Thumbs up -- Funk happy to play after unusual surgery

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His thumb fused, Fred Funk is making his return to competitive golf this week.
February 10, 2012
Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Like any accomplished golfer, Fred Funk has shown his grip thousands of occasions. But this time was different.

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This time, Funk was flat on his back in a Jacksonville hospital last November. Just as he was being placed under anesthesia, the doctor made an unusual request: He brought a golf club into the OR and asked Funk to extend his arms and grip the club.

This wasn't Grip It to Rip It. This was Grip It to Fix It.

"Is that where you want it?" the doctor asked.

Funk, already under the effects of the anesthesia, was understandably groggy. "Yeah, I think so," he said, not even sure what club had been placed in his hand.

A 5-iron? A driver? A wedge?

Who knows? All Funk knows is he can once again play competitive golf, thanks to a rare fusion of a joint in his left thumb after he had twice torn a ligament in it.

"I don't know of any golfer who plays on Tour who has had his thumb fused," Funk said.

Friday, Funk was giving a thumbs-up to the unique decision to have the surgery after he shot a six-under 66 that left him two shots behind first-round leader Corey Pavin in the Allianz Championship at Broken Sound.

"My thumb actually felt pretty good today," he said. "It actually could have been lower. I missed a 6-footer for birdie on 16 and I buried a shot under the lip at 18 and struggled to make par."

Not that Funk was complaining. He was thrilled to be back on a golf course with a scorecard in his back pocket.

Funk originally hurt his thumb last June during a freak accident; he was swinging a warm-up tool on an outside balcony when it hit a railing. Funk didn't realize the thumb was hurt that bad, and who would have when he shot a 62 several days later? He got a cortisone shot to relieve the pain, which allowed him to keep playing.

Bad move.

"That was the biggest mistake I made, even thought I was playing well," Funk said. "If I had stopped playing, it might have just been a tendon strain and maybe I rest it for a few weeks."

Interview: Fred Funk

Brian Katrek and John Maginnes speak with Fred Funk after his opening round.

By the time he stopped, he had torn the ligament. So he underwent surgery in August and rehabbed the injury for the next three months. But just a few days after he returned to practice, Funk felt a twinge in his thumb when he hit a sand wedge. The next shot elicited major pain.

"I took my thumb and it just flopped over," he said. "That was very depressing."

Funk was given two options: Have the tendon repaired again and hope it would hold up, or have the joint fused. He chose the latter.

"It was a big ordeal," Funk said. "I got really tired of watching the guys play on TV while I'm sitting on the couch."

Funk, who won eight PGA TOUR titles and six times on the Champions Tour, has more incentive to win this week: His wife, Sharon, who is caddying for him, will donate her earnings to help with the medical expenses of fellow pro Dana Quigley's son, Devon, who has been in a coma since a horrific car accident 10 weeks ago.

"I hope Fred wins so I can write a big check for Devon," Sharon Funk said.

Funk knows he's got a long way to go before he can think about winning. He's just happy to be back in action. "It's great to know I still have a career out here," he said.

And what if he wins? Might there be more players who think about fusing their thumbs?

"No chance," Funk said, shaking his head. "Nobody wants to have that kind of surgery."

That would be a big thumbs down.