‘It’s embarrassing’: Fred Couples’ brutal Masters ends with candid self-reflection  

Fred Couples of the United States walks the second fairway during the second round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club

Fred Couples had a tough week at the Masters.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Peruse the list of iconic duos — Sonny and Cher, Brady and Gronk, peanut butter and jelly — and near the top you’ll find Fred Couples and Augusta National. They’re inextricable. Couples is making his 39th Masters start this week. In his previous 38 appearances, he made 31 cuts, racked up 11 top-10s and slipped on one green jacket, in 1992. Last year, at 63, Couples became the oldest Masters entrant to play the weekend, cruising under the cut line by three. As has been the case with Tiger and Phil and Vijay and Ernie and scores of other golfers before them, there’s just something about this place that brings out the best in Fred.

Just not this year.

If you heard Couples’ pre-tournament comments Tuesday, it was hard to feel bullish about his chances in this 88th Masters — not of contending or making the cut but of merely finishing two rounds. “I live in Newport, and I withdrew there,” Couples said of the PGA Tour Champions event near his Southern California home in late March; hampered by his chronically bad back, Couples could endure just 27 holes. “I live in Palm Springs, too, and I didn’t even participate,” he added of the following week’s event, in Rancho Mirage. “I withdrew after the pro-am.

“I didn’t touch a club from Thursday of whatever that was here” — Thursday, March 28 — “until Sunday here because I didn’t even want to move, and I played Sunday not very well, but I got it around, and then today.”   

Couples said the most challenging — read: potentially painful — shots for him during practice rounds were short irons and wedges, so much so that he avoided hitting those clubs on the range. “Drivers and 3-woods because I’m so far away [from the ball],” he said. “I won’t even warm up with an iron.”

Despite his grim condition, Couples still made a pledge: He would not “embarrass myself by a bad score,” adding: “I’m not shooting 80. There’s no way. I’m just not that kind of person. I wouldn’t do that. Can I shoot 80? Of course, I can. But I’m not planning on it.”

Alas, as so often happens in this crazy game, things did not go to plan.

On Thursday, Couples bogeyed the opening par-4 and then added three more bogeys on the front to turn in four over. Couples said he was in such discomfort that he wanted to quit at several points but didn’t want to throw off the rhythm of his playing partners, Adam Hadwin and amateur Stewart Hagestad, who were regularly outdriving Couples by 50 yards.   

The back nine was no better. Couples bogeyed 11 and 12, followed by his lone birdie of the day, on 13. He managed pars at 14 and 15 but then closed with a trio of bogeys. “It was really, I don’t want to say no fun because it’s Augusta, but swinging was a chore,” Couples said. If you’re a numbers person, perhaps you’ve already done the math: Couples’ 18-hole tally included nine bogies and one birdie, which at Augusta National is…an 80.

The really bad news for Couples: He still had 18 more holes to play, and on a day when the wind would make Augusta National look like a scene from Twister. Rattling flagsticks. Hats trundling across fairways. Sandstorms in and around the bunkers. “Brutal out there,” Couples would say afterward.  

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There was some good news for Couples. He got out early, at 8:48 a.m., before the wind really started howling — and his scorecard showed it. Couples opened with six straight pars. Not that his back was any feeling any better. On good days Couples can still pump his tee shots north of 300 yards, but this week he could rarely get more than 260 out of them. One of his best drives of the tournament came on Friday at the par-4 9th, where he left himself just 124 yards into the green.

“It was a 9-iron shot, but I was trying to hit a 7-iron and I just couldn’t swing,” Couples said. “The ball went 80 yards in the air and rolled up short left of the green. It’s embarrassing. I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

Following that swing, he put his hand on his hip and grimaced.

Couples, who carries a 9-wood in his bag, said he wished he’d had even more woods in his bag, to replace his higher-lofted irons. “I should have had 11-wood to hit 140 yards,” he said. “I couldn’t even hit an 8-iron. I couldn’t swing.”

It wasn’t all bad. Couples offset six bogeys Friday with two birdies and said he was pleased with his chipping and putting. He signed for a 76, which was only a stroke and change worse than the field average, which late in the second round was a meaty 74.89. Carnage and back pain aside, Couples said he still had fun out there.

Couples called his performance “really ugly” but also said he’s not ready to bow out of the tournament that has been so good to him. He said he’s planning on coming back in 2025 and making yet another cut, and that he’s going to tell Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley that he also wants to come back in ’26, for what would be Couples’ 41st Masters start.

Bur first things first, Couples said: “I’ve got to get my back fixed.”

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