Fred Funk was two years out of the University of Maryland and not quite 23 when he played in his first PGA Tournament. It was the 1982 Kemper Open and he finished at 8-over, but the kid from College Park was thrilled to have had the chance to play at prestigious Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.
Twenty nine years later, Funk, an eight-time Tour champion and the winner of the 2009 Senior Open, is back at Congressional for his 22nd US Open, which he expects will be his final major tournament. When Funk, who turned 53 on Tuesday, qualified last week at Woodmont in Rockville, he cried tears of joy.
“I think it was a combination of things, how I’ve been playing the last few months (making just one of six cuts) and … I knew if I made it that it was going to be my probably last chance to play a major in my hometown because if we stay in a 14-year rotation, I’ll be (67) the next time it comes around,” said Funk, noting that the last Open here was in 1997. “Congressional is a very special spot. Playing Congressional was something that was taboo for a P.G. County guy. You didn’t go across the Montgomery County line without a visa.”
Funk didn’t even make Maryland’s team as a freshman in 1975 so he left for P.G. Community College before heading back to Maryland. After not succeeding on the Mini-Tour in 1981, Funk became the Terps’ assistant coach while also working temp jobs. When his boss was promoted to assistant athletic director, Funk became Maryland’s coach, a position he held from 1982-88 before finally becoming a Tour regular at 30.
“I don’t know why I made it,” said Funk, who finished sixth in the 2004 Open and tied for fourth in the 2002 PGA Championship but has just three Tour victories since. “It was just a long progression of being used to my own skin, I guess (and) getting used to the environment of the PGA Tour. I was just a very hard worker, tenacious, and at some point … I started believing in myself.”
What would be unbelievable is for the Open’s oldest player to make the cut and be among the final round leaders on Father’s Day with his 15-year-old son Taylor caddying for him.
“I’m really just intent on having a good time and enjoying the atmosphere, enjoying the hometown (whether) I’m shooting 85, if I’m shooting 65, whatever,” said Funk, who has struggled lately with a right leg injury for which he’ll be receiving treatment this week. “But I still have high expectations. I’m not here just to walk two rounds or four rounds and just show up. … I truly believe I can still be competitive when I’m playing well and feeling good.”
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.