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Couples Good to Go at U.S. Senior Open
Though Fred Couples' notoriously balky back has acted up lately - including at the Senior Players Championship in late June in Pittsburgh, the 52-year-old said he's rested up and ready to go for this week's U.S. Senior Open. The $2.6 million Champions Tour major starts Thursday at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich.
After racking up 15 wins on the PGA Tour - including the 1992 Masters' title - the Seattle native has enjoyed a fine couple of years on the senior circuit. He won four times in his 2010 rookie year, and twice more in '11, including his first Champions Tour major at the Senior Players Championship.
So far this season Couples has won once, in the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic in late March. But after a T12 finish in the Masters his chronically bad back began acting up. "I won in March," Couples said following a practice round Wednesday at Indianwood.
"It seems like five years ago. I feel like I'm playing okay. I played well at Pittsburgh and kind of tweaked my back on the weekend and managed to shoot 70, 71, which I don't think was great but still had a shot to catch Joe Daley on the last day. Then I took all last week off and rested my back.
"I played today and hit a few balls yesterday," he added. "So I wouldn't say I'm rusty and not rusty. But I did not play any golf last week just to make sure coming in here that I could physically play and not be in too much pain or too much trouble swinging. It's a great course. I played with Bob Tway today and a guy from Seattle that I never met, but a good amateur player, and Tom Pernice. Everyone seems to like the place. I think it's a good layout."
Couples was originally paired in the marquee first-round threesome with Tom Watson and Nick Price. But Price pulled out on Monday, citing a "family emergency." Couples will now play with amateur Doug Snoap, Price's replacement, and Watson. The three tee off at 8:40 a.m. (EDT) on the 10th hole.
Here's what else Couples had to say during his sit-down with reporters.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. We would like to welcome Fred Couples to the media center this afternoon. Fred is playing in his second U.S. Senior Open Championship, having finished in second in the championship last year. Fred is playing in the feature group tomorrow with Tom Watson. You're coming into this championship, Fred, playing extremely well. A win in March at the Golfers World Classic. You tied for 12th at the Master's, a great performance a few weeks back at the Senior Players. How are you feeling coming into the U.S. Senior Open?
FRED COUPLES: I won in March. It seems like five years ago. I feel like I'm playing okay. I played well at Pittsburgh and kind of tweaked my back on the weekend and managed to shoot 70, 71, which I don't think was great but still had a shot to catch Joe Daley on the last day. Then I took all last week off and rested my back. I played today and hit a few balls yesterday. So I wouldn't say I'm rusty and not rusty. But I did not play any golf last week just to make sure coming in here that I could physically play and not be in too much pain or too much trouble swinging. It's a great course. I played with Bob Tway today and a guy from Seattle that I never met, but a good amateur player, and Tom Pernice. Everyone seems to like the place. I think it's a good layout.
MODERATOR: Do you prepare differently for a major like this?
FRED COUPLES: I would say one practice round is probably not great preparation, but I did the same thing at Pittsburgh and some of the other ones. I think what happens is when you get out here, you start playing, and I treat all the tournaments the same. This is a much tougher course. It's certainly a much tougher setup, but I just physically can't wear myself out getting here Monday and practicing and playing yesterday and today. So I've never seen the course. The greens are going to be tough. I try to pay attention to those. As far as the holes, there's a few angles and a few holes you have to try to figure out. I don't think you need to play a course ten times to do that. But around the greens, it's pretty difficult.
Of course, you have to hit the fairways or you're playing in the rough. A lot of times you have to pack it out and try to get it up in front of the green. There's not too much judgment there. But the greens are pretty tricky. I wouldn't say they're overly fast yet, but with the slopes that they have, they're picking up speed as they're rolling by the hole.
Q. Fred, can you talk about your mindset when you're going back and forth between a PGA Tour event and a Champions Tour event. How does your approach differ, if at all?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I've played the L.A. Open every year but once. I've been on tour 32 years. I missed the TPC because I won, which was disappointing, and I played Memorial basically because that was the week I was chosen to be the Presidents Cup captain. So the mindset, it's a much harder course when you go play Memorial than it is Des Moines, which I think was the week that week. But it's still a lot of fun for me personally. I went, and I played pretty well. I think I finished 45th place and still played pretty well. At Augusta, that's a different ball game.
