Quietly following Fred Funk

It’s been, oh, a quarter-century now that I’ve had the pleasure of following a guy I share an alma mater with around the hills of Endicott, N.Y.

No, I’m not stalking pro golfer Fred Funk.

But once again I was able to send an email to my friends that host Fred when he plays in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open on the PGA Champions Tour and tell Ken and Cindy that my dear wife Karen and I would love to watch the former University of Maryland Terrapin play on the final Sunday round of this year’s event and find two tickets waiting in an envelope with my name on it at will call.

I like to think that Fred himself puts the extra player’s comps into that white envelope and painstakingly writes my name so we can join those in the Southern Tier town rooting him on. After all, back in the day I walked every round for many years in a row with his dad, Stan. We rode in a car to the range a mile up the road to watch Fred hit balls, and ate lunch with Fred in the caddie wagon, and whooped it up when he notched a hole-in-one one round and cheered so hard when he shot 61 to tie the course record and delighted when Fred won the whole darn thing when it was a beloved little PGA Tour stop that went by the name of the
B.C. Open. But time goes on. Stan’s been gone for years now, RIP. I can no longer take every day off to watch the golfers. Fred turned 60 in June, and with some injuries at that age, it’s hard to compete against the new 50-year-olds coming out in the Champions Tour. It’s likely Cindy and Ken leave the tickets.

Remembering where we parked.

Remembering where we parked.

No matter. We were thrilled to see Fred shoot two-under on Friday and follow that up with one-under on Saturday, good enough for 25th place in the field of 80 and a 12:21 tee time this Sunday.

We took a right turn for our usual $10 parking lot, but Karen hawk-eyed an open corner spot on the street and backed her Mazda in so it did not jut ahead of the stop sign. I shot the cross-section with my iPhone 6 just in case.

I am I.

I am I.

At the course, the title sponsor’s folks made sure they got the most of their dollars. Karen did not want to get into the photo-op with me. Imagine that. I’ll keep the one in which I decided to raise both arms high to really look like an ‘I’ from public consumption. No need to share that belly shot.

Ever since my days with the big daily, it’s been a long-standing policy to keep cameras away from public use at a golf tournament. Remember Tiger Woods’ former caddie, Steve Williams, getting into it with fans snapping away at inopportune times and distracting his concentrating player?

But in this cellphone-rules age, I saw no signs telling patrons not to bring those in.

So I had mine in my pocket and a plan in my head.

Fred's down yonder.

Fred’s down yonder.

With 10 minutes before Fred’s tee time, I spotted him practicing on the putting green way over there. I thought it was a good idea to zoom my phone camera in. Nope.

Then he walked to the first tee to join his threesome, with John Inman and Brian Henninger.

Pretty first hole set up.

Pretty first hole set up.

That looked pretty good from afar as a scene-setter as they milled about with the group ahead on the fairway. But of course I still had to zoom in on Fred, who teed off first.

Hover over a gallery photo for a description. Click on an image for an enlarged slide show.

Nobody bothered me when I was part of the crowd shooting with my phone. Braver, I got as we followed Fred and his group down the first hole.

Lining up a putt.

Lining up a putt.

So I figured as long as I didn’t stick my phone in any player, caddie or marshal’s face, I’d be fine.

I shot Fred lining up putts.

Go ahead, let it fly.

Go ahead, let it fly.

We met Ken and Cindy at the second tee. Their family is doing well. It was great catching up from the last time we talked at the tournament.

Fred came over and shook my hand after one hole and asked how I was doing. Great, thanks, I said, as he walked on to the next tee. It was nice to see him up close. I didn’t dare try to take his picture.

As for his golf, he made birdie on three straight holes, eight through 10, after seven straight pars. That moved him just outside the top 10, and everybody following the group was getting excited.

But somebody in the line of houses that lined the 11th hole made a big noise on Fred’s backswing on the tee, and he hooked his drive into the left rough and into some tree trouble, ending up with his first bogey.

Lovely hole.

Lovely hole.

But I learned on the back nine to shoot creatively and look for the course’s best features, too.

Between the patrons.

Between the patrons.

Fred holed a couple of long par-savers, but notched another bogey.

Beautiful finish.

Beautiful finish.

His par on 18 capped a nice day for all, another round under par for the golfer and fulfilling four hours for this longtime follower.

I told Ken while we were strolling that I thought Fred still has a couple of great tournaments a year left in him.

“So does he,” Ken said.

Perfect to hear.

And his son, Taylor, had a great season playing collegiately for the University of Texas, Cindy told us.

Another Funk to follow on the PGA Tour to come? Now wouldn’t that be special.

Do you know a professional athlete, and if so, how so? Who do you root for the most, and why? Which is your favorite photo, and why?

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