course that equalizes things?

FRED FUNK: You know what's great is this golf course, Pete Dye obviously is the architect, and he designed a golf course that, as the game has progressed into what it is now, I considered it just a pure power game now, this golf course still stands up to the power game because it's a position golf course, and it's a penal golf course. If you miss it off line, you're penalized big time. And the rough gets really heavy.

The one argument, or the one controversy, I think, is I think the course was designed initially to have no rough and let the ball run into the palmetto bushes and the pine needles and the trees, and now with the really thick rough it's difficult to get in there. Would it be better one way or the other, I'm not sure.

But it's a great golf course, you can see down the list of champions that have total different kinds of games, Adam Scott, power player, Tiger Woods. Then you have me and you have the in between player, Calvin Peete, Mark McCumber and Lee Janzen kind of in the middle. I think that's a testament to how good the golf course is because it's a shot makers' golf course, and it's not a one dimensional type golf course.

With the golf ball going when I first came out on TOUR, it was 30, 35 yards between me and the longest guys on TOUR, and now it's 70, 75 yards. It's all the golf ball. They can talk about all the technology and how not technology, but how athletic the guys are. Our best guys that hit it the best back then were as athletic as anybody could be. You just get this huge gain hitting the ball a certain speed, and this golf course stands up to that because it's not how far although there's no substitute for length, there's no substitute for power. Most of these golf holes out here are position golf holes, and that's more important.

Q. Would it be fair to say if you want to make Tour golf a test of shot making ability that this course is a testament to the fact that just indiscriminately adding length isn't the answer?

FRED FUNK: You can take this golf course, Hilton Head, Colonial Country Club, which probably is our shortest playing golf course, and Waialae where we play in Hawaii and a couple others, Westchester, they're not our longest golf courses; they're our shortest golf courses, and yet the scores are not really super low, indicative of a golf course that really plays to managing your golf ball.

You can get in a lot of trouble, and I think that one thing that gives the Touring pros a lot of trouble, obviously firm and fast conditions, we want that because it tests your skills. But when we don't have that much control of where the ball stops, our scores go up. Last year, Hilton Head was really firm and fast and the scores went way up. You just need to have golf courses that have little bends in the fairways.

What I was going to say is if you give the Touring pros a time to have a thought process on the tee, do I hit driver, do I want to hit driver, what do I do if I miss that driver, is it a 3 wood, I'd be better off hitting a 3 wood or an iron off the tee, all of a sudden they've got to think instead of just pulling the driver and wail at it and hit it as hard as they can, it's something they've got to think about. And that creates a little more anxiety for the guys and a little more tension, and if you're not on your game, you're not going to perform as well, and that's when the cream of the guys really playing well rise to the top.

Last year when I won this tournament, I led the field in greens in regulation and fairways hit, and it was the first tournament all year that the greens in regulation and fairways hit meant anything. Nick Price told me at Augusta, I didn't even realize it, but he told me in the locker room, right when I saw him, he shook my hand and put his arm around me and said, "It's about time we had a tournament winner lead those two stats and it meant something." It was nice to hear that coming from Nick. Obviously he's in my same ballpark. He hits it longer than I do, but he's not a bomber by any means.

Q. What's your sense on why the Fab Four, Fab Five hasn't fared better here?

FRED FUNK: I don't know, it's a comfort level with the golf course. I think this is a golf course you've got to get comfortable with because visually it's pretty intimidating. I really don't know. It's not a golf course that you just hit the ball a long ways and it's going to reward you all the way around the golf course. I think for one, it brings more guys into the mix, and it's nice to see that.

It's not like when you're going to some of the other venues where it's just bombs away and you pretty much see all the bombers. And to be a Top 10 in the world you've got to be one of the long hitters. I think it just brings the mix in, and it's a little bit of a comfort level that they haven't gotten with this golf course. Plus we played in so many different every year, and almost every day it's totally different conditions out there. It's just how you adapt to it.

Q. You talked a little bit about volatility of Ryder Cup points this year. In the past sitting on a big win like this from the previous year would have kept you pretty high in the standings, and so much turns over this year. Do you like the volatility and the theory of getting the hottest players into that event this year and the fact that you can make up so many points?

