Fred Funk qualifies as an academic. He knows the value of studying and learning, and he appreciates that it's never too late to be taught.
Funk graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in law enforcement in 1980, a year before turning professional. From 1982 to 1988, he returned to his alma mater to coach the men's golf team.
When he finally arrived on the PGA TOUR in 1989, he carved out a career worthy of respect. Today, he's a leading member and a major champion on the Champions Tour but he hasn't forsaken the quest for more knowledge.
Funk has had to endure physical problems the last several years. About 18 months ago, he began working for the first time in his career with a full-time instructor. Funk discovered Travis Fulton at the PGA TOUR Academy at TPC Sawgrass in his hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Fulton was working with Funk's son, Taylor, when the relationship started.
"He did such a great job with Taylor," Funk said. "I'm pretty much self-taught.
I've been to a lot of teachers to see what they say, but I don't like listening to them. I'm pretty stubborn and just figure it out myself, just what I call digging in the dirt to find out what works for me.
"Travis has really helped me come back from quite a few of the injuries I've been dealing with, mainly my thumb last year. Coming back this year it was really sore and I was trying to come back as fast as I could and I couldn't take a divot, scared it would hurt at the bottom of my swing, and I got in a lot of bad habits compensating for that."
Once the injury improved, Funk had to rediscover the fundamentals and rework his swing.
Funk's slump hit bottom in March at the PGA TOUR's Honda Classic, where he missed the cut.
"It was horrendous the way I played," he said. "I went back to Travis when I got home. I said, 'All right, I'm ready to listen, just tell me what I need to do.' We've been working on it ever since. I know it's the right thing and I've just got to get better at it."
The improvement is well under way. Funk returned to the winner's circle at the Insperity Championship presented by United Healthcare and missed the cut at the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid before posting back-to-back top 10s at the Principal Charity Classic and the Regions Tradition, a major that he has twice won. He'll tee it up Friday at the Montreal Championship coming off a tie for ninth at Shoal Creek.
"My overall game has been really good," Funk said. "At Benton Harbor I got a little
baffled at the greens and I didn't hit my irons that good that week, and because of the way those greens are, that put me behind the eight-ball almost every hole. Seemed like hitting over hill-and-dale, didn't know how to read them, much less putt them."
Funk was pleased with his play at the Insperity and again at the U.S. Open qualifier, where he played well but failed to make it into the field at The Olympic Club. The key now is to make the game a little easier.
"I've just got to simplify things a little bit," Funk said. "That's kind of the name of the game when every day's a little bit different."
And that, Funk said, is the essence of golf.
"Every day is different," he said. "But I'm really known for my consistency. I expect to be consistent, I expect to hit the ball pretty solid and in play, keep the ball in front of me ... When I lose that I'm really struggling with my game, and that's what happened at Benton Harbor."
Since arriving on the Champions Tour in 2006, Funk has won at least once each year except for 2011. He's won the Tradition twice, in 2008 and 2010, and in 2009 added the U.S. Senior Open to his major haul.
Funk was sidelined after the 2011 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club in Toledo -- where he tied for 50th after a top-10 finish the week before at the Senior British. He underwent surgeries on his thumb and another on a knee and didn't return until the Allianz Championship in February. He returned to competition with a flourish, shooting an opening round 66 and finishing in a tie for 10th.
With three Champions Tour majors coming up over the next few weeks, Funk is positioned to compete once again at the highest levels. He'll do it the way he's always done it -- with a premium on consistency and driving the ball into the fairway again and again. A perennial leader of the fairways hit statistic throughout his career on both tours, Funk is currently No. 2 on the Champions Tour at 81.14 percent. That's a whisker behind Jeff Hart's 81.45 percentage for fairways hit.
"My goal is to get back in the mix and I felt it coming the last five or six weeks, and it's starting to get better and better," Funk said. "I knew I was working on all the right stuff."
Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. He can be reached at email@example.com.