So those are the three I played. Augusta is one I get to play forever. The other ones, I can choose and pick. I'm answering your question in a different way, but I don't play the regular tour. I play a couple of them. I'm not going back and forth like Tom Pernice and worrying about keeping my card on that tour or whether I can keep my card when I'm a certain age. It's awfully tough, but it's fun to go really see the guys. So my mindset when I go is really to hang out with the guys I haven't seen for a long time.
Q. When you talk about hanging out and having a good time, you're playing with Tom Watson tomorrow. Is that something you can enjoy, or you just have to focus on playing golf and your game?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I'm also playing with another gentleman. I don't know how to say his last name. Snoap? So I think that it's more fun to play with people that you know, and I'm sure he'll be nervous. We'll all be a little nervous. Playing with Tom is a treat. He hits the ball so pure. I've known him a long time. A long time ago, I went to stay at his house and tried to figure out a little bit how to be a better player and all that. When you play with Tom, he plays so well at any age. It's a treat to play with him. And the other gentleman got thrown in there with us, so I'm sure he'll show us a thing or two, and it will be a good group.
The weather has been unbelievable, which is nice. And I hope we get big crowds to come out and watch. I don't want to say a pairing is a pairing. On the Champions Tour, I get great pairing every week to start out. Then you go by score. So I'm playing with most of my best friends on every Friday that we tee off. Calcavecchia, Jay Haas, Watson, Nick Price. It's a fun time. Of course, if you're playing well, you're going to get good players on the weekend. Here we get the same guys two days in a row. So it will be a fun Thursday, Friday.
Q. Obviously, you're a fan favorite. You have fans lining up for autographs at every hole. So what does that support mean to you, and how does it affect your game?
FRED COUPLES: Fan support is great. Today was a Wednesday. There were a few people out there. And I believe there will be a lot more tomorrow. You know, it gets frustrating at times because you're playing with other guys, and you fall behind and run up on the tee. But as far as fan support, I've gotten a lot of it for a long, long time. Signing autographs sometimes is a winning/losing proposition. When you sign most of them, they're all pretty happy. When you don't sign some of them, they all think you're a jerk because they're standing right next to someone who you did sign. There's a process to it. I can't sit there on the 7th green and sign 100 autographs when I've got to go play the next hole. But I think tomorrow there will be a lot of people come out. I know Detroit, I used to play the Buick Open, which is not far down the road in Flint, and they had huge crowds every year we played. So I would expect the same tomorrow and Friday and Saturday and Sunday.
Q. After your Master's, of course, where would this rank in accomplishments if you could win this?
FRED COUPLES: Well, it's on a very good course, a tough course. So it would rank up there. I would say there are a few other ones. But to win a Senior U.S. Open would be, obviously, my biggest senior win. But I would say the TPCs and the Master's were ahead of this. This would be right under it. But the main goal in all these is really to beat a good golf course. I mean, it's got a label, the U.S. Senior Open Championship, which everyone wants to win, but it's really a nice course. It's hard. There's a lot of rough. So I'm sure they're going to let the greens get hard first, and it won't be Olympic Club, but it will be probably our toughest test all year. When you win a tournament like that, you've beaten a great field and won a big event.
I don't downplay any tournaments out here. I'd like to keep winning more and more and more. The goal, when you come out, if you're a good player on the Champions Tour, is to win as many times as you can fast. I don't feel like I'm going to be doing this many years. If I'm going to get to a certain amount, I'm not Hale Irwin, who at whatever age he is still continues to compete. He won so many tournaments for years out here that it's mind boggling to me. I think this would be a great event to win.
Q. Fred, Davis recently obviously selected you to help with the Ryder Cup. I'm wondering how much, if any, that's taking away from your year now to help him a little bit, concentrate on what's going on in the regular tour a little more. What do you guys talk about?
