THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- He says his claim to fame in golf has been his name, Fred Funk.
The man whose surname courts an assortment of possible nicknames became known as a winner yesterday.
Grand Funk fits now.
"I used to hate my name," the Laurel, Md., resident said yesterday after winning his first PGA Tour title. "Now I like it. I have a lot of fun with it."
He had ample frolic yesterday. He hit two pins on the back nine, withstood a brush with water on 18 and shot 70--272, 16-under-par. That was good for a two-stroke victory over late-charging Kirk Triplett in the Shell Houston Open at the TPC at The Woodlands.
The victory was worth $216,000 to a 35-year-old former Maryland golf coach who entered the tournament ranked 139th with earnings of $24,108 and rated No. 199 in the world.
The victory also purged thoughts of a career change. Funk rated 73rd on the tour in 1991, but had been so distraught about his game this year that he came to Houston considering other options.
"I've been worried about my security," said Funk, a short hitter known as "Puff Puff," a play off Fred Couples' "Boom Boom" nickname. "I was thinking about typing up my resume and sending them out for club pro jobs," Funk said. "Nothing with my game was working."
It worked over the weekend, when he made only one bogey and won the security of a two-year PGA Tour qualifying exemption, as well as automatic berths in various other tournaments, most notably the Masters. Funk shot a course-record 62 Saturday for the lead, then had trouble sleeping.
"I finally got to bed at 1:30 [a.m.], planned to sleep until 9, but I woke up at 6 and lay there for two hours with my eyes looking at the ceiling," Funk said. "I couldn't go back to sleep."
He admitted to "thinking about not folding up" when he entered the final eight holes tied at 15-under with defending champion Fulton Allem. While Allem made four bogeys coming in, two shots in particular, at 14 and 18, vaulted Funk.
The turning point came in a span of about three minutes. Funk was one stroke up on Mark Brooks entering the 195-yard 14th, the course's hardest hole. Funk's 3-iron shot hit the flagstick on one hop and he made a 6-footer for birdie. Meanwhile, Brooks was making a bogey-6 at the 15th, where he "skinked" a 4-wood second shot that didn't hook to a "funky lie" in the right greenside bunker and missed a 6-foot par putt.
"That's when I thought I had something," said Funk, suddenly up three.
Said Brooks, "That was the tournament right there."
Funk was two up on Triplett, who birdied 18 for a 67, entering the last hole and got a scare when his 6-iron approach was 40 yards right of his aim and cleared the water by only inches.
"When the ball was in the air," Funk said, "I told my caddie it was in the water, that no way it was clearing the water. I completely whiffed the shot. It hit no grooves on the clubface. The bottom of the club hit the ball. If it went in the water, it would've been tough making double bogey."