Funk gets spot on Ryder team

After missing cut at PGA, ex-Terps coach watches, waits, receives good news

Golf

August 16, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

As Fred Funk was clearing out his locker at Whistling Straits after missing the cut in the 86th PGA Championship, the former Maryland golf coach bumped into U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton.

"I was talking to Hal about the atmosphere at the Presidents Cup [last year in South Africa] and how exciting that was, and he said that playing the Ryder Cup on U.S. soil is about 100 times more," Funk said last night.

Funk, 48, will get the chance to experience what many believe is the most exciting event in golf as a member of the U.S. team that tries to regain the Cup from Europe next month at Oakland Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Despite struggling with his swing for much of the season and then suffering a rib-cage injury during a pro-am at the recent Buick Open, Funk used his play over the past two seasons to secure a spot on the 12-man team.

"It's hard to fathom, really," Funk said last night by telephone from Akron, Ohio, where he will play in this week's World Golf Championship NEC Invitational.

It was also hard to watch at times this weekend as others tried to knock him off the team. With Funk out of the PGA Championship and sitting in the eighth spot on the U.S. team points list, there were as many as five players who could have passed him yesterday in Haven, Wis.

There was one extremely nervous moment yesterday for Funk, when one of the television announcers mentioned that Justin Leonard had a chance to make the team if he won the season's last major championship. It turned out to be incorrect, but Funk didn't know it at the time.

"It got me in another panic," he said.

Funk admitted that playing the role of spectator with a rooting interest was a difficult position to be in the past two days.

"I told Hal I really wanted to make this team as bad as I really wanted anything, but I still want the guys to play well," Funk said. "It's a two-edged sword there. You don't know what to do.

"I wasn't rooting against anybody by any means. It is hard. You're sitting there watching TV or looking at the paper. It's no fun watching when you have no control."

But Chris DiMarco, who along with Leonard wound up losing to Vijay Singh in a three-man playoff at the PGA Championship, was the only one who leapfrogged over Funk in the point standings. Chris Riley, who finished one shot out of a playoff, claimed the 10th spot.

Sutton will choose his two captain's picks today. They are expected to be veterans Jay Haas and Scott Verplank. Others who have been mentioned include left-hander Steve Flesch, who finished 11th on the point list, and Stewart Cink.

"I was really honored to be picked by [Jack] Nicklaus on the Presidents Cup team, to have a captain pick you, especially a guy like Nicklaus pick you, is pretty honorable," Funk said. "To make the Ryder Cup on my own merit is huge."

Funk is believed to be the second-oldest American player in history to have made the team, behind only then 51-year-old Ray Floyd in 1993.

It is certainly the pinnacle of a career that didn't really start until Funk made the tour until 1989, when he was nearly 33.

"I've come off three exceptional seasons in a row and my expectations were high," Funk said. "It's been frustrating this year, but this is icing here. This makes up for everything."

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