A Quick 9: Fred FunkIn a rain-marred 2005 PLAYERS Championship, Ponte Vedra Beach resident Fred Funk prevailed on the Monday finish with a round of 1-under 71 on a day with the highest final-round scoring average of the 2005 season. Funk, known for his laser-like driving accuracy, tied for the lead in fairways hit, finding the short grass 86% of the time, and led the field in greens in regulation en route to his seventh career PGA TOUR victory. We caught up with Fred for a Quick 9 as he prepares to defend golf's "5th Major" this week...
1. You seem to have become more successful later in your career, winning last year's PLAYERS Championship and making the recent Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. What do you attribute your success to?
FF: To be honest, I can't put my finger on one thing. There was a point not long ago where I didn't think I was a Ryder Cup caliber player. I knew I was a top 30 player who could win on Tour, but I didn't think I was quite at that level. For the Presidents Cup in South Africa in 2003, I finished 11th in points and Jack (Nicklaus) made me a Captain's pick. That was a great honor for me to know Jack thought enough of my game to put me on the team. Getting a taste of that really made me hungry for more. Then in 2004 I was the oldest player to ever make the Ryder Cup and I'm really proud of that. I can't overpower a course, but fortunately I'm pretty good at playing "chess" on the golf course and working my way around, using my strengths for that course. I just have to play smart, stay within myself and take advantage of opportunities when they come up.
2. You play in a lot of pro-ams throughout the year. What's the number one swing fault you see in the amateurs you play with and what advice do you give them to correct it?
FF: Before they even hit the ball, most amateurs are in a position or set-up that makes it difficult for them to hit the ball solid and consistently. The irony there is, we've all learned from other sports - assuming you've played other sports - the athletic position. The difference between golf and other sports is, in sports like basketball, football and baseball, the athletic position is reactionary - knees are flexed, weight is on your toes, you're in a position of balance, ready to react. In golf, you're in that same athletic position at address except now you have to initiate the movement to start the swing and that's where most amateurs develop a lot of anxiety and tension which leads to bad weight distribution, body tilt, etc. A good starting position makes the whole golf swing a lot easier. If you can focus on your posture and set-up, you can then react to the rest of the golf swing. When Tour pros go back to the basics and focus on the fundamentals, one of the things they work on the most is body position and set-up.
3. Is there one swing tip someone gave you along the way that has stuck with you more than anything else?
FF: Keeping your arms in front of your body throughout the golf swing. In order for you to do that, you have to maintain your posture. My current teacher is a fundamentalist and is always taking me back to the basics of the golf swing. One important aspect of that is keeping the triangle - formed by your shoulders, arms and hands, and the club as an extension of that - in front of you throughout the swing. It's a good swing thought I go back to regularly.
4. You're one of the most accurate ball strikers on Tour. What do you attribute that to?
FF: I get asked that quite a bit. I'm self taught and for whatever reason, I've never been a long hitter but have always been a straight hitter. One thing I've learned over the years as I've developed and progressed in the game is you can't be short and crooked, you have to at least be accurate! A lot of that comes from working on posture and alignment and having as few compensations in the golf swing as possible. I focus on bringing the club back and through on the same plane so there are very few adjustments along the way. Getting back to the ball in a consistent pattern allows me to hit the ball straight.
5. How important is it to work out and exercise to stay competitive on the PGA TOUR?
FF: This is my 18th year on Tour and I've seen a lot of changes in that regard. The prototypical body of a golfer is changing dramatically. They look more and more like swimmers to me - long and lean. Adam Scott and Bill Haas are great examples of the prototypical modern golfer. You're going to see more and more of that, but what you're also going to see is better athletes getting into the game. A lot of guys who could, and probably do, play a lot of other sports are turning their attention towards golf, instead of baseball, basketball and football. They realize they can play golf for a long time at a high level and the workout programs are a large reason for that. A large part of it is also mental. If you're struggling and see someone in great shape or someone who's working out and they're playing well, it makes you think that they have an edge and you have to do whatever you can to get that edge. There are still a lot of guys that aren't into fitness and working out but they're falling back. It's very rare that a guy who's not in great shape can play at a high, high level.
6. What type of routine do you have to prepare for a round?
FF: Before my round I have a routine where I go to the Tour fitness trailor an hour and a half or two hours before my tee time and spend an hour in the Tour fitness truck and an hour on the range. I do about 5-10 minutes of cardio to get my heart rate up, work with the trainer to get stretched out, swing a weighted club and then go through the golf swing mechanics. You're really just trying to get the golf muscles stretched out and loose. That way, when you get to the range, you're spending less time trying to get loose and more time working on your swing. It's even more important on the cool, damp days.
7. How important is nutrition and hydration out on the course and what do you eat/drink while you're out there?
FF: It's something I've never focused on as much as I probably should. I've never liked to drink a whole lot of water when I'm out on the course but I've learned over the last several years to stay hydrated. It's very important for the muscles so that you're as loose and fluid at the end of the round as you were at the beginning. Eating is the difficult part because you have awkward tee times so it's hard to develop a routine. Sometimes you have the really early tee times and other times you're teeing off right at lunch time. I like to get to the course two hours before my tee time so it's hard to know when and what I should eat that will last me through my round. I'm learning though. I'm better at eating fruit and I eat powerbars. I'm better at drinking water and will drink a Gatorade or Powerade if it's especially hot. There are some rounds where you drink a gallon of water and never seem to have to go to the bathroom because it's so hot and your body needs so much water to stay hydrated. I pay special attention to my sugar levels. There are some days when it gets low and I start shaking. You obviously can't perform like that! Nutrition and hydration are very important and I'm getting better at it.
8. For someone who's had a long career, and with the length and the grind of the PGA TOUR season, how do you stay motivated about what you do every day?
FF: I love competing. I reached the Tour at a late age - I was a 32-year old rookie - and I'm still hungry. I still have goals I want to reach and, fortunately for me, I've played at my highest level in the past 4-5 years. The hardest thing at this stage of my career is I can see where the end is and I don't want this to end, I don't like it being that close. I'm working hard to play well, to make the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, to finish in the top 30 and to win tournaments. I'm still hungry, I still have goals, and I'm still having fun working towards those goals.
9. How important is it to have confidence and consistency in your golf ball?
FF: Especially now, you have to have confidence in the distance control and trajectory control of your golf ball. People don't realize how tight the pins are we're shooting at and there's just no margin for error. You can't really afford to miss many greens these days. When you throw in all the other elements such as wind, cold weather, fast greens, you really need a ball that you know what it's going to do and Titleist does that.
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