On The Hot Seat: Fred Funk
Like fine wine and "Seinfeld" reruns, Fred Funk keeps getting better with age.
Last year, the man known as Chickenhawk celebrated his 49th birthday by finishing 11th on the PGA Tour money list, thanks to a victory at The Players Championship. This year, he's claimed four top-25s in 19 starts, but now owns dual citizenship on separate tours. Funk turned the Big Five-Oh on June 14, and before making his senior circuit debut in this week's U.S. Senior Open, he took a ride On The Hot Seat with ESPN.com.
Q: How does it feel to be the youngest guy on tour?
A: A little different. [Laughs] Going from the oldest every week to the youngest. It's pretty neat, you can be a rookie twice.
Q: Will you split time equally between the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour or play one more than the other?
A: This year, I'm only playing three [Champions Tour events] -- this week, next week [Senior Players Championship] and the one in San Antonio.
Q: How about next year and beyond?
A: I'm not sure when I'm going to make the full transition. Everything's kind of up in the air. I'll have the luxury of cherry-picking on the big tour and this tour, so I'll play my favorite ones on the main tour and then test the waters out here and just see how things go, really.
Q: What can the Champions Tour do to endear itself more to the casual golf fan?
A: I think you can relate a lot more to the Champions Tour players and the golf course setups and relate more to the style of game we play versus the young tour now, which is becoming more of a power play. It's just guys that can hit it so far. These guys could be Long Drive guys, instead they're playing the tour, they're so good. And it's just become a pure power game, so I don't think many people can really relate to that, including myself.
Q: Speaking of that power game, you've led the PGA Tour in driving accuracy seven times. Do you believe accuracy is still more important than distance off the tee?
A: No, I think nowadays it's changed a little bit. There are venues where accuracy is beneficial -- and it's always beneficial -- but if you can hit the ball 300-plus in the air, that's a huge advantage right now. The way most courses are set up, and with the ball going this far, guys are able to do that. That's an advantage that's a little overwhelming because it can set up more birdie opportunities than I could, that's for sure.
Q: This year, you lead the PGA Tour's driving accuracy category by .1 percentage points over Joe Durant. Last year, you finished second -- by the same margin -- to Jeff Hart. How much did that one hurt?
A: Well, the year before, I won by one drive, and last year, I lost by one drive, but it's always been close. It's a stat that I'm very conscious of because it's the one stat I'm proud of and I can actually win. I'd much rather win one of the other stats like putting, or stroke average would be nice [laughs]. That would be the best one.
Q: What are your thoughts on the FedEx Cup, which begins next year?
A: I think if it creates the excitement that they plan on, and what it's designed to do is create excitement at the end of the year, then it'll be a great benefit. If they structure the points properly so that it identifies who they want and need to identify -- who's really the best player, the Player of the Year -- then I think it'll be great. Hopefully, it will be. I never thought that the wheel was broken out here. I thought the system and our schedule and everything was fine, but if this creates the excitement in September that we need after the PGA, then it will be a great benefit to the tour. I think the one negative to it is just that everybody is a little skeptical of change and they're scared of change and they just want to make sure that they're not going to ruin something or make things worse, and I guess we've just got to wait and see. But I think right now it is an exciting concept and hopefully it will work, because we all know that we can't really compete in the fall with the NFL. We need to create the excitement just in the beginning parts of the NFL season and cap the tour schedule off.
Q: Realistically, is the FedEx Cup grand prize of $10 million too much money for a golfer to earn? Are things getting out of hand monetarily?
A: No, I don't think so. I think it's only going to be probably the guys who don't need the money anyway who are going to win it. The intriguing part is whether that's going to be the driving force, the carrot out there, a big enough carrot for the guys to really care enough to play for that money. I think it's more for the titles. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and those guys are playing for history books, which is how many majors they've won and how great their careers have been with tournament victories, and I don't think it's so much of a bonus structure they're looking at. If they win and do what they want in the majors, and that is chasing history and be known for being a great golfer, the money is going to come to them anyway, so how big a draw that's going to be, I don't know. It would be huge money for an upset guy, say someone like me. If I had a chance to win a $10 million bonus, that would create a heck of a lot of excitement in my household.
Q: And what would be going through your mind if you had one putt to win that $10 million?
A: I think I might revert to closing my eyes and praying and I don't know. I already do pray over the thing, but I haven't closed my eyes yet. Yeah, there'd be a little bit of anxiety.
Q: You won the Players Championship last year. Do you consider it a major victory?
A: Yeah, that was huge. Obviously, the biggest tournament I've ever won. The Players Championship, I think, [was deserving] of a major category long before I even won it, just because it's a great test of golf and it's the strongest field in golf. But it's lacking the history the true majors have, and that's what it'll always be fighting. And you've got to rewrite all the history books if you do make it a major, so whether that'll ever happen, who knows? It's probably more up to the media than it is to us.
Q: If you could, would you trade it in for a title at one of the four majors?
A: No, I wouldn't right now, because [Ponte Vedra Beach is] my new home. I moved there in '93, and to win that big of a tournament on that big of a stage in my hometown, that's huge. I can always go to the TPC and see my banner there with my name on it and be on the Champions Circle. It's really, really special. I wouldn't trade that win for anything, absolutely not.
Q: How good a golf coach were you at University of Maryland?
A: I was a good chaperone; I was not a great golf coach. I tried to offer the guys an opportunity to play against the best competition, which was in the ACC, and go up against the best and get a good schedule for them, but I kind of got frustrated with the different personalities and their work ethics. I worked harder than they did, and I tried to lead by example more than I did by forcing the guys. It was a great time in my life, but as far as actually being a golf coach, I didn't really coach the kids that much. I kind of let them play golf and gave them the opportunity to go play, and if they wanted to rise to the next level, then it was up to them.
Q: Little-known fact: You majored in law enforcement at the University of Maryland. Have you ever needed to put that to use?
A: No, but I was thinking about being a cop at one time. I enjoyed getting that degree, and I'm proud of the fact that I did finish. It took me a little extra time, but I did finish and actually got my degree and it allowed me to get the coaching job, because you had to have that, so it was a big step for me to get that degree and always have something I could fall back on.
Q: What does a guy with more than $19 million in career earnings get for a birthday present?
A: A card!
Q: And that's it?
A: Yeah, and a couple of shirts. That's about it.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com