FRED COUPLES: We talked about a few things months ago, and one of them was I'd like to help him out. I said for sure. We talked a few times after I said that, maybe three or four days in a row, and then not much after that. A little bit at Memorial. Once you get the process and once you feel like you're on the right track, I think the more you talk about it, the more you start to question what you're doing, to be honest. And there's no reason - we haven't even discussed the pick. I don't even know who's in the mix. I know most of the guys that are in the top eight, but I don't know many guys that are 13th, 15th, 17th, or if there are two guys that, for me, a couple years ago or whenever it was with Tiger, I was going to pick Tiger no matter what.
Well, now he's on the team. So there's really not a debate about Tiger Woods anymore since he's playing so well. But I enjoy the idea of being his assistant. I look forward to it. There will be some great golf played. I think maybe in another month or so we'll start talking a lot, but I don't really want to bother him about it. He's called a couple of times. He'll give me a call. But they're short conversations, and they're just about something small or nothing major, major yet. He's doing a great job. He's on track. Right now he's worried about clothing. So that's his main goal.
Q. The white belts are bothering him?
FRED COUPLES: Yeah, no white belts although that's the young thing now.
Q. You mentioned the Buick Open. There's been talk about the Champions Tour maybe stopping there. What would that mean to you to go back there? Of course, can you talk about that shot on 18 the year you won. Everyone in Flint still talks about that shot, the most memorable of all time.
FRED COUPLES: We would be playing that course too, I hope. I just heard that today. There were some armed services out there, and we were asking them where they're from, and they said Flint. And I think Tom Pernice said we're trying to get a tournament in Flint. I said, you mean the Buick Open back? He said, no, a senior event. I think that would be fantastic. It's one I played for a lot of years. I liked Warwick Hills. Then I don't remember the year that I won, but I did hit a great second shot in there close enough to make birdie and win. It's a great town. For us, it would be fantastic because they get - I mean, it's a spot I'm shocked there isn't a tournament there. I always felt like it was in the top five of our best tournaments after the so called big, big, big ones. We lost it, and usually they had 20,000 to 30,000 people out there that were very vocal on what I considered to be a fun, nice golf course. It's just too bad that we don't play there. So I hope we can go. It would be nice.
Q. Since you ping pong between playing with younger players and older players, I know golf is focusing on the course, but a couple of guys from our area are playing in this event that have usually been playing with the younger players. I'm just wondering what your advice would be to guys that are playing with more of their age in this event.
FRED COUPLES: Say that one more time, please? There are guys, younger players? 50, you mean?
Q. Yeah, they're in their 50s, and they're usually playing with the younger guys.
FRED COUPLES: Who is that, playing with the younger guys? You mean regular guys or on the regular tour? I'm confused.
FRED COUPLES: Oh, the amateurs? Well, that's a good question. I played with one today from Seattle. I don't know. I don't think we're all young guys. We're all a certain age, but he played well. It was fun to play with him. He says he's going to be a nervous wreck tomorrow because he's never played a course set up like this. Everyone's played golf courses, but very few are set up this way. This way would be the greens are going to try and get firm. There's enough rough that I don't think if you get a lie that's not good that you can get it on the greens. There are some holes where second shots the green's elevated, and you can forget that. It's very hard to say anything. I've only played the course one time, and people are trying to tell me how to play it.
I feel like I know you're not supposed to hit it over the 4th green because the green's straight downhill and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But we're now talking about patience, how to pace yourself, how to not worry about if you're 3 over par after five holes. I think a lot of good players will be 3 over par after five holes. So we play all the time. It doesn't mean we're going to shoot a good score if we get off to a bad start. But some guys, it seems to snowball. And I've been in the same boat. At Augusta this year on Saturday, I started out, I thought I didn't hit too many bad shots. I was 3 over par after five holes and then struggled a little bit and ended up shooting 75. If I had gotten off to a better start, I still would have been in great shape on Sunday. We're talking about you're going to see some wild scores, and most of that will be because of nerves. But it's not a big deal, really. It's a fun first time for a lot of these guys to be in a tournament like this. I think they go away thinking it was a lot of fun.
I know the guy playing with Tom and I tomorrow, I hope he goes away thinking he got a good break getting paired with us. He may possibly beat me. I don't really know. But I think he'll be more nervous than most guys. We're not going to try and make him more nervous. We'll talk to him and have fun with him.
MODERATOR: Fred, nice having you.
FRED COUPLES: Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.