FRED FUNK: I think you'll have the answer when we get to the team; what team is going to be the Top 10 guys and who is going to be 11 and 12 all the way through 16 or 17 where Tom has to make a decision on who he's going to pick.

Hopefully it will create the hottest players and reward the guys that have played the best. I would think that's what it's going to do. Hopefully it does. I pretty much made The Presidents Cup last year based on this win. I didn't do much afterwards. But it carries even more weight this year.

I think it's going to produce what Tom wants and needs. And we need to have our best players, our hottest players going, not only our best players but our hottest players going. Hopefully that will be the case.

Q. How is your confidence, as opposed to entering last year's event, now that you've won, and what are your thoughts on getting a chance to repeat?

FRED FUNK: Last year it almost parallels exactly what I did this year. I did very little on the West Coast last year. I skipped the Honda and I didn't want to have two weeks off before THE PLAYERS, so I went down and played Bay Hill, which I haven't had a great track record at. And I finished 23rd last year and had some confidence coming in because I played well at Bay Hill.

This year I played awful on the West Coast, probably the worst I've played. I started seeing my game a little bit at Doral, but last week at Bay Hill, I played really close to playing the best golf I've played in a long time, definitely the best golf I've played in a while. I'm real confident with my game right now. If I can get the putter a little hotter and just tighten it up just a little bit, I think I can do really well this week.

So I'm really looking forward to playing. I'm playing better now than I did coming into this tournament last year, which is you asked me two or three weeks ago I would have said totally the opposite because I was playing really poor.

Q. Do you consider yourself one of the favorites this week?

FRED FUNK: Yeah, I've always played well here. I think I've only missed one cut and I finished just outside Top 10 two or three times. It's a golf course I know I can play. Like you said, it's not overwhelmingly long, and as long as I'm doing the strength of my game, which is staying out of the trouble and staying out of the rough, then I should be right there. We'll see.

It's obviously a fickle game, you never know. Do you avoid the pitfalls of 17 and 18 and some of the other hazardous shots like 13? There's a lot of trouble, one wayward shot and you're going to make double or triple, so it's tough. I'm very confident, more confident with my game than I've been in a long time right now.

Q. As of the charity luncheon earlier, I was just curious, how's J. T.'s house coming?

FRED FUNK: Builders care unfortunately pulled out, so we're financing the whole house. We're trying to get as many people as we can to help, so we've got actually the builder of our houses is going to build it for just cost. I saw Herb Kohler the other night at Vijay's party, and he said he'll do all the plumbing and try to get 84 Lumber to help with the lumber. We're going to get as low as we can get it and get him into a nice house so he can be with his family. He hasn't been with his family since the accident, living with his aunt.

So we need to get them back under one roof and give J. T. a chance, and hopefully with the golf tournament we're having June 5th, we can raise even more money. Now we need the golf tournament initially it was just over and above the house, and there would be funds he would need down the road. But now it's to make sure we have enough money to pay for the house, and hopefully we'll have a lot more money left over and raise a tremendous amount and have money for J. T. in the future. His mom and aunt quit their jobs to be caretakers, so we need to pay them out of the foundation so they have money, and his dad works 12, 14 hours a day. It's a really tough situation, but their faith and their just how close the family is with each other is just remarkable.

J. T.'S attitude is incredible. He was supposed to be here this weekend, and he got called up they've been waiting for a date to go up to Baltimore to Johns Hopkins to do intensive rehab and some studies to see what potential J. T. has in the future, and they had to leave Saturday. So he's gone for a couple weeks.

I really wanted him to be a part of this and witness the golf tournament, and unfortunately it didn't happen, but we couldn't he couldn't say no to Johns Hopkins because it took him so long to get in.

Q. Relative to the age of the other Tour players, do you feel old?

FRED FUNK: When I wake up. I can't move in the morning. No, I don't. I really can't believe I'm actually almost 50. Probably a lot of people feel that way when they get up I remember when I first got out on well, yeah, when I first got out on Tour and there was some guys in their 40s, I thought, man, these guys are like dinosaurs out here, and now I'm one of the dinosaurs. Yeah, it's hard to comprehend that.

