RIDGEDALE – One thing has been a certainty through the first five years of the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge.
When you see Fred Funk, you’ve always seen a big smile on his face.
And with good reason.
Funk won nine tournaments during a 13-year career, earning nearly $12.4 million in the process. All this came after working as a newspaper circulation supervisor and as the golf coach at the University of Maryland.
Funk has played the “every man” role to perfection throughout his career.
If it’s possible, though, the smile you’ll see Funk wearing for this week’s Legends of Golf appears to be bigger than it has ever been.
That’s what comes from the return to the golf course for the 62-year-old, who has been battling painful injuries over the last year, including tears in both hamstrings, and a back injury that required surgery.
At different times, the injury was believed to be centered in his hip, his back and in the hamstrings.
You can hear the frustration in Funk’s voice when he talks about the low points over the last year or so.
“It was debilitating,” Funk said. “I couldn’t do anything.”
He missed the cut at last July’s U.S. Senior Open, shooting a 13-over total over two rounds. That was his last competitive action. He withdrew from a pair of tournaments last July and August.
“I kept trying to play through that, but that didn’t work so good,” Funk said. “And then summertime, my back started sending nerve pain, or I had nerve pain down my hip and my leg.
“And that kind of pain, I never had nerve pain before and that was different than pain.”
Following back surgery, a breakthrough came last month, when Funk was desperate to return to the course pain-free.
He started working with a medical professional in San Diego, who utilized an intense stretching program. Funk worked through the feeling of “tearing” when going through the routine, and he said it elongated the hamstring to the point where it feels less pressure and less tension.
“I’ve got to keep working at that and hopefully I won’t have any more setbacks,” Funk said. “I hope I can keep moving forward. So that’s the goal.
“I thought this was a great tournament to start.”
Funk said there are several reasons that make the Legends of Golf an attractive place for him to make his return.
One is the fact that the par-3 Top of the Rock will comprise 36 of the 54 holes at the event, making it less taxing on his body. Another is the team aspect, where he will be playing with Dana Quigley, a 72-year-old who makes the Legends of Golf one of his rare annual tournament appearances.
So will Funk be leaning on his partner all weekend?
“Hopefully I can help him a little bit here and there,” he said with a laugh. “I played 12 holes with him (Tuesday). I quit after 12 because I just didn’t want to go anymore. Dana was hitting it great.
“Hopefully he’s not looking for a new partner already.”
Funk freely admitted that his absence – covering the final six months of 2018, then nearly the first four months of 2019, with a few false starts mixed in – was rough on him.
“That’s one thing that I really miss so much is the camaraderie out here, the brotherhood that we have out here, the competition,” Funk said. “It’s a hell of a gig we’ve got out here that from 50 (years old) on, you can keep doing what you’ve done your whole life and just do what you love to do.”
Funk is realistic, too.
He knows the pain and injuries could come back at any time. He’s working to keep his body working at a high-enough level to keep him competitive on tour.
Or at least to let him end his career on his own terms.
“If my game falls apart or as I get older and I can’t compete, then yeah, I’ll fall off,” Funk said. “I don’t want to just show up. But I didn’t want to go out being hurt when I know when I feel good, I can still play at a high level.
“So hopefully I can still play at a high level when I get going again and I can, you know, just put myself in position to maybe win more than here or there.
“That’s what I would love to do.”