In 2005 Fred Funk beat the field and the elements to become the oldest winner of the Players Championship. We sat down to hear his side of the story

“I feel like a Volkswagen in a field of Ferraris.” That’s how a 48-year-old Fred Funk described himself in 2005 when playing alongside the longest hitters at the Players Championship.

With a field that contained Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh, it’s hard to argue with his assessment.

Funk, now 63, was a latecomer to the top table of tournament golf, gaining his card on the PGA Tour in 1989 at the age of 33.

With a handful of victories and experience playing in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup under his belt, Funk was hardly a novice of the circuit heading to Sawgrass in March 2005. But not many people would have placed their money on the American becoming the oldest ever winner of the tournament.

With the weather wreaking havoc, Funk played 32 holes on Monday in blustery conditions. However, he held his nerve as the rest of the field wilted under the conditions.

NCG spoke to the popular American to get his take on that famous week…

It was a really strange week because of the weather. We had rain and we were on and off the course many times but trying to get it all in so we wouldn’t have to go to Monday. We had no chance.

I played 32 holes on Monday and it was a lot of golf. We woke up that morning with crystal blue skies but we had 42 mile-an-hour gusts that day. It was not a day that you thought was going to be a great day on the course, especially playing on that kind of course.

That was one of the last March dates and they had the rough really high and, although the course was really soft, you had to hit the fairways.

Even back then my trajectory was a lot lower than the big hitters. This ended up being a big advantage. I was able to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens and I think I led the field in both of those stats for the week.

It was pretty magical, not only because of the status of the tournament, the large purse and the strongest field but because it had become my hometown. 

I was a local boy and, for me, that was a big deal. And because of the age I was – 48 years old – you might say that was a big upset.

Any type of player can win the Players. It’s called the ‘fifth major’ but the status of that tournament was a big deal. The Players has evolved into having the strongest of fields, on a hard course but a course that also doesn’t really favour one aspect of the game. It’s not a course for bombers but it’s not necessarily a course for short hitters either. It’s a positional course, a strategy course. What’s so good about it is that they’ve had winners from all across the board.

In my mind I was headed to the Champions Tour. Then I got this five-year exemption and I remember saying in the press conference, ‘What the hell am I going to do with that?’

I did stay out there and played off and on, on both tours, which was really difficult because it took away the opportunity to really go after the money list on the Champions Tour. I still wanted to dabble in the tournaments that I liked on the regular tour and then I won in Mexico and got a further one-year exemption through 2011.

It gave me some opportunities that not everybody has and that was interesting because, had I not won that, I think I would have rolled over to the Champions Tour to play a full schedule there with my mind totally set on playing my best out there.

My best years were probably from 44 through 52. I played really solid golf. I always had a goal at the beginning of the season that I would make the top 30 on the PGA Tour at the end of the year and get to East Lake (for the Tour Championship).

And I did, so I was quite proud of that. I’d never dreamed of making any teams and I made a Ryder Cup and two Presidents Cup teams in three consecutive years.

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Joe Hughes

Tour editor covering men's golf, women's golf and anything else that involves the word golf, really. The talk is far better than the game, but the work has begun to change that.

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