“It keeps getting in my eyes,” he says.
“That wouldn’t happen if you’d stop rubbing your face,” she chides.
What he’d rather be doing — what he should be doing — is practicing, since his game has slipped this year. Instead, he graciously accepts another blast of hairspray and stifles a yawn.
It’s 6 a.m. on a warm, muggy Tuesday in mid-May, and Funk is in a Jacksonville, Fla., television studio preparing for 23 consecutive radio and television interviews that were lined up by his sponsor. In two days, the Players Championship , the so-called fifth major on the PGA Tour, is to begin. It’s one of Funk’s favorite tournaments of the year. Not just because he won it six short years ago, but also because it’s in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where he lives now. And he knows the interviewers will want to talk about it.
But the two public relations people sent by the company to help Funk this morning are hoping that the interviews will steer away from the tournament and focus on his knee — specifically, the model of the knee replacement that he had surgically installed a year and a half ago. The model of knee he’s paid to endorse. Over the years, professional golfers have hawked all sorts of products — from motor oil, to cars, to watches — but Funk might be the first professional athlete to be sponsored by a prosthetic manufacturer.
After almost 25 years on the pro golf tour, he’s comfortable in front of a microphone, but pitching a product is far different from speaking at a post-round news conference. He has the Stryker Triathlon Knee System, but he keeps calling it the Stryker Titanium Knee, which makes the PR people, both young enough to be his children, cringe while watching a live feed from the studio’s green room.
“It’s made of cobalt chrome,” one of them says.
“Titanium sounds too much like triathlon,” the other says.
Funk also can’t get the Web site right. He keeps plugging stryker.com, which is the main company Web site, but the PR people want him to mention aboutstryker.com, which has detailed information about his knee replacement.
The first few stations are regional broadcasts, so it’s not as big a deal if he’s not entirely on message. But then comes a live appearance on the Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” a national show. The hosts asks Funk to reflect on his career.
“I still pinch myself that I had the career that I had,” says Funk, 55. He recounts how he played and then coached at the University of Maryland before making it on tour, always wondering “if I was good enough to play.”
“My career progressed slowly,” he continues. “Real slow at a time. The irony of it was I had the best part of my career between when I was 45 and 49 years old. That’s when most people are in their twilight, waiting to get to the Champions Tour. And that’s when I made most of my hay.”