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An Interview With: Fred Funk

JULIUS MASON: Fred Funk, ladies and gentlemen, playing in his 15th PGA Championship.

Welcome to Wisconsin, Whistling Straits. Some opening comments and we'll go to Q&A.

FRED FUNK: Actually I got around, I played nine holes today, the first nine after a couple of weeks ago I've played. It's a really nice golf course, actually, after the second time. It's very fair, as long as you hit it where you're supposed to hit it, just don't hit it where you're not supposed to hit it.

Even with the wind the way it was blowing today, I was very impressed with the condition of the golf course and it if it plays the way it did today, if conditions play similar, it will be a very fair test and a fun test.

Boring opening comment.

Q. You're the first guy that's used the word fun.

FRED FUNK: Well, it could be. I mean, it's interesting. It's true, I could see where a lot of guys, and the first time I played it, I didn't really think that at all. But today was much tougher conditions than when I was here a two weeks ago, and I thought it was very good.

Again, the par 3s are going to be a pivotal factor. There's a lot of birdie holes out there. There are some holes out there that are very difficult, but you can pick and choose your spots and be a little more aggressive, but you've got to be really careful with the par 3s and a couple of those really long par 4s.

Q. As a completely unrelated follow-up, how is your health?

FRED FUNK: I played the first time Sunday at home since Milwaukee, and it was a lot better than I thought. I was hitting balls on Friday and was very apprehensive and very -- just didn't feel too confident that I was even going to come on Friday. I didn't feel very good at all. And then Saturday was a little bit of an improvement, but I only hit a few balls, and Sunday my doctor says, you have to go out and play.

So I went out and was swinging just about 70 percent and was okay. It wasn't too bad. I was just real apprehensive. I went out today, I didn't hit any balls yesterday. I flew in.

Today I hit really good. I was actually able to swing about 90 percent with the driver and feel pretty good.

I think it's actually almost healed. It's just that I'm not positive it's healed and I don't want to injure it. Mentally I'm not able to go at it yet, but hopefully by Thursday, if it keeps improving, I'll be fine by Thursday and I should be able to swing at it. I need to. I don't hit it that far to start with, so swinging 80 percent, when my 100 percent is not very far, isn't good.

Today when I hit it in a couple awkward spots, I didn't even go and try to hit it because I know I can't go at it hard enough to get it out of that trouble, so I would just toss it back in the fairway.

Q. The course is relatively unknown to most people. Can you compare it to another championship venue and maybe say why you think it's like another course?

FRED FUNK: Well, of all the PGAs I've ever played, there's nothing like it. It's somewhat similar to -- you could say a little similar to Shinnecock, but then again, it's not because this is so created. It's just a man-made golf course, but it's very good. Pete Dye did a great job out there. There's a couple of visually tough shots out there where you're not comfortable because you can't see what you're hitting into. No. 8 is a very tough hole visually to hit, second shot on No. 2.

But overall, it's the expanse of the land and everything and all of the bunkers that are not in play. You just see everything, and yet very little of what you see is really in play. So you've just got to get over the intimidation factor. That's what's different.

When you go to the courses like Oak Hill and Medinah and all of our traditional golf courses where we've been playing the PGA, rolling hills, tree-lined, that's what we are used to looking at. Here, you've just got to get over the distraction factor of this golf course and just concentrate on where you really need to hit it, so on certain holes you've really got to work on the lines that you're on. And probably the other thing that's a big factor is if the wind keeps changing directions each day, each hole will play completely different, so you'll have different lines. You've just got to get used to your points of where you've got to go, where you know the ball is going to run out and where you need to keep it in play.

Obviously, you know where to go, but you've got to really focus in on that spot. It's difficult to do when you have this huge expanse of land, visual perspective that you have out there. There's very little of those bunkers that are really in play, but you see them. So that's the biggest difference, I think.

Q. The PGA announced this week that they are going to play all of the sand traps as true sand traps and there are not going to be any waste areas. Do you see any problems like pace of play or getting stuck in a situation you might not want to be in, like a footprint or wheel mark?

FRED FUNK: Well, now you're going to have less chance of that happening because they are going to be right and maintained after everybody walks in, and playing that shot instead of waste areas where you walk in and you hit it and don't worry about it, you just kind of kick your footprint around if you want or leave it there so somebody else will hit into it.

