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Couples Back in Houston to Defend Champions Tour Title
Fred Couples has returned to the Houston area for the Insperity Championship. Last October in what was then called the Administaff Small Business Classic, the Seattle native and former player on the University of Houston golf team notched his fourth victory of his rookie year on the over-50 circuit with a 9-under 63 to win by seven strokes.
The $1.7 million, 54-hole event starts Friday at The Woodlands Country Club. Couples will have a new caddie on his bag after losing - with his consent - long-time looper, Joe LeCava, first to Dustin Johnson and then to Tiger Woods last week.
Couples is hoping his familiarity with the course - which he termed "in absolutely perfect shape" - will give him a repeat win in the newly named tournament. During a Q&A with reporters Thursday, Couples touched on several topics, including the ongoing treatment for his chronically bad back, the 2011 Presidents Cup - for which he's captain of the U.S. Team, and his controversial selection of Tiger Woods to be on the squad.
Here's what the 1992 Masters' champion had to tell the media.
MODERATOR: Fred, welcome back to Houston, a place you're familiar with, quite a win last year shooting 29 on the back nine and winning by seven. Maybe a few thoughts about coming back to the Insperity Championship and defending your title. You've won once in New York, but maybe encapsulate your year to this point.
FRED COUPLES: The golf course is in absolutely perfect shape. The greens are as fast and as good as any greens will play all year. I do like the golf course, obviously I went to school here, won last year and won the Houston Open, and then me personally, you know, I'm playing okay. I did win a few weeks ago in New York. I took three weeks off after Seattle and I played better than I thought I would in North Carolina and I'm looking forward to playing here this week. Insperity is a great sponsor, it's a great event. I believe almost everyone's year pretty much. 20 of the 30 -- Fred Funk isn't here. I don't ever put him down because physically he can't play, and Tom doesn't play a full schedule. So everyone's here, and this is a great event. We are fighting for position for the Schwab Cup. I am quite a ways back but I can still gradually move up and see what happens. But really my goal is to finish my year in San Antonio and the Schwab Cup help me to get seven tournaments in in the second half of the year and that would be a bonus.
I feel okay. I don't feel as good as I did but that was -- I was probably 90 percent after I came back from this doctor. The more I play, the more the pain slowly comes back. But it's nothing like it was. And I think eventually I'll go back and see him again. But I feel good and I like it here. It's nice and warm. I don't know how the weather is supposed to be. I don't think it's supposed to be any different. It's a course -- like I said, the course is unbelievable.
Q. How dramatic -
FRED COUPLES: Well, you know, to be quite honest with you, you can go back -- it's expensive. But it all paid off. And as a player, if I went there the next time and I didn't feel as good when I came back, I would think twice about it. But he wants it to last longer. He thought I was a little worse than my MRI showed, so when he got there, he was not quite as convinced that I would be a perfect candidate for his procedure. Now, on knees, he's incredible, and elbows, but the back, it's not new to him, but there are a lot of people that have done incredibly well. And to be honest, it's a one-week trip, and if I can feel like, that I would go three times a year. But I don't think that's what he wants. It's not going to hurt you, but I think that would be a point I'd have to take to him about.
But he thought I would last six or eight months. This is three months. If I gradually keep going, I would think by -- I'm going to play -- well, I guess four out of six weeks with the Schwab Cup and then I'm going to go play in Australia the week before The Presidents Cup. That's a lot of golf to me no matter what. If I can get through, that I'll be pretty happy and then I can go, you know, maybe end of December, end of January.
FRED COUPLES: In fair condition, you can go and come home and start playing, I'll say a week after that. So I can almost go as much time as I take off, I left -- I think I left Saturday to get in there Sunday morning. But if you can get in Sunday night, you just want to be well rested. If you can get in Sunday night, you see him Monday, Tuesday, twice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and then I caught a Friday night flight back to the States. So really, it's not anything uncommon that I've ever -- I've spent a week in New York with a doctor before. I've spent a week before in Oregon with someone trying to help me. So this is not totally wiped out and this is a nothing week. Takes 20 minutes for his procedure every day and he talks to you for ten minutes and you go on your way. Vijay went and he's doing very well. So I was waiting to talk to him. I tried to get him; he tried to get me, and then I finally text him and I said Vijay, I'm doing great, you're in the middle of a tournament and get me on a week off. We actually never talked but he's doing very well. Billy Cunningham, the basketball player, he and his wife went, a couple of friends went. So other people have gone and are doing very well.
