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After near-miss in Sony Open qualifier, Fred Funk laments his 'Blue Plate Special' game and ponders his future

January 10, 2023
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Fred Funk of the United States reacts after missing a birdie putt during the 2022 Ally Challenge.

Mike Mulholland

HONOLULU — Fred Funk likes to refer to his game as the Blue Plate Special. “On just about any par 4, my drive is going to be somewhere around the [blue] 200 marker—within 10 yards short or long,” the veteran PGA Tour Champions player said. “I’m 66 years old with a bad back. I probably have no business playing [competitive] golf anymore.”

Evidence to the contrary was apparent this week at Hoakalei Country Club, where Funk was among 69 players to compete in the Monday qualifier for the Sony Open in Hawaii and came within one stroke of advancing into the first full-field PGA Tour event of the year. Funk managed to carve out a four-under 68 that got him into a nine-for-one playoff, but he, um … fell short when he bogeyed the first extra hole.

“First playoff hole, par 5, I’m hitting 8-iron for my third and all those young guys are reaching in two, so, yeah, I was cooked,” Funk said during a brief phone interview.

Winner of eight PGA Tour titles, including the 2005 Players, and nine more on the PGA Tour Champions, Funk is scheduled to compete in next week’s season opener on the senior circuit at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii. But plans changed when he agreed to caddie for his son, Taylor, in the Sony Open pre-qualifier on Thursday at Kapolei Golf Course and again the Monday qualifier if Taylor advanced.

But then he got to thinking he also would like to play in the qualifier at Hoakalei, regardless of Taylor’s fortunes. With dad on the bag, Taylor finished ninth at Kapolei at five-under 67, which meant both Funks were among the 69 in the Monday qualifier for the Sony Open. Taylor putted poorly and shot 74, while Fred exceeded his own expectations. By a lot.

“Taylor is playing really well … he probably just missed his caddie,” Funk said with a chuckle

“Honestly, I was just trying to get a round of golf in that counted to get ready for Hualalai,” he added. “Not a lot of good golf weather in Austin [Texas] right now.”

When he birdied three of his first four holes, Funk’s mindset changed, and he began to grind out a score on a course that measured 7,171 yards—not overly long, but tough enough on a guy averaging about 230 yards off the tee. He earned a spot in the playoff by saving par at the last after hitting a 3-wood to 12 feet following a poor drive. In all, he made seven birdies against three bogeys. Had he advanced, he would have made his first start in the event since 2017 and his 25th appearance at Waialae Country Club dating to his debut in 1989. His best finish was T-5 in 2001.

Danny Guise of Greenwich, Conn., ended up winning the final spot to earn his first PGA Tour start.

Funk has dealt with a series of back problems for several years and underwent his latest surgery in March. He made 18 PGA Tour Champions starts in 2022 but struggled, managing just one top-25 finish. He isn’t sure if he will continue playing beyond this year—and the qualifier didn’t really change his mind about that.

“I just haven’t been competitive. I think I might be the second-oldest player out there after Jay Haas, and I don’t really have the game for it, although Taylor is helping me try to find a little more speed,” he said. “I love being with the guys out there, I love the camaraderie. I want to keep playing, but I just want to be better. I’m going to give it this year, give it everything I got and see what I have left.”

It appears he still has more than a little game left.