Having those bunkers is what they should have done. I'm glad they did that. I see the concern, where do you maintain and not maintain because there's so many of them, but inside the rope line is a good way to do it, I think. I'm sure they hemmed and hawed over that for a long time.

Q. Stop me whenever this gets ridiculous if it does. Is there a point at which a golf course maybe gets so long that it actually starts to favor you, because other guys are forced to hit 2-iron, 3-iron, 4-iron, 3-wood approaches whereas you're used to that and they are not?

FRED FUNK: I remember Hazeltine, that most of the par 5s, except for the real long guys, nobody was getting home. So that was fine with me because I couldn't get home. As long as they couldn't get home, I would put my wedge game with their wedge game when I'm playing well, so that's fine. That is an advantage in that regard.

But in my mind there's also no substitute for length and power and there never will be. If a guy is hitting an 8- or 9-iron into a hole and I'm hitting 5-, 6-, 7-irons into a hole, he's going to beat me over four days, unless I'm really putting well. It's just more difficult for a shorter hitter to beat a guy on a golf course that favors long hitting. Just physics, really.

Q. As a bubble guy on the Ryder Cup Team, is it tough to not think about that this week, or is that something you entertain while you're trying to at that point dance through a pretty healthy minefield out there already?

FRED FUNK: That's all I've been thinking about all year. All of my decisions I've made, even in Milwaukee, I always look at the scoreboard but I didn't even look at it once on Sunday. Just concentrate on trying to do what I needed to do to get points. I wanted to get as high as could I on that board, but I knew if I was making birdies and I knew I was playing well and I knew I was moving up the board, but I didn't know where I was in relation to the leader till I putted out on the last hole.

My caddie said the board was already scrolling down and I missed where Carlos was, and he said, "You're two back of Carlos," so I said, "Well, hopefully I'll get second here." It turned out I got good points on that one.

Obviously you want to win. I knew I really wanted to get Top-10, and usually when you're in Top-10 you're in position to win the golf tournament, as well, but still, I just wanted points. That particular time, I was just thinking, points, points, points.

Q. On the same topic, can the difficulty of this course and the concentration it's going to demand be an asset as far as not thinking about the Ryder Cup and all that's at stake this week?

FRED FUNK: You're not going to be thinking of the Ryder Cup on day one, two, three, or even probably going into the last day. You might think of it going into playing the last day, but depends on what position you are coming down the back nine on Sunday when it's all where you are in relation to the Top-10. Or if you do have a chance to win, then the heck with the points at that point. Now you're trying to win a major. Obviously you're going to get some points if you don't win the major and you still finish in the Top-10, but you want to have a little control of your own destiny out there and get some points. You sure don't want to get passed.

Last year I passed Bob Estes. We flip-flopped 12/11, and I think Jack was always going to pick 11, and 12 was going to be a wild card. I have no idea what Hal is thinking, but I don't want to be a captain's pick. I would love to be a captain's pick, but I don't want to have to be a captain's pick and I don't expect to be a captain's pick, and I don't think anyone else is really expecting to be at this point. I just want to go out there and get enough points so that I know no matter what anybody else does, they can't pass me.

Q. At 48, you would be the second-oldest player to play in the Ryder Cup. Do you and Jay Haas talk about that at all? And do you think is this maybe your last really good chance to Mike make the Ryder Cup?

FRED FUNK: I think it is my last chance, because I'm more than likely going at this point, June of 2006, I'm flipping over to the Champions Tour. I don't plan on looking back. I'm not going to do what Jay is doing. I'm looking forward to going over to that side and have another chapter in my golf career. So I don't anticipate having another run at it.

It's really exciting for me at this stage of my career, and my career where I came from and everything else, to even have a chance at a Ryder Cup. But after experiencing the Presidents Cup, that was my whole focus. I had no idea what that's like, to represent your country and be part of a team atmosphere. That was really a special time. That was the most special thing I've ever had in my golf career. I'd really like to experience that again.

You know, I'm as close as I've ever been going into the last week to making the team, so hopefully everything will work out.

Q. You mentioned that you feel better about this course than the first time you played it. In talking to your fellow players, do you get that feeling, too?