Q. So Vijay went?
FRED COUPLES: He did right after I did. So it's Dr. Whelming and it's just a blood treatment. There's always kind of these -- I was just reading where Terrell Owens went to Korea, but he's got -- tore his ACL and he's trying to speed that up. Then he went and had the same procedure that I had with a doctor that does knees in L.A. So now a lot of people, I know Kobe Bryant went to see this guy the week before I got there. And the knee, you just shoot it in a gap. From the back, it's all precise, how deep the needle goes, where the blood goes. But in the knee joint they just shoot it right in there with the elbow. I don't know the words, he's world-famous over in Europe.
FRED COUPLES: You mean after I got back? No. But before, I mean, to be honest, I had quit. I couldn't -- I wanted to play at Augusta. I played relatively well. I played very well at L.A. and then I was not going to play in Birmingham, which the new Champions Tour event that was moved from Oregon to there, and was really talked into it but I went and I think I beat five people. I was first miserable, couldn't sleep, and I just told Len, who is my manager, I said, I'm not doing this anymore. Why would I do this? I don't sleep one minute, it was throbbing so bad, and I quit and I started to feel pretty good. Then I thought, hell, I go hit a bucket of balls, not many and come back the next day and hit a handful more and then it was right back so that's why I went to see this guy. After that, I don't even worry about it. It's getting gradually where right now, sitting here, it's a little bit of a toothache but not crazy. And I am sleeping, and that's the only thing I can go by. It's not really the golf or golf swing. I feel stiff -- today I didn't feel that good. Tomorrow, you know, could be a little bit better. But I still get it around. But this non-sleeping thing, I've never experienced anything like it.
Q. It started last year?
FRED COUPLES: It started at the Schwab Cup last year, exactly. It was Father's Day in June. I can be miserable anyway, but no sleep, playing golf -- inaudible -- when I'm feeling horrible, there are a few shots that I'll kind of stray away from. But that's maybe one a week. If I get a downhill lie, reaching for it, I get a little bit scared. But other than that, there's no mental -- I've been feeling bad for a long time, but sometimes it's not a big deal. As long as I can swing, I can play with a stiff back. I've done it for a long time and then I get away from it and I start to feel better. But in my mind, I think some day, if I don't really continue or something bad happened -- I felt better after seeing this guy than I felt when I was 30. It was bizarre.
Q. (Were there times where you could have won) -
FRED COUPLES: I think it's fair. I've always wanted to do better. There were times where I was playing my best golf leading at Carolina with Nick Price on the 45th green, and went down for the putt and my back went out and I'm in the lead. And those are weeks where you go, holy cow, and I shot 40 the back nine and 75 the last day because I could barely move. So you remember times. I skipped Augusta one year, not that I would have played, but it's my favorite event, but because I couldn't move. Those are things that I remember. Not so much if I look back and say, you know, that one year, I played six months and my back was kind of bothering me. I still play. If I can do well at one given time, I should be able to do well at another given time. It's kind of hit or miss.
The practicing, you know I can sit here and say the only really bad thing is chipping and putting. When I do that well, I think anyone can play. Brad Faxon goes out and strikes the ball really well, he'll be in the top 5 every week because he putts so well. If I go out and chip-and-putt, I should be. On the regular tour, those days are kind of long gone. I think when it's all gone it's irrelevant. I just wish I would have won a few more events and those are ones that to be honest I didn't play well last few holes on Sunday. But as far as my back holding me back, I can't answer that because I don't know any different. Is Tom Lehman hobbling around now? It's kind of weird, like how does he feel. I don't have ask him but when you see a guy walk, like how does he really feel? Because I can tell you how I really feel. It's horrible. And like he gets -- it's got to hurt in his swing, and yet, what do you do? He's the No. 1 player this year. Can he do that for four more years? I don't know. Maybe.
But I know that I'm now -- like last year at the beginning of the year, I was phenomenal. Then I got away from golf to relax and then I kind of lose my game then I came back and won here. Really worked hard with Paul on the range, and worked Wednesday and Thursday out there and I was really stiff and felt bad but I was working on my game. That's pretty much what I have to do. I played last week and then I took Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off. I had two things in L.A. We had Presidents Cup gifts that I had to make sure were correct and then I had a birthday party there, and flew back Tuesday afternoon, drive down here last night, woke up at 4:00 and drove down here from Austin, which is I didn't feel so bad. Woke up in Austin, drove down, got here at 7:00.