But I've tried to stay mentally and physically tough for the duration, and it's tougher to do. I definitely have one thing, I injured myself last year in July and it didn't go away until about a month ago, and now it's actually because I've been hitting so many balls here recently, it's started coming back a little bit. You just don't heal like you used to. You used to nick yourself up, and a week later you were fine. Now nine months later, I'm still fighting the injury. It's pretty frustrating, so you've got to be a little more careful.

Q. We've seen so much of a tug o war going on in the game about the power game and bombs away versus skill and precision. Do you feel like it's evolved to a point where power is going to be a requisite skill?

FRED FUNK: Yeah, I feel bad right now. My son loves the game of golf. He's a little guy. He's obviously not going to be physically very big. Not that little guys don't hit the ball a long way, but most little guys don't hit the ball a long way. There's always the exception.

I don't feel with where the game has gone that he will ever have a chance to play on the PGA TOUR because he doesn't hit the ball far enough. The kids coming up now are hitting the ball miles. With today's equipment, you just have to it's so forgiving, the driver, I don't think it's the driver so much that's allowing you to hit it a long way; it's the more golf swing givability of the driver that allows you to swing at it. If you're blessed with that swing speed, the ball takes off for you and doesn't come down. Guys are flying it 330, 340 yards right now, which is a joke. It's made designing golf courses a nightmare. It's changed the whole philosophy of the game.

I met with Palmer's group a couple weeks ago, and talking to them about how they design a golf course that's fair for a guy that can hit it 330 and a guy that hits it 270 and where they have to place their corners and place the bunkers and everything else. You can't make it fair.

I really believe, and I know I'm one of the short guys barking with the guys hitting it a long way, so it doesn't get much attention; he's just jealous that he doesn't hit it that far. I truly believe if you're blessed with that kind of ability that you get the benefit of the golf ball, you don't need as much talent as the old players did because you can hit it so far. Just bomb it over all the trouble and you have a wedge or 9 iron into the green, and you're going to hit a lot of greens. I don't care how deep the rough is. And they're strong already, they're going to get it on the green out of the rough, or somewhere around it. I just don't see the skill level, other than just clubhead speed being a big factor in the future.

Q. Some people argue it would be a good thing to have bigger, better athletes, maybe the next wave you'll see a Tour full of 6'4", 240 pound

FRED FUNK: That's naturally going to happen because for one, the game of golf has become a great game to play as a kid. Now it's looked upon as a sport; I blame Tiger Woods for it because he's made the game cool. It's a cool game to play as a kid.

The kids are seeing the money we're playing for, they're seeing the personalities we have out here, especially with well, when Tiger came out and was No. 1, but right now our rookie class with Camilo and J. B. Holmes and Bubba and numerous others, but those three guys are remarkable guys, unbelievable talent. They hit the ball miles, and they see that, and how can a kid that has a lot of athletic ability and he's fortunate enough to get introduced to the game of golf and doesn't pursue it? He ends up with a linebacker's body and he's playing golf. It's going to happen.

And why it's going to happen it is because it's a cool sport and we're going to have more and more kids playing it at a young age and they're going to develop into some big kids and they're going to be really powerful players. The ball already goes a long way, so the sky is the limit for how far the ball may go in the future with the future golfer.

But it's sad because I think they've lost control of the game. I'll swear to that. I mean, I'll argue that until nobody can prove me different. I'll argue that with every USGA guy that tests every equipment and everything else. They can throw the ShotLink stats out, they can throw everything at me and they cannot change my mind on that. I'm just adamant about the way the game has gone really since 2002, since this last generation of golf ball.

All they really have to do, they don't have to do anything, bring one golf ball back that's talked about or bring the golf ball back, just go back to the golf ball we had before this last change, and it would narrow down that gap between the long and the short.

I don't mind being the shortest guy. I never minded being one of the shortest guys on Tour and competing with a guy that could on the stats he was 295, 300, but when you have guys at 320, 330, 335, I mean, those guys that are averaging that can actually hit it 350; that's a long way. You can't beat that on a lot of golf courses now, and the design guys have no idea what to do.