FRED FUNK: I played with Jerry Kelly and Kenny Perry today. Obviously Jerry has played the golf course a few times, I think the last couple of weeks, and it was Kenny's first time around. And Kenny really liked it, Jerry thought it was very fair.

Kenny has not seen 18 yet. That's the only hole I really question out here. I think 17 is a little tough, too. But 18 is really a tough, tough hole and a little bizarre green there. Hopefully it won't get too controversial, anything on 18, I doubt it, because it's the same hole for everybody. But the day I played it, I was -- I hit a good drive, 230 to the back pin, and it was standing on a downhill knob right in the middle of the fairway. I just don't have that shot. I don't have a 230 shot off a downhill lie. And today, I didn't play the hole, but it would have played -- I doubt if I could have each reached the green in two today with the way the wind was coming. I would have had to bail out to the right and had 260 or more into the green. Well, I'm not sure, I didn't play it. But the way the direction of the second shot was, it was straight into the wind, I think.

Q. Is this the type of course that once the shock value wears off, you play it a couple of times?

FRED FUNK: Yeah, I do. I think it's a course you get a comfort level because once you get comfortable with your lines of sight and the visuals, throw the fu-fu out and you go out and it's a normal golf course.

Q. Because of all the chatter over your bid to make the Ryder Cup and the British Open and all of that, do you have any sense like you need to prove something this week, or do you think being eighth place in the standings states your case as it is?

FRED FUNK: Everybody is making a big deal. I don't know what's so wrong with me not going to the British Open and me going to the B.C. Open. It was within the rules. It was within -- it was what's best for me. I was doing what was best for me. Why should I go to a venue or to a course that I have zero good history at? I don't enjoy going over there, I never have, and I've got my best chance ever to make a Ryder Cup Team, and I expected to get some criticism. But because everybody thinks it was the right decision to go to the British Open, and that was the only decision, it was like the only thing to do and it was taboo to skip a major.

I was looking at it as what's best for me. I didn't want to be tired when I came back. I didn't want to go over there and ruin my game like I have every year when I go over there and my game is just in a frazzle. I just do not really enjoy it that much.

Muirfield I enjoyed a lot. St. Andrews I enjoyed because of the history, even though I played horrible. Carnoustie and Royal St. George were a nightmare, and I heard with Troon being the most northern venue and history of the most severe weather that they have in the British Open, I didn't want to put myself through that, so I didn't.

I expected to get criticized. Probably the biggest criticism was not so much playing the British but having another venue to go play opposite it where I have had a really good history. I didn't get any points there, though it would have really been more of a -- they could have made a bigger deal if I went there and won or got points. I didn't make any points there.

I did do well at Milwaukee, and so I think my decision was good. Without those points, I would be on even more of a bubble than I am now. I could definitely be passed real easy. Now it takes three guys to pass me to bump me off the team. Mathematically that can happen, but without Milwaukee, that second place -- it was the only thing on my mind coming down the back stretch, coming down the back nine was keep making some birdies. I finished good. I was pretty proud birdieing 16 and 18, coming in, moving up the leaderboard, and I was actually lucky that a few of the guys did not birdie 18 and knock me back and cost me some more points.

Anyway, that's the bottom line.

Q. Did Milwaukee surprise you at all, given how you had played most of the summer?

FRED FUNK: I had been struggling with my game really bad. I went on an eight-week stretch -- that was the other thing. I played eight weeks prior to my two weeks off before B.C. Open. Very seldom have I ever gone eight-week stretches, but it was just courses that I had to play, really liked and just the way the schedule fell.

So I committed to all of those and I was really struggling with my game but I found out what I was doing in the early part of that, but I was working really hard on trying to get it fixed, but it took me a long time. I had some really bad alignment issues and posture issues, and I couldn't get back to being comfortable.

I started to come around at Westchester, and I love Westchester. I still missed the cut there. Then at the U.S. Open, at least I started hitting the ball solid. I didn't feel -- even though I finished seventh or sixth there, shooting 77 on Sunday, even though that was below the average, the golf course was so goofy by Saturday afternoon and Sunday, I didn't feel like I even knew where my game was. It became goofy golf. Finally I finished sixth in the Open. It just felt like they ruined the golf course on Sunday and it was pretty sad.