Q. Is the Presidents Cup -
FRED COUPLES: I'm excited about it. I think the Tour is a big help. The Ryder Cup is a big help, too, but The Presidents Cup by doing it two years ago and knowing everything, I mean, the picks were pretty hard. I think Tiger was a very easy pick. Leaving Keegan Bradley off was an emotional morning. I wasn't really thrilled about it. I wasn't feeling that good about it. I called Snedeker up, that was a piece of cake, he knew he had to make the team. But Jay and I had talked, and his son, we already knew that scenario but Brandt Snedeker could easily have made that team instead of Keegan Bradley the way it was going. He played really, really well. I felt bad for Keegan, but an outside shot, I don't know how Steve Stricker is doing. He was struggling a little bit.
FRED COUPLES: You know, what I have no idea. I haven't even asked. He's not -- I don't think I'm going to ask. Because I already told Keegan Bradley, he's already fitted for clothing, he's going to be the guy. If the Tour said that the day before, it's the day before, it doesn't matter to me -- and I don't know. I probably should ask, but I'm a little bit -- the thing is he's got to figure it out. Meaning, if he's that bad, he wants to be ready for January. There's no reason for him to go there in November and hurt himself again and ruin six months of his time when he's played in The Presidents Cup, played in The Ryder Cup and not be ready in January. Not putting words in his mouth but I think that would be wise for him. But if he goes down there and it hurts in a practice round, then what do we do. That's not really fair to one of Greg's guys, put it in the hat. I don't even know how that works. Steve is a pretty bright guy.
FRED COUPLES: Well, I haven't played much so after Seattle there were three weeks off and to be perfectly honest, I really wanted to see if I could go three weeks. San Antonio is a great -- I have not played there that much, but it's not because I don't like San Antonio. Just when it used to be on the schedule I would play and skip it just because of timing. Midge, her grandmother lives up there -- I was planning on playing. I already set out, I think I played two weeks in a row, Westchester and Seattle and I got through that but now I'm trying to see -- these are really short weeks on this tour, but it doesn't do any good to take Monday and Tuesday. You see guys working their tails off, getting ready to play. So I figured I would play three weeks, one of these weeks, maybe I'll have a shot.
FRED COUPLES: No, it's the other one, and if it looks anything like, that I might be afraid to go to it. (Laughter) That looks brutal. It depends on how your eye sees the hole. I think for a lot of people, you go to Augusta and it take as while. They changed it but it takes a while to see the shot. For me, I hit it a long way but for a lot of people they don't like Augusta, because they say they can't play it. San Antonio, I can go there and the end of the week say I love it, the weather was great. I don't think there will be a course that is going to fit my game. Doesn't matter if it's really tight, like Hilton Head or wide open like some other courses. Just it's a grass thing, some people say, I don't play as well on the West Coast as in Florida. I don't care where we are, bermudagreens, bentgrass greens, zoysia greens or whatever. I'm looking forward to it. I've heard it's a really, they say, a good course for us, the older guys.
FRED COUPLES: No, I think Pete Dye, he makes -- we play a lot of them. They are usually tricky, but when you hit it in a bad spot, you hit it in a bad spot, no matter who the designer is -- Inaudible.) -- we are going to a lot of TPCs, but it's a non-factor. The way you play some of these holes, too, there may be a hole everyone is hitting a 4-wood off or a rescue and I hit a driver and the end of the week, you say, you know, I notice you lost the tournament by two shots and you played the fifth hole, a 4-iron and a 9-iron, you played it 2-over; yeah, because I was an idiot. But then you go play those holes and you drive it up the front of the green and birdie it the two days and look like the smartest guy in the world. That sometimes is what I means when it fits my eye. It's not like some doglegs, go to a certain point and stop that are better for Jeff Sluman and Corey Pavin and for me, my ball goes a little bit further and sometimes you've got to -- the question was, it's a new course. So I have to figure that out quickly and that will be on a Thursday Pro-Am. So if I play the course stupidly, it might cost me. So that's why I have to figure the course out on Thursday. That's not easy to do. It's a lot easier to figure them out on an old-style course, tree-lined. Again, that course, that was really hard. You miss a few spots there and you were making bogeys every single time. Totally different.
Q. Your caddie -
FRED COUPLES: Trammell. She caddied last week and this week.
Q. Can you give her a grade -
FRED COUPLES: She'll give you this grade. In Seattle, she was frustrated because I asked her to drive a cart and that's where I'm from, and we probably had 5,000 people, and she lost her voice by saying, "Excuse me, cart please, cart please, cart please." Then she caddied last week and carried the bag. I gave her a B plus. Is she as good as Joe? No. She's not clubbing.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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