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Couples Still Seeking First USGA Title
Incredibly, one of golf's most accomplished contemporary players, Fred Couples, has never won a USGA championship. Not as an amateur, a top-flight PGA Tour pro, or as a member of the over-50 Champions Tour.
The 53-year-old Seattle native, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier this year, accumulated 15 titles on the PGA Tour - including the 1992 Masters Tournament. Even though he's in his 50s, Couples remains a force every year at Augusta National Golf Club.
He has two wins on the European Tour and another eight on the Champions Tour since joining it in 2010. Among the latter victories on the senior circuit are two majors - the 2011 Senior Players Championship and the 2012 Senior Open Championship. Couples has also been on five Ryder Cup teams - contributing to two wins, a tie and two losses, and six Presidents Cup squads - all victories, with the last two with him serving as the USA team captain.
But a USGA title has been elusive as one of the game's most popular players - one often listed as one the "coolest" golfers in history for his beautifully rhythmic, powerful swing, and fashion sense, which has led to him appearing in numerous television commercials.
Couples can change all that USGA-title nonsense with a win in this week's U.S. Senior Open, which starts Thursday at Omaha Country Club in Nebraska.
Since joining the Champions Tour Couples' best chance to win this championship came in 2010 his own back yard. That year the U.S. Senior Open was held at Sahalee Country Club just east of Seattle. After firing a 5-under 65 at the tight, tree-lined course on Saturday to tie Bernhard Langer for the 54-hole lead, Couples closed with an even-par 70 - to Langer's sparkling 67, finishing as the runner-up by three strokes to the German and fellow Hall of Fame member.
On Wednesday in Omaha, Couples met with reporters and talked about the venue and his chances to finally get that maiden USGA title. Here's what the long-hitting player nicknamed "Boom-Boom" had to say to the media.
MODERATOR: All right, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to welcome Fred Couples here into the Media Center. Fred is a 15 time winner on the PGA Tour, winner of last year's Senior British Open, runner up at the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, and a 2013 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee. Thank you for joining us.
FRED COUPLES: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Now, Fred, you've maintained a high level of play for a long time, into your 40s, now into your 50s, and even this year at the Masters, one stroke off the lead through 36 holes. What's enabled you to do so here into your early 50s?
FRED COUPLES: I think the Masters part of it is a lot of course knowledge. If I do a couple things well there, I feel like I can still play that course. If you look at in my late 40s, I was reading what Monty said about making cuts and not being real competitive. I don't know what his exact words were. I felt like I kept playing, kept my card, did all that fun stuff. And then when I turned 50, I had a great first year. I waited the whole time to play the U.S. Senior Open in my hometown of Seattle and lost to Bernhard Langer. And then really since then, I think what keeps you going is a little bit of health and I hit the ball a long way. I still enjoy playing. I don't play that much. This is a nice little stretch where I'm playing, but when I get to playing an event or two and then go to the next one or two, I seem that I can pick my game up pretty quickly. I feel like I'm competitive out here every week I play.
Q. Of course, this Fall coming up, you have the Presidents Cup. You'll be captain for the third time. Talk a little bit about that. You've named Davis Love III and Jay Haas as your captain. How much preparation how are you able to balance your playing career out here on the Champions Tour and getting ready for the Presidents Cup?
FRED COUPLES: The Presidents Cup, the Tour does more than half the work. Jay and I - this is our third year doing it. Davis invited me to be the captain, assistant captain for the Ryder Cup last year. So I felt like - the first time I got the job, Davis was a lot younger. I was hoping he'd make the team. Now as he's older, he had a little neck surgery done. So it would be hard for him to make the team this year. So I assumed he would want to be captain. So I have great assistants. And then the rest of it, picking clothing out. That was done months ago. Now it's just down to kind of gifts.
Q. And Kenny Perry was in here a little bit earlier trying to make his case for playing at Memorial.
FRED COUPLES: He did that pretty well in Pittsburgh, and then I saw him at Muirfield. We both played at Jack's tournament, and he said, you know, I own this place. If I play well this week, will you give me a thought? I said sure. Obviously, he - I think he missed the cut. That's what I'm looking for. I get two picks. I don't know who they're going to be. I haven't really even looked at it as of yet. But when it gets there, it will be guys who have played at Memorial and done well, I think. They're obviously going to be close to making the team. I don't think I'm going to venture too far down the list, but that has a lot to do with it.
MODERATOR: Let's open up the floor to questions.
Q. Two part question, first of all. Your thoughts on this golf course?
FRED COUPLES: Yeah, I played nine holes yesterday, the front nine, and then I'm going to go out and play most of the holes today, especially the nine on the back. I really like the front. I know the back nine, I hear, is hillier, maybe a little tougher to judge some shots. I think it's - the front nine was beautiful. Perfect for our games. It kind of gives you a little bit of length. The 8th hole is 480, gradually up the hill, and a couple of par 3s. I think it's the 3rd hole maybe that plays 240. So those are U.S. Open type holes, and the rest of them are very small greens with a lot of little nooks and crannies. I think it's a great course.