I think most of the people walking off -- Phil played great golf. I witnessed some of the best ball-striking I've ever seen, and he didn't get rewarded for a lot of his good shots. I saw some of the replays of Retief making putts, up-and-down from all over the place, that's what you needed to do to win.

Ernie Els shooting whatever he shot, 80 or whatever, that wasn't golf on Sunday. So I didn't know how to measure my game even coming out of the U.S. Open. So I wasn't still real high on my game and I still needed to work on it, and then I hurt my ribs and I couldn't work on my game. So it's been a frustrating year a little bit. I had played well at venues that have been really good ones. Hilton Head, THE PLAYERS Championship and U.S. Open and Milwaukee have been my Top-10s and they have all been pretty good venues.

So, I know those kind of tough conditions can help my game, is good for my game.

Q. When you came here the first time, was the No. 1 tee playing all the way back?

FRED FUNK: No. We had caddies, and they told us, well, this is where they are thinking of having this, but they moved it up so we knew it was not a 491 or whatever that is.

Q. Since you have played here now, or you will have played here now this week, does that automatically stamp you as a favorite for the 2007 Senior Open?

FRED FUNK: I saw that was on the schedule on TV. I said, that's pretty neat that I get to come back here in a few years.

I don't know, hopefully I'll be healthy and everything will be good.

Q. Do you think that some of that criticism that you expected to get affected you the week of the B.C. Open because it was fresh?

FRED FUNK: I was so burned out after those eight weeks, I went home and I just didn't practice much and I just didn't feel like it. I was so tired. I worked on my game so hard and I went through a stretch where I worked the hardest I had ever worked in my career as far as the time I was putting into my game. I was getting very little out of it because it was taking me so long to get it right.

I wasn't -- I didn't expect to play that great at B.C. because I was a little rusty going into Thursday. Then Thursday I didn't play a good round. But then I played pretty solid the other three days. I didn't have high expectations at B.C. I was really looking at that to where I knew Milwaukee was a good course for me, and I usually play really good at Flint. I was trying to get back into it. I was just too tired to really work on my game when I went home.

That was another factor with the British Open. I was already tired and I didn't want to go over there.

Q. When you look at the points now and you see three people it would take to pass you, do you feel like you need to make some points this week?

FRED FUNK: I would like to make some points this week. Like I said, it would take three guys in a lot of different scenarios for three guys to pass me and knock me to 11 or 12, but it could happen. I go through all of the scenarios and I just don't even want to think about them all. Since Milwaukee I've had two weeks, and I've stayed in the same position. The gap is not really narrowed that much between me and nine. But it's just so tight right behind there.

Q. That said, Fred, being as honest as you can, when you finished the round on Thursday and on Friday, Saturday, etc., etc., you look at the scores, are you looking to see what Stewart did and what Scott did and what those guys at 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 spots did?

FRED FUNK: Yeah, you can't help but see what they are doing. I was watching The International yesterday and trying to figure -- and I was rooting for the guys, too. I want the guys to be on the team -- I had such a great time with Jerry Kelly and DiMarco and Jay Haas on the team at the Presidents Cup, we had such a great chemistry. I want them to play well but I don't want them to pass me. It's a Catch-22. I'm rooting for them really hard.

I just want to go out there and play and I really want to be on the team. If I end up being 10th, that's great. If I end up being a captain's pick, although I really seriously doubt that will happen, that's fine, too, or if I get knocked off the team, that's fine, too. It's fun to be in this position.

Q. Just as a follow-up, because you were, as you said, you went 12-11 last year at Oak Hill and Jack picked 11, do you not think that if one of those flukey scenarios happened and you dropped to 11 you would not be a pick?

FRED FUNK: Well, I sure I would not expect to be a pick. Granted, I could see where a captain would say 11, and 11 is probably going to be so close to 10, the points will be so narrow right there, 10, 11, 12, all the way down. It's just not a guarantee. He's going to try to fit in the right guys. I really think Hal is not going to play any favorites with anybody. He is out to put the best team who he believes has the best chemistry to win the Ryder Cup.

I don't think 11, unless it's the right guy at 11, it might just be the guy that he was looking at anyway, and he's 11th and just say, okay, I was going to take 11 anyway or he was going to take 11 anyway. I don't think that's going to be the case. If the right guy is 11, yeah.

