On the Lip – Funky Cool Kind of Caring

By: Elisa Gaudet

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding. It is when you give of yourself that you are truly giving. From the “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran

Fred Funk: PGA Tour golfer, winner of the 2005 Players Championship – and now known around the globe for winning the $770,000 2006 Wendy’s Champions Skins Game in a pink skirt. Out-driven by Annika Sorenstam in the 2005 Skins, Funk held up his end of a bet and donned the frilly frock. Good sport, great guy, and even better golfer. But his larger-than-life heart is what is perhaps most impressive.

As often observed with giving, somehow the giver becomes the receiver and the receiver the giver. Funk, who lives with his family in Jacksonville, Fla., heard of a local 17-year-old, J.T. Townsend, who was captain of the football team at Jacksonville’s Episcopal High School. On October 8, 2004, Townsend went for a safety blitz, and a seemingly normal tackle left him paralyzed from the neck down.

“We had heard of his story and I went to see him thinking I was going to help lift someone’s spirits. I walked out of there knowing there was something special in that room,” says Funk.

Both Funk and his wife Sharon have worked passionately and tirelessly to help J.T. and his family. Recently this meant a Fred Funk-J.T. Townsend Celebrity Golf Tournament, where the generosity of the sport’s athletes, celebrities, sponsors, and attendees was overwhelming.

Highlights included a silent auction with memorabilia donated from every major sport and sports hero, and a tear-jerking speech by Funk. The PGA Tour made a major contribution, and both Tim Finchem and Charlie Zink took a particular interest in Townsend’s plight. The event spoke volumes about the Funks, the Townsends and how many people they have touched by their coming together. Among the celebrities and athletes were Funk’s old friends from his University of Maryland golf-coaching days. As Fred introduced me to them, “These are the guys I used to play with in Maryland – who said, ‘Yeah, you’re good enough to make it on Tour.’ ”

Once on the course, I was again reminded how golf brings people together from many different walks of life, and sports. Here’s how a few of the notables described their golf experiences. Former New York Ranger Ron Dugay started playing golf as a result of celebrity golf tournaments. He explained: “At first, golf was very frustrating. I am very competitive and like to excel. Imagine, I am successful at a sport where I am moving on skates and the object I am hitting is moving, and here I am on the tee box standing still trying to hit a ball that is not moving – and it is harder!”

Jack Del Rio, head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, began playing with friends, and refused to buy new clubs until he shot under 90. With persistence and practice, he did, and rewarded himself with a new set of Pings. Tennis pro Todd Martin, now a 3 handicap, started playing at the age of 5 with a 9-iron and wiffle ball in his backyard. “It is a game that humbles you no matter who you are,” said Martin. However, he was not the one humbled when he once beat Pete Sampras in golf.

The spirit of the day was best summed up by the tribute to Funk and J.T.: “At the end of the day, you will have raised something more important than money – the human spirit.”

And Funk’s pink skirt? Keep an eye out – it’ll be auctioned off soon.

Elisa Gaudet brings a wealth of entertainment and golf experience to Cybergolf. Elisa has spent the past several years in the golf industry in the U.S., Latin America and Spain. She worked for the PGA Tour and the Tour de las Americas before founding Executive Golf International, a golf marketing company that works with clients to develop strategies using golf as the medium. Often referred to as the Maria Bartiromo (a business analyst for CNBC) of golf, Elisa says: “Golf, as a marketing tool, has been around for years. It’s amazing how many new ways companies can align their brand with the golf market to reach their target audience. Our goal is to create alliances and establish cross-border relations.” Elisa also worked in the entertainment industry for over 10 years, including five in Los Angeles as a model and actress. She can be seen at many celebrity golf events and often gets the inside scoop from PGA Tour players. For more information about Elisa, visit her websites at www.onthelip.com or Executive Golf International www.execgolfintl.