He went from 20/300 to 64-66. Last week Fred Funk, a
squinty-eyed Tour veteran, repaired the squint by staring into a
laser beam for 60 seconds. Three days later he was leading the
Kemper Open thanks to his first two scorching rounds, and though
he stumbled on Sunday to finish tied for third, golfers with
perfect vision were looking to follow his lead.
"My eyes are fine, but I want that surgery," joked Steve Pate.
With his new vision, Funk raced to an early lead at the Kemper.
Funk, 41, coached the Maryland golf team for seven years before
getting up the nerve to try the Tour in 1989. He has won four
times while fiddling nonstop with his swing, his grip and the
contact lenses that corrected his astigmatism. "I hated changing
my contacts, cleaning them all the time," he says. "They
distracted me when I putted, too. I always seemed to be putting
through a smudge." He was intrigued when Tom Kite had laser eye
surgery last winter. Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken, NFL
quarterback Rodney Peete, baseballer Jeff Conine and even Fanny
Sunesson, Nick Faldo's caddie, underwent similar operations.
Kite and Sunesson urged Funk to look into the matter. Two days
before the Kemper, he had his eyes examined by ophthalmic
surgeon Mark Whitten, who told Funk that his vision could
quickly be fixed. "We could do the surgery anytime," Whitten
"How about now? I'm an impatient guy," said Funk. Moments later
he was an outpatient. First came anesthetic drops to numb Funk's
corneas. Soon he was watching a flashing red light, keeping
perfectly still as Whitten used a microkeratome, an instrument
sharper than any razor, to slice a thin flap of clear, rubbery
cornea from the surface of his eye. "Things got blurry," says
Funk, who was more troubled by a burning smell in the room until
the doctor explained that the scent was caused by the gases
generating the beam. In the next minute Whitten's laser reshaped
Funk's cornea to prescription perfection. There were no
stitches; healing began immediately, along with better vision.
When the lights came on and Funk looked around the doctor's
office, he could see "everything, like I had binoculars." The
world was his sharper image catalog.
Was it shortsighted to risk an operation on the eve of a
tournament? "I probably should have been hesitant," says Funk.
"Dr. Whitten said there was a one- to five-percent chance I'd
miss the Kempergood odds, but I was still changing my vision.
That could really screw a golfer up. But I'm not the type to
A restless experimenter, Funk changes his grip almost daily. Two
weeks ago at the Memorial he interlocked on Thursday, overlapped
on Friday and interlocked all weekend on his way to a 38th-place
finish. Sometimes he overlaps with the driver but interlocks
with his irons on the same hole. Still, no amount of improvising
could have prepared him for the sights he woke up to on the
Wednesday before the Kemper. "I could read the numbers on the
alarm clock," he recalls. "Faraway things were crystal clear."
Driving to the TPC at Avenel, he read the license plates of cars
100 feet ahead. But at the course he found that he could barely
decipher the word Titleist on his ball: "Things were fuzzy up
close, and my depth perception was off." On the driving range he
had trouble judging the distance from his eyes to the ball. He
barely made contact with the first few balls, topping them like
a duffer. "It looked so far down to the ball. For the first time
in my life, I felt tall," says the 5'8" Funk.
Still lacking depth perception during Thursday's first round, he
relied more than usual on caddie Paul Jungman. Funk would look
at a putt and say, "Paul, I have no clue." With Jungman as
seeing-eye caddie, he shot 64 to put FUNK atop the Kemper's
leader boards, which he could now read from two fairways away.
"I'm sure it helped that I had no expectations," he said, adding
that he has been "working on my attitude, trying to be looser"
since he angrily tossed a club earlier this year and
accidentally hit Jungman. Aghast at his behavior that day, Funk
swore he would reform, and last week he was loose enough to
laugh when a reporter suggested that improved vision might bring
more traps, lakes and O.B. stakes into view. "Thanks a lot. I'll
focus on that tomorrow," he said.
With less ocular pressure and none of the self-imposed kind, the
Maryland native kept Kemper galleries shouting all week. The
stage was set for a Broadway finale: Bring in 'da noise, bring
in 'da Funk. But on Sunday morning he hooked a tee shot into the
water and made a triple bogey. Soon he was six over par for the
day, bleeding like the capillaries that reddened his left eye.
Still, he stayed loose. He waved a towel, pretending to
surrender to the course and eventual winner Stuart Appleby. Funk
went on to play the last 13 holes even par for a 77 that felt
better than it looked. Third place was worth $90,200, his best
paycheck of the year. His eyes weren't the whole story, for
something else was different, too, something hardly anyone
noticed: The new, loose Funk finally got a grip.
"I interlocked all week," he said.
Tell us what you think. Sound off on the CNN/SI Message Boards.
Issue date: June 15, 1998