See, I really don't think -- I don't know, I was kind of surprised that Jack -- I shouldn't say that.

Jack I think was going to take 11. I was lucky to be 11. I think if Bob was at 11, he was going to take Bob Estes, and Jay Haas was always going to be the wild card because he deserved it and playing great. I think 11 was going to be the pick, whether it was Bob or me, and he was going to take Jay, not knowing -- I'm just guessing that.

I don't think Hal is really looking at -- I'm going to take 11 or whoever. I think he's saying, who is going to be the best other two guys. They are going to be true captain's picks and that's fine. He has the right to do that. Everybody is throwing John Daly in there right now. He would be a great asset to the team. But, you know, it's going to come down to this week.

I don't think anybody from 11 through -- I haven't seen the list recently, but 11 through -- I'd go even right here down to 25 would not be a bad pick. But definitely anybody in that top 20, there would not be anybody that doesn't deserve to go.

Q. Why don't you think that you would be a captain's pick, specifically, and especially with the format, something like alternate-shot, you're such a great driver, always in the middle, that would be a huge asset I would think.

FRED FUNK: Yeah, it would be. I didn't quite finish my story. It was two old guys ended up getting picked. I still have a hard time believing I'm one of the oldest guys out here, but I am one of the oldest. If they picked me, 47, and Jay, 50 -- 49 at the time, I think, well, doesn't matter. Basically it was two captain's picks were old guys. One of them was a rookie, being me without any kind of team competition -- well, Warburg Cup once, but that doesn't really count (Laughter). Any kind of competition like that.

That was probably unusual picks to pick two guys that elderly to get out there and represent the team. And I don't think that will happen again because I really think if Jay happens to fall out, I think Jay is going to be a pick, and the other guy, I don't know. Probably Verplank. He's been playing great.

The hard thing with the system is Jay finishes 11th at the U.S. Open, Verplank has finished 11th or 12th a few times this year, and you don't get any points. It's a pretty harsh system, but it is the system so you have to play within it. You know, you need Top-10s. You can't screw up coming down the stretch on Sundays. You just can't do it if that's what your focus is, is to make the team. So it puts a little additional pressure on you.

All of us knew it coming down the stretch any tournament we're facing right now. You know if you don't have a chance to win, you know you have to get Top-10. Sometimes that's harder than trying to win the tournament, because there are so many ties, one shot, no points.

Q. What assets would you bring to the team whether you qualify or as a captain's pick?

FRED FUNK: I think I'm a really good team guy. Even when I'm in my normal group, I always wish well for the guy I'm playing with, I tell him good shot, great putt, whatever. Phil and I had a great chemistry on Sunday at the U.S. Open this year. It was great to be in that atmosphere. I love that kind of atmosphere. I get pretty fired up, really into it. I really enjoy it. It's just fun.

I love the team aspect of it. I really enjoyed the pressure of it. I thought the intensity of the Presidents Cup was phenomenal. It was just a great atmosphere I never experienced at that level before, and I want to experience it again. That's probably the biggest thing. I don't want to miss it.

Q. Following up on that, you've been the most outspoken guy out there saying you want to make the team.

FRED FUNK: All of us have said that. Jerry Kelly has said it as much as I have, at least. He wants this thing so bad, he'd slice his wrists for it write now. All of us do.

The guys that -- the rookies that were there at the Presidents Cup last year, we were awe talking about it at the dinners every night and even Saturday night after we got blitzed, no points, and we were all talking about how great the atmosphere, how great the team was, how great it was, let's go tomorrow and play as good as we can. It was phenomenal.

So DiMarco, I know he wants it bad, Jerry, me. All of the guys that experienced it for the first time want it bad, and it will probably be my last time, definitely, to have a chance to do it, first and last, so I really want it. Obviously, that's more incentive. Jerry and Chris I think will have a lot more opportunities.

Q. Was that the night you guys ordered out McDonald's?

FRED FUNK: You know, that might have been Friday night. I forgot, we did have McDonald's one night, and I think that's why we didn't get it again. I don't know if that was Saturday or Friday.

Q. I think it was Saturday.

JULIUS MASON: Fred Funk, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much.

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