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Phoenix's Engle has time of his life playing with Funk

It was only five holes, but Daniel Engle has never had a round of golf that was more fun.

Engle, the recent Phoenix High graduate who set the Class 4A scoring record in winning state this past spring, and Aubrie Street of St. Mary's were among six boys and six girls who played with the pros this week at the Jeld-Wen Tradition.

They participated in the Nike Golf Junior Shootout Wednesday at Crosswater Golf Club in Sunriver.

Engle was teamed with Fred Funk, who this week is the defending champion in the fourth major of the season on the Champions Tour. Street, who placed second in the Class 4A-3A-2A-1A girls state tournament as a junior, was partnered with John Cook. Each team had a pro, a boy and a girl.

"He's (Funk) just like you see on TV," said Engle, who will join the Oregon State golf team as a walk-on this fall. "He's really a nice guy and really outgoing. To me, he was like one of those guys you see out at Centennial who you look forward to playing with. He was joking around and just a good guy and a good player and a lot of fun to play with."

Same with Tom Lehman, who was in their group with his own team as they played three sixsomes.

"He (Lehman) was talking about the playing in the Ryder Cup like it was nothing," said Engle, who works at Centennial. "They were both very encouraging."

The junior golfers were Oregon state champs and runner-ups at each level. They played four holes in a scramble format, at which point three teams were eliminated. The remaining three played the fifth hole to determine the top three. Ties were settled by a chip-off.

The day began with the kids having lunch and wondering who they'd play with. When it came time to choose teams in a blind draw, the boys drew their girl partners, and the girls drew the pros. Engle drew Caroline Inglis, the freshman 5A state champ from Churchill, and she in turn picked the popular Funk.

"All the guys were mad at me because that's who they all wanted to play with," said Engle, who shot 10 under par over two days to win the Class 4A title by a dozen shots in May. "It made me a little nervous."

Street's boy partner was Alex Harding of Westside Christian.

The kids practiced for more than an hour on the range, then were greeted by the pros.

On the first tee, the pros hit first, followed by the boys. A large crowd watched because a junior clinic had just ended. An announcer called Funk's name and read a litany of his accomplishments to cheering fans.

The star striped one down the middle, then Engle stepped up.

"I could barely feel my legs," he said. "Right as I was about to hit, I told myself, just get the club back and make contact. It was really nerve-racking. But after that it was just swinging the club and having fun."

On the first hole, they used Funk's drive, Inglis' approach and Engle's 12-foot, right-to-left putt to make birdie.

The team birdied each of the four holes, finishing in second place behind Lanny Wadkins' team, which had an eagle.

Street's team was among the three that didn't advance.

In the shootout, Loren Roberts' team won with a birdie, and the other two chipped off. Funk and Wadkins chose who would hit the shot.

"(Inglis) pointed at me," said Engle. "She didn't want to do it. She was pretty nervous."

Engle lost the playoff to Nick Chianello of Centennial High by a foot or two to decide second and third.

Engle's highlight came on the fourth hole. He didn't know where to hit his tee shot, so he asked Funk, who pointed to a tree in the distance and said, "I always hit right at that tree."

It was only after Engle hit a dead-straight howitzer — no draw, no fade — precisely where he'd been told that Funk laughed and said he was "kinda kidding," said Engle. "He said, 'That's straighter than I hit it.'"

"It was one of those shots where you really couldn't hit it any better," Engle said of the drive that left them 115 yards to the middle of the green. "It was just what I was trying to do, which doesn't happen all that often in golf."

Another memorable happened a hole before.

The youthful Inglis learned Lehman played the previous week with Camilo Villegas, the heartthrob of the PGA Tour who crouches low, like a spider, to read some putts.

She asked Lehman how Villegas does it, and Funk's caddie chimed in with, "Let's find out."

He pulled out a cell phone, called Villegas and put Inglis on.

"She winds up talking to him for about five minutes," Engle marveled.

It didn't seem to hurt her game, either. Inglis' shot on the next hole, a par 3, hit the flagstick. The team had a 3-footer, at best, for birdie.

The other pro who participated was Sandy Lyle.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Phoenix High graduate Daniel Engle played five holes with Fred Funk on Wednesday at the Nike Golf Junior Shootout. - MT file photo