Fred Funk comes to the U.S. Senior Open with a scouting report beyond compare on Omaha Country Club.
The 2009 champion spent three days in May playing the golf course with his son, Taylor, who will caddie for him next week in the tournament.
“The more I see the golf course, the more I think it’s going to be a really good test,” Funk said.
His homework, he hopes, will let him ease into tournament week. A huge mistake for those in the field of 156 players, Funk said, is to overwork during practice rounds on a course new to them.
“You make that mistake, even when you’re young on the regular tour,” Funk said. “You go to a U.S. Open, you grind a little harder, you work a little harder and by the time Thursday rolls around you feel like you’ve over-prepared.
“You don’t want to do that. This isn’t that tricky a golf course. It’s pretty much in front of you. You don’t have blind shots. You just have to figure out your strategy on how you’re going to approach a lot of these holes.”
Funk foresees the fourth, eighth, 12th and 18th holes as the most difficult par 4s.
“Those are holes where you’ll have to suck it up, hit good shots on and try to get out of there with a par,” he said.
Notice he didn’t include the 10th hole, which the members at OCC play as a par 5.
“It would have been a really awkward par 5. Not many guys would have been hitting driver off that tee if that was a par 5 because of the creek down there and it narrows up,” Funk said. “Now you’re taking, more or less, the right creek out of play and the (fairway) bunker out of play from the up tees. The left creek is in play. I hit it dead even with it and left me a 5-iron in. You have a pretty tight lie in the fairway and then you’re hitting to a pretty significantly uphill green.
“That will be a really good hole. But the other holes were the ones that really stuck out.”
The fan favorite spot, he said, should be the 13th, a short par 4.
“It’s drivable even from the back tee,” Funk said. “There’s plenty who can reach the green. It tempts everybody to go for that green, but there’s a lot of trouble up there.”
He knows. In one practice round, he took an 8, finished with a 73 — and Taylor (a 2014 Texas recruit) beat him by two strokes.
Funk, 57, who won twice on the senior tour last year, is looking for his first victory in 2013.
In the season’s first three majors, he has been outside the lead pack — a tie for 13th at the Senior PGA, a tie for 12th at the Tradition and a tie for 18th at the Senior Players. His best finish in any event was a tie for second with partner Mike Goodes, behind winners Brad Faxon and Jeff Sluman, at the Legends of Golf.
“I was fighting some back issues for about two months,” Funk said during his Omaha visit. “I’ve never had a back problem. I’ve had other problems, but right now I’m fine.”
Notably, it was his right knee that dealt him the most pain. It was operated on in 2000, followed by arthroscopy in 2008. He developed a staph infection after that procedure. The next year, he had knee replacement.
In 2011, he shut down his season after the Senior Open to have surgeries to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb and, three days later, to repair scar tissue in his knee.
Funk has won eight times on the Champions Tour after eight titles on the PGA Tour. He’s been a two-time winner twice, in 2008 and 2012. Last year, his victory at the Insperity Championship ended a 29-tournament drought on the senior tour. He won the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn five months later.
His Senior Open victory came at Crooked Stick in Indiana, where he had a bogey-free 65 in the final round to win by six strokes. The week before, he lost a playoff for the Senior British Open title.
Funk didn’t contend in the 2010 or 2011 Senior Opens, but tied for second last year when Roger Chapman won at Indianwood in Michigan.
Now it’s Omaha’s time to host the tournament.
“The guys keep hearing about how they sold out the tournament (tickets remain available), how excited the town is and how (Omaha) has embraced it,” Funk said. “We can’t wait to get here, I know that.”