So they do one thing, they jack the tees back and they don't change the greens. They say, okay, we've got to jack the tees back to protect the golf course from the long guys. You just took all the short guys completely out of it, so now all the long guys are up at the top, unless you have a great putting week, chipping week. I'll get in trouble for that, but that's all right.

Q. I hate to stop you. You skipped the Zurich Classic last year, and I understand you're going back this year. How much did the impact of Katrina have on your decision?

FRED FUNK: It actually had a lot on me. I decided I wanted to go back and I guess help New Orleans show the world that we're ready to start up again and they're going to host a big PGA TOUR event and they're capable of doing it. I think any positive news for New Orleans is great right now, and the fact that the TOUR is going back and willing to go back to English Turn to do it is I think a great move.

It had a big influence on me.

Q. As an elder statesman on the TOUR, do you sense or do you feel a sense of obligation to go back and lend your support or help?

FRED FUNK: I don't feel obligated. I just feel like it's the right thing to do.

That's part of my schedule right there where there's a couple tournaments, between Dallas and Houston and New Orleans, and we have a new course at Houston; Dallas I've had little success; New Orleans I've had little success, but I decided that's the one I'm going to go to this year, and it's probably my last year. I'll probably move on to the Champions Tour, so it was a pretty easy decision, actually.

Q. Do you remember the circumstances when Jack won the '86 Masters?

FRED FUNK: I was working the shop at Maryland. I was watching it on TV. It was unbelievable.

Q. At the University?

FRED FUNK: At the University of Maryland, yeah. I remember we had the irony of that, we had a Response putter on our putting rack, and the next day we were in the shop and my cart boy, who actually worked for the TOUR for a little bit, he says, hey, do you mind if I go out and putt with this thing, because nobody was buying them.

Nicklaus saved that company for a little bit with the Response putter. I said "watch it" because there's a storm coming. Well, within five minutes a bolt of lightning came out of a white cloud; it was still sunny where we were, and it hit him and killed him on the green. He was dead when I got to him.

Fortunately there was a doctor. We did CPR; I only knew a little bit, got him into the clubhouse. Long story short, he lost his heart rate three times and he ended up surviving. He won the State High School Championship that fall on the same golf course, but he did it with the Response putter.

Q. What's his name and where is he now?

FRED FUNK: He worked for the TOUR. His name is Scooter Clark. I don't know where he is now. He's working, I think, in Chicago for a kids' golf program. Might be the First Tee.

Q. USA Kids or something?

FRED FUNK: It might be. I haven't caught up with him in a while.

Q. He was in high school at the time?

FRED FUNK: Yeah. So that was a long story to say I watched it, and the next day my cart boy gets struck by lightning and dies on the putting green but comes back, and that was all with the Response putter. So I have a lot of memories about Nicklaus and the Response putter.

Q. Was there a doctor that was there?

FRED FUNK: Yeah, he was playing the 1st hole. He got to us. There was actually a guy who was riding in on the back of a cart on 18, which is a good 150 yards away, a good 100 yards away from where the bolt actually hit, knocked him off the cart and knocked the other guys out of the cart. It went through the ground, and it was a really powerful hit.

Q. Who's going to play you when they make the movie of that?

FRED FUNK: Tom Cruise.

Q. It's hard to top that, but as you were actually watching Jack make that run, I know you were a Jack and Arnie guy, that generation, what were you thinking when he was making all that happen?

FRED FUNK: It was a magical day. He was there with his son on the bag and making all those putts, and it was phenomenal to watch, and the atmosphere of Augusta was just great. I had never seen Augusta at that point, and yet the coverage was always so good; you felt like you knew the back nine. The two par 5s were all electric with the eagle drives or hitting it in the water, whatever they did.

It was just an exciting, just the best, and if there was one tournament you watched as a kid, probably anybody whether you were a golf fan or not, that's the one you watch.

Q. How many of those putters did you sell after that?


Q. After Jack or after Scooter got hit?

FRED FUNK: Yeah, after Scooter. He made the putt. It was in the hole (laughter). It killed the green, branched out all through the green.

Q. Did you jack up the price of the putter after he won?

FRED FUNK: Yeah. We renamed him Sparky instead of Scooter. (Laughter).

End of FastScripts.

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