By Malcolm Marvin and Mike Sharkey
The PGA TOUR is loaded with great golfers and even better people. While the TOUR does a fantastic job of promoting its players both on and off the course, often the good deeds of many players fly under the national radar. But locally, everyone knows Fred Funk and his special affinity for the Townsend family.
J.T. Townsend played football at Episcopal High until a spinal cord injury in 2004 left him in a wheelchair. Shortly after the accident, Funk and Townsend met and immediately formed a bond. That bond inspired Funk to start the J.T. Townsend Foundation, which is dedicated to helping kids and adults with disabilities by providing life-altering equipment and financial assistance. Although Townsend died last June, Funk is still actively involved with the Foundation.
“Having a platform to share your faith and ability to bring people together,” is why Funk stays involved with the Foundation, he said.
Funk, who lives in Ponte Vedra, earned his PGA TOUR card in 1989 and has 22 career victories: eight times on the PGA TOUR, including THE PLAYERS 2005; eight times on the Champions Tour; and six times worldwide. Funk’s casual demeanor off the course belies a tenacity on the course. That on-course attitude, he says, is vital to competing with a host of young, very good players. Over the past few years, Funk has played mostly Champions Tour events, but he plans to play more PGA TOUR events this year. Still, his goal for 2014, he said, is to win the Charles Schwab Cup – a season-long points system that crowns the best Champions Tour player.
Funk grew up in Maryland, where he played several sports and even boxed for eight years in the same Jr. Golden Gloves program that produced former world champion Sugar Ray Leonard. Funk learned the game of golf by caddying for his father and working at the University of Maryland golf course.
Golf didn’t come naturally to Funk, however. He was cut from the University of Maryland golf team and transferred to Prince George’s Community College where he worked on his game and gained valuable playing experience. Two years later, he transferred back to Maryland, played golf and graduated in 1980 with a degree in law enforcement.
Funk played professionally for two years on the mini-tours until, as he puts it, he “went broke” and returned to the University of Maryland as the head golf coach in 1982. Over the next seven years, Funk coached the Maryland golf team, worked on his game and entered tournaments with little success.
Funk earned his TOUR card in 1989 and found playing against the best in the world week in and week out demanding.
“I wasn’t sure if I could play with these guys when I first came out here,” said Funk, who won the Shell Houston Open in 1992 for his first TOUR win.
Golf runs in the Funk family, too. Funk’s son Taylor won the Class 2A State Championship in 2013 as a senior at Ponte Vedra High and is currently a freshman at the University of Texas, where he’s also on the golf team.