What is this, a major championship or an ice-cream counter? Every
year, the PGA Championship features a new flavor. Last year it
was an unknown Japanese player, Shingo Katayama, who in his
miniature cowboy hat looked like a refugee from the Village
People. Two years ago it was journeyman Bob May, who took Tiger
Woods to the limit before losing a thrilling playoff. In 1999
Spanish teen Sergio Garcia became America's sweetheart when he
hit a shot from behind a tree with his eyes closed, then tried to
scissors-kick his way to the green to see how it turned out.
The new flavor at last week's PGA was no more exotic than vanilla
swirl but as unlikely as pistachio jalapeno sherbet. Meet golf's
new master showman, Fred Funk, the guy who, despite being paired
with Tiger Woods in the final round, had Hazeltine's large,
enthusiastic crowds pulling for him and chanting, "Fred-dee!
Fred-dee! Fred-dee!" Golf's latest cult hero is 46, hits it
straight and short off the tee, hasn't won in four years and
didn't play in this year's first three majors. Yet Funk still
charmed Hazeltine's patrons with his smile, his impression of
Woods's fist pump, his animated reactions to his good shots, and
a suddenly hot putting stroke that carried him to a fourth-place
tie with Justin Leonard.
"It was a Funkfest out here," said Funk. "Now I know how Fred
Couples feels. I've always been the other Fred."
Funk, a former Maryland golf coach who finally made it to the
Tour at 32 and has racked up five wins and almost $10 million in
earnings, has always had a sense of humor about himself. His fan
club at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.,
where he lives, is known as Funk's Punks. When he found out that
his wife, Sharon, was pregnant with their third child and was due
the first week of January 2000, he threatened to name the baby
Y2K Funk. Last week, as he shot a 68 to grab a share of the
first-round lead, he captured the fans' hearts by bouncing around
like a hyperactive cheerleader after a chip-in at the 15th and
long birdie putts at the 16th and 17th holes. "I was trying to
enjoy the moment, however long it lasted," said Funk, whose
favorite cheer of the week was from a man who shouted, "Freddie
for governor!" Said Funk, "Is [Minnesota governor] Jesse Ventura
out? I don't want to fight him."
Behind Funk's emotional display was the same thing that caused
his good play: happiness. Two weeks earlier, his 57-year-old
brother, Bernie, had come to him for help with a longtime
drinking problem and a bout with depression. At Fred's urging,
Bernie checked into a Florida hospital to undergo rehabilitation.
"My brother was really down and out," said Funk. "He knew he
needed help. I'm so proud of him. I feel as if I've got a brother
back that I haven't had for a long, long time. It has helped me,
no question. I kept telling myself that my brother has shown a
lot of strength and that I could do the same."
On Friday, Funk led the PGA at seven under par when approaching
storms stopped play in the second round. He had to come back
early on Saturday morning to finish his last five holes in winds
that gusted up to 38 mph. His inspirational play continued,
however, as he holed a lob shot on the fly from deep grass right
of the 7th green. He raised his arms in amazement at that
unlikely birdie, kissed the ball after he picked it out of the
hole and later handed it to a young girl in the gallery.
The rest of the weekend wasn't quite as magical. Funk had slept
poorly through Friday night's lightning and thunderstorm, and he
played tired in Saturday's third round. He teed off in a five-way
tie for first, but he shot a 73 and slipped into third place,
four shots behind the leader, Leonard. Still, he stayed in the
hunt: When he birdied the 11th hole on Sunday, he was only two
shots behind leader Rich Beem. Then Funk bogeyed two of the last
five holes, finishing with another 73.
Along the way, he gave the crowd a show. After Woods chipped in
on the opening hole on Sunday, he performed his trademark fist
pump. When Funk followed with a clutch par-saving putt, he
imitated Woods's action, firing up the crowd, and then put a
pinkie to his mouth, mimicking a certain pint-sized movie star.
"I told Tiger I was going to do it if I had the chance," Funk
said. "He set it up perfectly. I did a little Tiger pump, then a
Mini-Me pump. I told Tiger, 'Hey, I got it out of the way.' He
said, 'That was great.' I had fun. I had it in my mind all week:
I'm going to enjoy myself."
Funk's previous best finish in a major had been a tie for seventh
at the '93 U.S. Open. He had had only two other top 20 finishes
in majors and, before Sunday, no realistic chance to win. Two
years ago Funk tied for ninth at the PGA in Louisville. He shot a
66 in the opening round of last year's PGA at the Atlanta
Athletic Club but wound up 70th. His game, however, has come
together of late. He was second at the Buick and B.C. Opens, two
of his last three starts before the PGA, and at Hazeltine he had
"probably my best four days of putting ever," he said.
On Sunday the combined grandstands around the 9th and 18th greens
gave Funk one last adrenaline-pumping dose of "Fred-dee!" chants
as he finished, and he waved back. "I had tears in my eyes on
practically every hole," said Sharon Funk. "It was so neat to
have the fans behind him here."
No doubt about it, Fred Funk gave this PGA a little extra
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY FRED VUICH HAPPY DAY Funk's grin never faded on Sunday, even as his game faltered just enough to take him out of contention.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER TIGER BALM Funk kept Woods loose early in the final round as Woods began to mount his charge on the leaders.
"It was a Funkfest out here. Now I know how Fred Couples feels. I
was always the other Fred."