Fred Couples feeling a ‘little freaky’ after career-first
There are at least three things you likely know about Fred Couples: his swing tempo inspires awe, he won the Masters thanks, in part, to an all-time break from the golf gods and he fights back pain that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Now, here’s something you probably didn’t know: Until this summer, Couples, who is 63, had never had a surgery.
“I’ve been told for 20 years you need a back surgery and I keep saying no chance,” Couples said Thursday from the Shaw Charity Classic, a PGA Tour Champions event in Calgary. “But yeah, I’ve never broken a finger, I’ve never had a knee problem, knock on wood, or a hip.”
The first sign that Couples’ good fortune might finally be coming to an end came in January, when he was diagnosed with a hernia. He kept playing for the next six months — including seven starts on the Champions tour, plus the Masters, where he became the oldest player ever to make the cut — but eventually the time came to address his internal tear.
“I just can still feel this mesh in there, and it’s a really odd feeling,” Couples said of the result of his July 5 procedure. “This was probably one of the smallest surgeries a human being can get, a hernia surgery, but for me it’s a little freaky. But I feel okay. I’m swinging fine. I feel like I’ll do well here.”
No reason to doubt that, because Couples did well a week ago in his first post-surgery start, at the Boeing Classic, just east of Seattle. It took Couples a while to get up to full throttle — early in the week he was hitting 140-yard 7-irons and few drivers — but his swing showed little sign of rust and he shot 67-71-73 to finish 26th.
The biggest challenge, Couples said, was bending over to read putts.
This week, in Calgary, Couples has Steve Flesch’s son Griffin on the bag. Couples said Griffin, who has caddied for Couples in the past, will handle his reads. Couples added that walking is still not easy for him so he’ll be taking a cart, which is permitted at most Champions events.
Many of Couples’ aches and pains, he said, stem from walking. “I’m starting to walk, like, two and a half miles in the morning when I’m not playing — that’s at home,” he said. “I get back and my knee hurts and my hip hurts because I feel like I’m walking way different than I’ve walked for 50 years on the Tour. But I don’t need much more aggravation, I just want to play a little bit every year.”
His goal this year was to make 15 Champions starts. But after his two-month layoff, this week marks only his eighth appearance.
Couples’ senior career has been a labor of love, which, he said, came as a surprise to him.
“When you’re on the regular Tour and you’re going, wow, I can’t wait to get to 50, I was the opposite,” he said. “I told a lot of people, I can’t wait to be done, I don’t think I’ll play the Champions tour, and I’ve had more fun playing this than, like I said, from late in my 40s.”
Couples described that phase of his career as a grind.
“You have to work so hard to compete because you lose a little bit,” he said. “And then as a guy that loves to beat people, it’s not like I won 100 tournaments, but I just couldn’t physically play well except if I played 16 times, maybe I had four really good tournaments.”
That’s not to say Couples’ competition on the senior circuit isn’t stout, because it is. He’s won 14 times, including two majors, but just once in the last five years. And he knows in three-round events just a few bad holes can send you reeling down leaderboards.
“On this tour you’ve got to really be careful what you’re doing, because if you have a so-so nine holes, you just get lapped,” he said. “This whole thing is, it’s a blast. They’re sprints, 54 holes, and you’ll rarely see a guy shoot 72 or 73 the first day and win a tournament out here, you’re just so far behind.”
Couples opened with a 69 in the Shaw Charity Classic event a year ago, then cooled off with rounds of 71-74. His two-under total left him 13 strokes behind the winner, Miguel Angel Jimenez.