Q. You had some comments in the Chicago paper a couple of weeks ago. You said at the time, I'm probably going to get in trouble for saying that, about comparing North Shore, which is a very good course, with here. Were you taken in context?
FRED COUPLES: No. I was saying North Shore could easily have a U.S. Open. I've never been here. So I have nothing to compare it to. When I was in Chicago, they were asking questions, how do you like the course? I said, this could easily be a U.S. Senior Open type course, not comparing it. To be honest, I don't even know the name of this course. Is it Omaha Country Club?
MODERATOR: It is.
FRED COUPLES: I know we're in Omaha, and I know it's a good course. I couldn't compare it because I've never seen it. Now, Chicago didn't have the amount of people we have here, I will say that. There is a ton of support, and this is, I think, going to be a great U.S. Senior Open.
Q. Fred, just wanted to ask you, how's your back doing? Number two, you've got three straight runner up finishes coming into this. Do you feel like you're about to knock the door down?
FRED COUPLES: What was the last part of that?
Q. Do you feel like you're about ready to knock the door down?
FRED COUPLES: Am I ready to knock the door down? I'll answer that first. Yes, I'd like to win something. I tried to play the member guest a month ago and finished second there too. So I am on a roll here. Out in Newport Beach. I feel good. I took all last week off. I didn't play any. I felt like I was playing very, very well, but I didn't feel like I could practice. And then I'm playing here, the British Open, and the Senior British Open, which might be a little much. I'm going to try and do it. So my back feels good, knock on wood. I wouldn't be here - I skipped the Senior PGA because I just physically thought I couldn't play as well as I'd like. And this is a very, very tough golf course. So you have to be ready to play, and I feel very healthy right now and ready to go.
Q. Just it's a common question among everybody that's come in here really and how much physical conditioning is going to play into this week and also playing off of some potentially awkward lies, some downhill lies and so forth. How does that all factor into your preparation or your thoughts on it?
FRED COUPLES: Well, for me - I can't speak - for me, side-hill lies and downhill lies are very hard to get to with my back. If I drive it in the rough and don't have a great lie, I'm not going to do too much out of it. I'll probably play it safe. I'm sure I will be driving it in the rough a few times. Like I say, the front nine, I saw there were some - the ninth hole had a little twist and turn to it. But so far, it's been okay, but I'm not going to try and do something that I don't think I can do on one particular shot or hole. But it is a very, very good course. I think there are some spots you have to hit. People are saying, I don't know, if you drive it on the 4th hole, the par 5, 5th hole, you're going to get it down the hill. I mean, you have to hit a drive right within a two yard area down the right side so it will roll down there. I'm almost thinking maybe hitting a 3 wood off the tee. People see things differently. They all think, if you're a long hitter, if you hit an absolute perfect drive, it's a huge advantage. I can tell you, I drove it in the left rough, and I could barely move it out of the rough. You want to get it in play.
I particularly think the greens are going to be very, very tough. There's kind of like some certain spots that they'll put the pins in, but if you miss it 50 feet right, you're going to be coming up over ridges, and I think that's on any U.S. Open course. You saw Merion. Last year I walked around at Olympic Club. People were - those greens are tiny and just the slope on those. So here we have a little bit of moisture because they're trying to spray the greens a little bit. I don't think they're going to get rock hard, maybe Saturday and Sunday, but the good scoring will be Thursday and Friday. I think the course will get tougher each and every day.
Q. Fred, have you looked back on these recent second places a little frustrating? You had the three putt late at Fox Chapel. Just a few little things that haven't gone your way?
FRED COUPLES: I think things go your way. Where was the first second place? In Chicago? No, in Alabama. Alabama, I played pretty well. I hit a horrible shot on the 71st hole, par 5, that David Frost looked like he was never going to birdie, and I had a 3 iron to the green, and I hit it 30 yards right of the green. I tried to work on that, not that particular shot, but my game. I went to Chicago and was not really in the tournament, but I got going the last day. I think I started seven strokes behind Craig. I was 6 under par, 7 under par for a while, and I hit a 9 iron to the green there and half shanked it in the bunker. I think disappointment is a couple of those shots, but overall I played pretty well.
Then on Sunday with Kenny Perry and Duffy, I felt like we all played really well, but I putted very, very mediocre. I three putted on, I think, a par 4 I drove, which was a pretty easy putt. Then I got it going or trying to catch Kenny, and I three putted the 15th hole from about 10 feet. Other than that, they made a good amount of putts, not crazy. Kenny was a machine. He shot 63, 63, 64 the last three rounds, and I shot 68 on Sunday, which for as good as I played was a very mediocre score, and couldn't quite catch him.
Q. What's the process that you take the day before a tournament? Do you still get nervous or jitters before a tournament after so many years?
