After laser surgery, Fred Funk had victory in his sights
This is an article from the June 15, 1998 issue
He went from 20/300 to 64-66. Last week Fred Funk, a
squinty-eyed Tour veteran, repaired the squint by staring into a
laser beam for 60 seconds. Three days later he was leading the
Kemper Open thanks to his first two scorching rounds, and though
he stumbled on Sunday to finish tied for third, golfers with
perfect vision were looking to follow his lead.
"My eyes are fine, but I want that surgery," joked Steve Pate.
Funk, 41, coached the Maryland golf team for seven years before
getting up the nerve to try the Tour in 1989. He has won four
times while fiddling nonstop with his swing, his grip and the
contact lenses that corrected his astigmatism. "I hated changing
my contacts, cleaning them all the time," he says. "They
distracted me when I putted, too. I always seemed to be putting
through a smudge." He was intrigued when Tom Kite had laser eye
surgery last winter. Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken, NFL
quarterback Rodney Peete, baseballer Jeff Conine and even Fanny
Sunesson, Nick Faldo's caddie, underwent similar operations.
Kite and Sunesson urged Funk to look into the matter. Two days
before the Kemper, he had his eyes examined by ophthalmic
surgeon Mark Whitten, who told Funk that his vision could
quickly be fixed. "We could do the surgery anytime," Whitten
"How about now? I'm an impatient guy," said Funk. Moments later
he was an outpatient. First came anesthetic drops to numb Funk's
corneas. Soon he was watching a flashing red light, keeping
perfectly still as Whitten used a microkeratome, an instrument
sharper than any razor, to slice a thin flap of clear, rubbery
cornea from the surface of his eye. "Things got blurry," says
Funk, who was more troubled by a burning smell in the room until
the doctor explained that the scent was caused by the gases
generating the beam. In the next minute Whitten's laser reshaped
Funk's cornea to prescription perfection. There were no
stitches; healing began immediately, along with better vision.
When the lights came on and Funk looked around the doctor's
office, he could see "everything, like I had binoculars." The
world was his sharper image catalog.
Was it shortsighted to risk an operation on the eve of a
tournament? "I probably should have been hesitant," says Funk.
"Dr. Whitten said there was a one- to five-percent chance I'd
miss the Kemper--good odds, but I was still changing my vision.
That could really screw a golfer up. But I'm not the type to
A restless experimenter, Funk changes his grip almost daily. Two
weeks ago at the Memorial he interlocked on Thursday, overlapped
on Friday and interlocked all weekend on his way to a 38th-place
finish. Sometimes he overlaps with the driver but interlocks
with his irons on the same hole. Still, no amount of improvising
could have prepared him for the sights he woke up to on the
Wednesday before the Kemper. "I could read the numbers on the
alarm clock," he recalls. "Faraway things were crystal clear."
Driving to the TPC at Avenel, he read the license plates of cars
100 feet ahead. But at the course he found that he could barely
decipher the word Titleist on his ball: "Things were fuzzy up
close, and my depth perception was off." On the driving range he
had trouble judging the distance from his eyes to the ball. He
barely made contact with the first few balls, topping them like
a duffer. "It looked so far down to the ball. For the first time
in my life, I felt tall," says the 5'8" Funk.
Still lacking depth perception during Thursday's first round, he
relied more than usual on caddie Paul Jungman. Funk would look
at a putt and say, "Paul, I have no clue." With Jungman as
seeing-eye caddie, he shot 64 to put FUNK atop the Kemper's
leader boards, which he could now read from two fairways away.
"I'm sure it helped that I had no expectations," he said, adding
that he has been "working on my attitude, trying to be looser"
since he angrily tossed a club earlier this year and
accidentally hit Jungman. Aghast at his behavior that day, Funk
swore he would reform, and last week he was loose enough to
laugh when a reporter suggested that improved vision might bring
more traps, lakes and O.B. stakes into view. "Thanks a lot. I'll
focus on that tomorrow," he said.
With less ocular pressure and none of the self-imposed kind, the
Maryland native kept Kemper galleries shouting all week. The
stage was set for a Broadway finale: Bring in 'da noise, bring
in 'da Funk. But on Sunday morning he hooked a tee shot into the
water and made a triple bogey. Soon he was six over par for the
day, bleeding like the capillaries that reddened his left eye.
Still, he stayed loose. He waved a towel, pretending to
surrender to the course and eventual winner Stuart Appleby. Funk
went on to play the last 13 holes even par for a 77 that felt
better than it looked. Third place was worth $90,200, his best
paycheck of the year. His eyes weren't the whole story, for
something else was different, too, something hardly anyone
noticed: The new, loose Funk finally got a grip.
