Fred Funk knew he was going to require a total right-knee replacement. It was just a matter of when. The time to replace the bad knee -- which was devoid of cartilage and had plagued Funk for more than a year -- with an artificial joint came Monday morning.
The surgery was performed by Dr. R. David Heekin, medical director of the Orthopedic Center of Excellence at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Jacksonville, Fla., and the surgery went well, according to Funk's wife, Sharon. Funk, 53, is expected to be hospitalized for two to three days before returning to his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. His wife said he may be able to begin hitting balls in six weeks, and he is shooting for a return to the Champions Tour early in 2010 if everything goes well.
While a number of professional golfers have returned to a high caliber of play after having hip replacement (Tom Watson, for one), there isn't a long track record for those receiving an artificial knee.
Homero Blancas had a knee replacement in the latter stages of his senior career. Peter Jacobsen had right-knee replacement on April 2, 2008, returned to competition in less than three months later but was able to play in only two more events that season. The knee replacement came after having his left hip replaced Sept. 9, 2006. Continuing to struggle with weakness and pain in his left leg, Jacobsen played in only eight Champions Tour events in 2009, his best finish a T-22 at the AT&T Championship.
Despite being bothered by his right knee and a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Funk finished fifth on the senior money list in 2009 and won the U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick GC in a dominating, 20-under performance - the lowest 72-hole aggregate in relation to par in USGA history - that put him over the $25 million-mark in career winnings on the PGA and Champions tours.
"Right now standing over the ball, I know my knee hurts and I know it's going to hurt during the golf swing and sometimes I just hit some shots that just are not even close to what I normally hit," Funk said at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship. "The knee is so arthritic and weak."
Funk had surgery for torn cartilage in his right knee in late May of 2008 and subsequently it was drained of fluid 18 times. He developed a dangerous staph infection in the joint late last year. "I had no idea how sick it can make you feel and the worst-case scenarios are not very good scenarios," Funk said of the potentially life-threatening infection that was caught in time.
A different knee brace obtained this past June gave Funk some relief from the arthritic pain, but a limp was still evident even as he cruised to his six-shot victory at Crooked Stick. "But eventually, I'm going to need a new knee, there's no question," Funk said then.
-- Bill Fields