The first PGA Tour event of Fred Funk’s career came 30 years ago at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, just across the Montgomery County line from his childhood home in College Park. So much has changed. His 55th birthday is Tuesday. His 15-year-old son, Taylor, will serve as his caddie. He has an artificial knee.
And he is finding that playing in his 22nd U.S. Open — as someone who made it through a 36-hole sectional qualifying tournament and is the oldest man in the field — conjured some unfamiliar feelings.
“The first question I get is, ‘What does this mean to you?’ and I broke down,” Funk said Monday. “I didn’t really expect that because I didn’t know I had that kind of feelings or emotions in me for that at the moment. But I think it was a combination of things — how I’ve been playing the last few months and then making it here, my home town.”
A former golf coach at the University of Maryland, Funk won eight tournaments on the PGA Tour. But his performance on the Champions Tour this year — two top-10 finishes in his first nine events — had him down, with little hope of making the Open.
“It really was getting into my head,” Funk said. “And every week it seemed like I’d go in with a great attitude and say, ‘All right, this week is going to change it,’ and then I’d find a new bottom.”
Now, Funk is buoyed by his performance not just in the qualifier, but in a tie for third in last week’s Champions Tour event. He tied for 43rd at the 1997 Open at Congressional, and though the Blue Course is, at 7,574 yards, the second-longest Open layout in history — and Funk has always been among the tour’s shorter hitters — he isn’t into the idea of just being happy to be here.
“I’m not here just to walk two rounds or four rounds and just show up,” Funk said. “I want to be able to be competitive, and I truly believe I can still be competitive when I’m playing well and feeling good.”
One of the marquee groups in the first and second rounds features the players ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world — Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, respectively.
“Amazing freak of nature how that came out in the draw, wasn’t it?” Westwood joked.
The last time the United States Golf Association made such a group was 2008, when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott were grouped together.
Westwood — who called Congressional “one of my favorite courses” — played here last week for preparation. Kaymer, though, took a different track. Though he has never played the course, the reigning PGA champion played nine holes Monday, and planned for 18 Tuesday and rest Wednesday.
“I don’t know if it’s a disadvantage or advantage,” Kaymer said. “That’s the way I do it, the way I’ve always done it.” .
Other players — Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and 1997 Open champ Ernie Els among them — came here last week for one or two rounds. . . .
The final two spots in the field were filled Monday. PGA Tour rookie Gary Woodland, who used a sixth-place finish at the Memorial Tournament to move to 40th in the world, got in by being in the top 50 by Monday’s cut-off. Brad Adamonis, an alternate from the 36-hole sectional qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, gained the final spot.