- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2011

Fred Funk was close to quitting golf. Maybe not forever, but he “just needed to get away from it.” His inability to finish a round or play like himself was getting to him.

“I was bringing my family down; I was bringing me down,” he said.

On Monday, Funk found everything he’s been searching for, shooting a 6-under 135 in sectional qualifying at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville and qualifying for next week’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

One of 10 qualifiers from Woodmont, it’s possible this achievement meant more to Funk than anyone else. With his 15-year-old son, Taylor, caddying for him and his wife, Sharon, by his side, Funk broke down in tears while speaking to reporters. Sharon Funk said her husband found his soul with 36 holes of golf in suburban Maryland.

“You don’t know if you have it, and then you go through some soul-searching. And that’s what we’ve been doing is searching what he’s made of,” she said. “I think it’s more where his soul is, and he’s just really figuring it out after he struggled so much.”

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Funk, who turns 55 next week, had made the cut in just one of six PGA Tour events in 2011. Even on the Champions Tour last week - a place where the former University of Maryland golf coach has thrived - he shot a 79 Friday and wondered aloud what was rock bottom.

“It seemed like every week it got lower and lower. I kept thinking I was at bottom and I could crawl back up,” he said. “I’d come out with a good attitude, and I would just start burying myself the middle of the round every time because I just kept doing things I don’t normally do.”

He did it right Monday, making the U.S. Open along with fellow Woodmont qualifiers Kirk Triplett (qualifying-best 8-under 134), Jon Mills, Elliot Gealy, Michael Tobiason Jr., Ty Tryon, Chris Greyling, Will Wilcox, Bubba Dickerson and David May.

But only one of those guys got a rousing ovation from onlookers at the leaderboard at Woodmont, and Funk was soaking in every moment of it. He stopped tinkering with his swing, something he blamed for his struggles over the past nine months. All he was looking for was a good day of 36 holes - a “springboard” for the rest of his year - and he got a ticket to a major championship.

“I was just hoping so much that it wasn’t going to be one of those where I go, ‘Golly, I just threw away some more,’ ” Funk said. “I was never seeing any positive. So now I can see some positive, and I got some results.”

And while guys like Tryon could have decades ahead of them and more chances like this, Funk realized this was his best opportunity. The Takoma Park native played the U.S. Open the last time it was at Congressional, in 1997 (he finished at 10-over 290). With the tournament rotating around the country’s best courses, it seems unlikely that Funk would get another shot at playing the U.S. Open in Bethesda.

That’s a big deal for him - even if next week doesn’t include days as charmed as this one.

“No matter how I play at Congressional, it’s going to be a really hard, hard test,” Funk said. “It’s going to be really, really long for me - too long for me to really realistically compete.”

Funk said that with a grin - because Monday he found his soul and rediscovered his game.

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