Fred Funk is a friendly guy. Great name, for sure. Part button-down, part soul music.
Everywhere the professional golfer goes, people follow like he’s the pied piper. He’s not big and strapping like some of these dudes who bash the little white golf ball so far you can’t stand next to them by the tee markers and follow the flight until it lands 350 yards away in the fairway.
According to the PGA Champions Tour’s official web stats, Funk stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 165 pounds. He turned professional in 1981. The native of Takoma Park, Md., was the golf coach at the University of Maryland before he got good enough at the game to make a living playing it instead.
He attended the big university in College Park, too. That’s where my first story here on the Blog of Funny Names gets a little funkier. I, too, went to the University of Maryland. At the same time as Fred Funk.
I can surely remember the day the spunky little dude with the blazing blue eyes and the funny name came up to my roommates Greg and Mike and I at the tee, introduced himself, and joined us. For a couple of holes, here’s how it went. Fred Funk hit the fairway with his drive and found the green with and iron and stroked his putt into the hole. We’d smack our drive somewhere and search and whack our second shot somewhere and scratch our heads and he’d even help me look for my ball and I’d skull a wedge over the green and eventually, finally, miraculously somehow sink a 30-footer for triple-bogey. Then Fred Funk politely said he had a class up shortly enough and continued onward by himself.
That class likely was the next morning, yet we did not blame him a bit, so good was he and so regular-hacker were we.
Fred Funk will not recall any of this, I am sure. I wish I could say I remember it because of that great name, the one that rolls right off the tongue, never left my head. But the tale goes more like this: After I graduated in 1979 I became sports editor of the newspaper headquartered in College Park and assigned a reporter to write a story about Fred Funk, local guy and aspiring golfer.
Fred Funk’s golf game got better, but slowly. He made the PGA Tour to stay in 1989 at the age of 33, a late bloomer for sure. He won his first PGA tournament, the Shell Houston Open, in 1991. By then, I worked at the big daily in Syracuse, N.Y., and began making sure that I attended the B.C. Open in Endicott, a suburb of Binghamton, to follow Fred Funk around all four rounds. I met and made friends with his dad, Stan, and after I told him of my (small) Maryland ties with Fred, he made sure Fred knew who I was. We all ate lunch together in the caddie trailer. We rode to and from the driving range in the players’ only van.
Fred Funk won the B.C. Open in 1996, this little guy with a big heart (and funny name). But every year it seemed he had the biggest crowds following his group. I was standing next to Stan the day Fred shot his best round ever, a 61, and was next to Stan at the green for Fred’s hole-in-one, which brought tears to his dad’s eyes.
In total, Fred Funk won eight tournaments on the PGA tour, and then nine on the champions tour, where he’s still playing at the age of 58. Get this. Fred Funk has won more than $31 million in official money on the PGA and Champions tours. Remember, though, Fred Funk was a friendly guy before he won a dime and his collection of interesting looking trophies.
Here are stories that add to the legend of his name.
His galleries, the fans that follow him around at tournaments, liked to call themselves Funk’s Punks.
At some tournaments, Funk’s Punks would split up on either side of the green. One side would yell “Fred.” And the other would yell “Funk.” This in a sport where marshalls hold up signs that say shhhhhhh.
When Fred Funk played with Fred Couples, he would point out himself that big driver Fred’s nickname was Bam Bam, and he was more of a Poof Poof.
During the Skins Game, Funk made a bet with Annika Sorenstam, the top woman golfer in the world who was part of that year’s foursome, about who would drive the ball longer from the tee.
And to settle the bet, Fred took the skirt Annika pulled out of her golf bag, pulled it on over his golf pants, rolled up his pants legs, and continued to play the hole of the nationally televised event.
One afternoon in Endicott, N.Y., as we stood by the side of a hole, Stan told me about another, less successful pro golfer by the name of Fred who’d introduced himself to Stan years back and told him he’d changed his name before trying to make it on the tour. Stan told me to guess what the guy’s real name had been. He let me squirm, too, as I ran through Bob and Joe and Harry. Stan shook his head slowly for the punch line. Nope. Last name. The guy had been named Fred Funk. Two Fred Funks … no way! The one we have is an original.
This is Mark Bialczak’s debut post for BoFN. He posts daily about music, movies, sports, life and many things at markbialczak.com. Through November, he’s hosting team Nano Poblano a collective of bloggers for NaBloPoMo.