FRED COUPLES: I get - you know, this is - hey, I've only played nine holes. So I'm going to go out and play it. I'll feel a little more comfortable. But when you play a course over and over and over, you kind of know when you can maybe hit a 3 wood off one of the tees or where to miss it if there's such a thing. When people say that, you kind of get confused, but I know, if I drive it down the left side and I miss it in the left rough, it's better than in the right rough. So those are things that you try and find out.
But nerves, I think, come when you're a little bit uneasy about what you're doing, and then when you get near the lead, you know, I think you're nervous, but two things are going to happen. You're either going to do well and win or you're not. When you really fail is when you do something kind of - if you shoot 40 on the back nine or double bogey the 17th hole, then you just kind of look at that, and the nerves got to you. It happens all the time. But I think on a course like this for all of us, I think it's getting used to it, and then tomorrow I have a late tee time. I might not be crazy aggressive because I don't really know the course that well. I don't even know the greens, and I don't think many guys - you could play two or three practice rounds here, and that's better than what I'm doing, but I think you can tire yourself out and play a little too much too. So today I'll get 18 holes in, and I'll be ready to go tomorrow.
Q. I can't pass this up, but give us the details of the runner up at Newport. What happened there? Who were you with?
FRED COUPLES: No. We were outclassed. I played with my buddy Lynn Roach. We played in the Championship Flight, and we lost to a couple young guys.
Q. Who were they?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I know one guy, Jordan Hasser. I don't know his partner. We didn't play with him. We were behind them. They were playing, and we had a pretty good last day to go into second place.
Q. Fred, how do you embrace being the fan favorite? Your name and Tom Watson's are the two that have been going through the fans for months and maybe even a year before the tournament got here. How do you embrace that?
FRED COUPLES: How do I embrace that? Or how do I brace for that? To be honest with you, you know, you - everyone's been in hot weather, but my first day here was yesterday. I'm out there playing. It's a million degrees. It's a million degrees on them too. But when you go from the 5th green to the 6th tee and they're lined up, you can't sign everyone's autograph. You'll be out there nine hours. So you just cordially sign a couple and go, and it's nice that all the people are out here. It starts tomorrow. So I'm going to go play today, and I'm sure I'll sign a bunch of autographs.
To be honest, we love it because there's so many people out here. It's a major event. I think it's in a place that probably doesn't have many professional golf tournaments. So they've come out and supported it. I've heard how many volunteers. So all that is a positive. But as players, you got to go out there, and sometimes you just do your best on signing stuff. As far as a fan favorite, any time you're playing in a regular tournament like on Thursday through Sunday, you want people out there to watch you and root for you and scream for you. But I think sometimes people look at he signed my autograph, he's a good guy. He didn't sign my autograph, he's a bad guy. After 33 years of doing it, it goes in one ear and out the other.
Q. Fred, you're involved with Presidents Cup, and I was wondering, Tom Watson's going to be in here later. I was just wondering what your thoughts were when he was named captain for the second time for the Ryder Cup. If that was a good move?
FRED COUPLES: No, I think it's a great move. What year did he - he did it. They won - or I was on the team. We won. So that's a good thing. We have a winning Ryder Cup captain that's going to do it for a second time. I mean, he's Tom Watson. He's won the British Open a million times, and he's going to be the captain overseas. He's one of my all time favorites. He's helped me out a lot. It's just such a long time from now, but to speak about Tom getting the job, I think it was great for the PGA of America to appoint him the captain, and he's chosen Andy North to be an assistant. They're best friends. So they'll have it all figured out. 15 months from now, once the team gets there, then really I've heard Tom say it a bunch, any captain will say it, the players play, and you just try and get them as ready as you can and have fun with them.
Q. What score would you take this week?
FRED COUPLES: What's the par, 70?
FRED COUPLES: See, I knew that. I just thought I'd ask. Four times 70 is 280. I would take 272. Probably won't win, but I'll take it right now, and I'll sit in my room and watch TV for four days. I think someone - honestly, there may be somebody 7 or 8 under after the first two rounds, but it's a lot like some of the old courses, like Westchester. Guys would shoot 63, 68, and then they'd shoot 70, 71 on the weekend and still win. This is that kind of course. It's going to toughen up. But 8 under is very good.
Q. Also, what do you remember of your last time here? You played with Leslie Nielsen the last time.
FRED COUPLES: I did. I don't remember the guys who built the course, the family.
Q. The Gottsch family.
FRED COUPLES: The Gottsch family. That was a long time ago. And I bumped into someone who caddied for me. Was it Riviera, correct? What's the name of the course?
Q. Indian Creek.
FRED COUPLES: Indian Creek, well. Is Indian Creek near here?
Q. About 18 miles west of here.
FRED COUPLES: I may go out and practice after this day here. Leslie Nielsen, and we played the grand opening of the course. It was fun. That's the last time I was here. I will come back, though, for the baseball when I'm kind of retired and done. Stadium looks awesome.
MODERATOR: Any other questions for Fred?
FRED COUPLES: All right. Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.