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Fred Funk

‘One of the hardest holes on the planet’: A Players champion talks us through 17 and 18

It's one of, if not the most intimidating final two holes in tour golf. Fred Funk, who conquered TPC Sawgrass in 2005, gives us the lowdown
 

The 2005 Players concluded a day later than planned with the winner Fred Funk completing 32 holes on the extra day. Funk produced an upset to become the oldest ever winner of the event at 48 and his performance in the worst conditions that the PGA Tour’s flagship event at Sawgrass has seen was one for the history books.

With a game-improvement 3-iron in the bag Funk, a Ponte Vedra resident, tamed the elements and saw off challenges from Luke Donald and Scott Verplank despite being one of the shortest hitters on tour.

NCG sat down with Funk to hear about the key shots at the business end of things…

The strategy at 17

“I had just come off three-putts at 14 and 15, a missed 20-footer for eagle at 16 and there was a huge back-up on the 17th tee because Bob Tway was three groups ahead making a 12.

“Two guys from both groups in front of us hit it into the water and then my partners, Adam Scott and Vaughn Taylor, both hit it in the water and I’m thinking, ‘Oh crap, how am I getting this on the green?’

“The wind is howling in off the left and the guys who were flighting the ball low went over the green but the other guys were ballooning it and coming up short. Water was in play so easily.

“I’ve never hit more than an 8-iron and I was thinking of hitting a 6-iron. My caddie said, “You’re freaking nuts, there’s no way you’re going to hit a 6-iron.”

“I said, ‘Mark, I’ve never played it in 30 mile-an-hour winds before.’ And he wouldn’t let me hit a 6.

“So I punched a 7-iron and that nearly went over the back but just finished on top and I putted it down about six feet past the hole and missed it coming back – that was a really terrible stroke.”

The 18th tee shot

“This is one of the hardest holes on the planet even when there’s no wind and it’s very, very intimidating. That’s the whole theme of the course. Pete Dye tended to do this, make it very visually intimidating.

“You’ve got the water on the left, it’s narrow, it turns a little bit and we had the wind coming in off the left on that day and you’ve just got to take it on.

“That drive is probably the best drive I’ve ever hit in my life. I hit it about head-high and let the wind take it to the right a little and it got up there further than I would normally hit a drive, especially in those conditions.”

The 18th approach

“It left me a 6-iron in and I did the first part of the hole really well. I was chasing pins all day, super aggressive and because the course was so soft I figured I could just go for the flags while a lot of other guys played safely away from the flag.

“I aimed at the left fringe and let the wind feed it right towards the flag but I hit it out of the toe a little and it starts heading left of the green.

“I thought it was in the water but my caddie told me it was in the bunker and I actually said, “what bunker?” I forgot there was a bunker over there because it’s tucked away.

“I didn’t have any green to work with and I didn’t think I could leave it short of the hole. I landed it on the fringe and it somehow trickled out to five or six feet short.”

The winning putt

“Because that putt on 17 was so bad, when I had the same length on the 18th I think that’s the reason I made such a good stroke there.

“I was thinking if I put a stroke on it like the 17th and miss and don’t win the tournament, I won’t live with myself. Trust the stroke.

“It was dead straight and I hit a great putt but it wasn’t to win the tournament at that point, it was just to beat Tom Lehman’s clubhouse target. The moment I hit it and looked up I knew I’d made the putt and that was a great feeling. That was all because I’d made a shitty stroke on 17.

“Scott Verplank and Luke Donald were still playing. Verplank drove it into the right rough on 18 and he was pretty much done from there and Donald hit it just over the green and, when he wasn’t able to chip in, I just started crying, I couldn’t believe I’d won that tournament.”

Visit our dedicated Players Championship website and follow NCG on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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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