Shatel: The other Fred becomes a fixture, and not just because of a statue -
Published Friday, July 12, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 7:44 pm
Shatel: The other Fred becomes a fixture, and not just because of a statue

Gather round, ladies. Gentlemen, take notes. The rock star of the U.S. Senior Open has entered the building.

He's such a stud that they built a statue of him in midtown Omaha.

He's got a sweet swing. He waves to the crowd. The galleries love him.

Goes by the name Fred.

No, not THAT Fred.

This is the other Fred.

This is the Fred who knew a lot about Omaha before this week. Played several rounds at Omaha Country Club. Got to know Greg and Doug McDermott.

Went bass fishing the other day with a guy he'd met here. Made an appearance at an area hospital to promote the benefits of knee replacements.

This is the Fred with that promotional statue in front of Mutual of Omaha, the same name that's stamped on his golf shirt.

“It's ridiculous,” Fred Funk says. “It's 12 feet, 13 feet high. The nose is three feet itself.”

There's been a definite buzz about the appearance of Fred Couples in Omaha this week. That's the Fred with the gallery the size of a Creighton basketball crowd. The Fred with female groupies.

You got any lovelies following you, Mr. Funk?

“If there are, they're 100 (years old),” Funk said.

Funk, all 5-foot-8, 165 pounds of him, looks like he belongs in the gallery, beneath a golf hat and shades, a cup of golf cheer in his hand.

Instead, he's on the big board, at 3-under par, through two rounds. That was the lead at lunch. Then Michael Allen had the course for lunch.

See hole illustrations, insight from course pros, photos and video from every hole and more in our Senior Open course guide.

Allen shot a brilliant 7-under 63 in hot, nasty conditions in the afternoon. The former Senior PGA champ finished at an unreal 10 under. And now it will be up to Rocco Mediate, Jeff Sluman and the other Fred to chase him down or hope he has a few hiccups by Sunday night.

It will either be a wild weekend or a boring one, depending on whether Allen can keep it up or if OCC can force its will on the situation. check to see if the USGA dials back the water on the parched greens and turns up the speed. Oh, and keep an eye out for diabolical pin placements, too.

It's only fitting that the guy named Fred is still in the middle of it.

As a Mutual of Omaha guy, he was a big part of the marketing, on the billboards, all that stuff. He's played here in an annual Mutual of Omaha event. He was chosen for the driving range show with Eric Crouch and Danny Woodhead. He flexed his biceps for the cameras. Everyone laughed.

Couples has the cover boy looks. Funk was this event's cover boy.

And it seemed he was always stopping by. Back in May, Funk was the featured speaker at Creighton's basketball bash. That spot is usually saved for a college hoops coach. But CU wanted a Senior Open flavor.

Funk was the flavor of the month. He ended up staying for almost a week, playing OCC each day, showing up in the Jays' dugout before the CU-Nebraska baseball game, going out for dinner.

He just missed voting in the mayoral election.

“I have no affiliations with Creighton University, obviously,” said Funk, a Maryland grad and former Terp golf coach. “But I came in and had a great day. Then I met the coach and his two sons and we played golf and had a great time. I'm actually a big Creighton basketball fan now just because of the coach.

“We spent three days here, my son (Taylor) and myself, playing. We played 90 holes in three days. Obviously, that was in carts. There was no way we were going to play 90 holes in three days walking. We zipped around, got to know the golf course.”

Good old local knowledge. Funk has played here enough to know where to go and where not to go. That's on the golf course, as well as for dinner.

The leader board will sort out the crowd favorites for Saturday and Sunday. But Funk will be a natural magnet for those looking for good golf and a smile right back at you.

When he arrived at his finishing hole on Friday, the ninth, his ovation was loud, Couples loud. Most players tip their cap or visor. Funk is pointing to the crowd or giving a thumbs-up or making a funny face.

Most players walk briskly off the green and through the ropes to the locker room as the folks yell their names. Funk stopped and chatted with a fan he had met in Omaha.

He's Fred, a guy who doesn't take himself seriously, a guy who had his knee replaced, a guy who was fighting a bad back earlier this year.

A guy who prepared for the Senior Open by going fishing with a local friend a couple of days ago.

“I went up and fished on a lake with Mike Weekly, where he lives, about a half hour whatever direction that was,” Funk said. “It was nice. We caught a whole bunch of bass and had a great time. I didn't try to keep up with him in the beer, thank goodness.”

But this is also Fred, Senior Open Champion (2009) and runner-up (2012). He's got work to do to catch Michael Allen, but his back is back. And so is his solid game.

“It's the best I've felt physically all year, and my game has showed up again,” Funk said. “I was just waiting for my body to allow me to swing again. I really haven't been playing what resembles golf in my mind. I'm just trying to button it around.”

The face on the statue, the face of the tournament, looks pretty good on the leader board, too.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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