"I interlocked all week," he said.
THE SHAG BAG
Start Your Engine: With the sun setting over Cincinnati's
Clovernook Country Club on Monday, Casey Martin sank a 20-foot
birdie putt to win a playoff in a sectional qualifier for next
week's U.S. Open. He will ride a specially designed cart at San
Francisco's Olympic Club.
Winners Never Quit: After getting stuck in traffic on Sunday
morning, Stuart Appleby walked a mile to the TPC at Avenel,
where he shot 72 to win the Kemper Open.
Shoot, a 59: Doug Dunakey had just cleared 55 when he had a
head-on collision with history. Last Friday at the Nike Miami
Valley Open, Dunakey (below) birdied the 17th hole at
Heatherwoode Golf Club in Springboro, Ohio, with his 54th shot
of the day. He hit a solid drive (55) and a decent six-iron
approach (56) on the 441-yard, par-4 home hole. "I was thinking
57," he says. But after running his 25-foot birdie putt two feet
past, he missed the gimme that would have given him the scoring
record in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event. "I lost my focus,"
Dunakey admitted after settling for the second 59 on the Nike
tour in a month, the fourth in PGA and Nike tour history. He
eventually tied for second, two shots behind victor Craig
Bowden. Al Geiberger, the original Mr. 59, got the news at the
Nationwide Senior Classic, where he finished 31st. "I dodged a
bullet," Geiberger said of the yip that cost Dunakey a 58.
Premium Quacker: John Jacobs, the longest driver on the Senior
tour, never took the game too seriously. "I was a bit of a
degenerate. I liked to party and sometimes golf got in the way,"
says Jacobs, who won the Nationwide to end his 30-year drought
on the PGA and Senior tours. An expert horseplayer, he won
$800,000 gambling last year, then took a vacation. "I have a
little pontoon boat," Jacobs says. "I smoked my cigars, floated
around, drank a little wine and talked to the ducks."
Half a Six-Pack: "Some other girls have played well. There's not
much I can do about that," said Annika Sorenstam, winless in '98
going into last week's Michelob Light Classic. Then she did
something: She edged Donna Andrews in a playoff to bag her third
Michelob Light. "It means a lot, getting some of that burden off
my back," said Sorenstam, standing tall again.
Real Quiet: With little fanfare, runner-up Andrews nosed into
first place in the LPGA money race with $465,434. "Golf isn't my
whole life. That's why I don't play many events. I go home to
play with my horses and my husband," said Andrews, who has a
stable at her house in Pinehurst, N.C.
Mystery Quote: "I was up all night, I was filthy, I was slimy,
and I loved it." Dennis Rodman in Las Vegas? No, that's Andrews,
recalling a night when she helped deliver a foal.
Open Season on Open Stuff
By the time players reach the homestretch of the U.S. Open on
June 21, the most popular souvenirs will be long gone. In recent
years caps festooned with the Stars and Stripes, retail price
$25, quickly sold out and fetched up to $100 for scalpers on and
off the grounds. This year, in an effort to be fair to everyone,
the USGA will open Open souvenir stands to all comers the week
before the tournament. "In 1987 the U.S. Open merchandising
operation was nothing but a couple of tables under a tent," says
championship coordinator Jon Barker. "Now it's more like a
Nordstrom department store." With 43 cash registers poised to
rake in more than $1 million, Barker anticipates selling 308,861
Open-logoed items, including a $29 tie-dyed T-shirt custom-made
for the San Francisco Open. Says Barker, "That one is our Jerry
THREE'S THE CHARM
Tom Watson left no doubt about his desire to win a third
consecutive Byron Nelson Classic in 1980. He opened the first
round with birdies on two of his first three holes and later
sank a 130-yard eight-iron for an eagle 2. Watson's 64 that day
would help him lead from wire to wire and beat Bill Rogers by a
stroke; he was the first PGA Tour player to win the same event
three years running since Johnny Miller's triumphs at the Tucson
Open from 1974 to '76. Watson so dominated his peers in
1980--six wins, a third British Open title and player of the
year honors--that fans may have thought his three-feat
elementary. But you needn't be Sherlock Holmes to deduce its
difficulty. In fact, no one has three-peated on Tour since.
Should Ernie Els fall short in a bid for his third straight
Buick Classic title this week, the Big Easy will know how hard
three can be.
What do these players have in common?
They rank one-two-three in Birdie Conversion Percentage, a Tour
stat showing who holes the most birdie putts on greens hit in