Fred Couples made this Masters rookie’s day, and the opposite was also true
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fred Couples makes friends and fans wherever he goes. Maybe you remember his trip to Butler Cabin after he won the Masters, 30 years ago. Jim Nantz, the CBS announcer and Fred’s roommate at the University of Houston, asked him about the tee shot on 12, the one that clung to the bank of the creek.
Couples was seated between Ian Woosnam, the ’91 Masters winner, and Manny Zerman, the low amateur in ‘92.
“I have a tough time aiming away from the pin,” Couples said. “I’m sure Ian and Manny do the same thing.”
Can you imagine being Manny Zerman, right then and there? Can you imagine the status Fred conferred on Manny Zerman, University of Arizona golfer, at that moment? Before then, the thing Zerman was most famous for was being the runner-up to Phil Mickelson at the 1990 U.S. Amateur and Mitch Voges in ’91. But now Fred Couples was talking about him.
And suddenly it’s 30 Aprils later — how did that happen? — and Couples was playing in the second round of the 2022 Masters alongside two young players he did not know, Garrick Higgo of South Africa and Guido Migliozzi of Italy. Both of them were playing in the Masters for the first time.
Fred, white-haired, still smooth, stiffed his third shot into the par-5 15th hole. Guido, 30 or so yards ahead of Couples, was walking across the Sarazen Bridge and applauding the shot.
“It’s Freddie Couples, he’s a living legend,” Migliozzi said after he finished his round. At 152 for two rounds, Migliozzi had no chance of making the cut. (Higgo, the same.) But he was radiating happiness. His English is perfect, and his accent is spectacular. “I have watched Freddie all my life,” Guido said. “How can you not be happy playing with him?”
Couples is Italian, on his father’s side. The family surname, when his paternal grandparents made it to the United States from Italy, was Coppola. Yes, like Francis Ford. You want to know the good strip-mall Italian restaurants in this city or that one — in Chicago or Palm Beach Gardens or L.A. — ask Fred.
In the cool of Friday afternoon, Fred’s workweek was done (154) as was his 37th Masters. Fred signed his card and answered some questions for a reporter gathering string for a piece for an Augusta National publication, the Masters Annual.
“How many times have you been asked about it since then?” the reporter, John Hopkins, asked. They had been discussing the most famous shot of the 1992 Masters, the one that stayed on the bank.
“A few times this week,” Couples said. “And a few times on the street. And a few times at restaurants.”
Couples then found a wall to lean against and chatted with Migliozzi and Migliozzi’s girlfriend and coach and family members. They talked about Riviera, one of Fred’s favorite courses, and golf in Italy, one of Fred’s favorite countries and home of the 2023 Ryder Cup. Fred knew that Migliozzi was already in this year’s U.S. Open, at the Country Club in Brookline, by virtue of his T4 finish at last year’s U.S. Open, at Torrey Pines. Fred was in no rush to go anywhere. When a camera came out, Fred draped his arm around the shoulders of his new friends, effortlessly. Fred’s played in both a U.S. Open and a Ryder Cup at Brookline. Torrey Pines, he’s played a million times. Fred always likes that word, million.
Then Fred came to his senses. He looked at his watch. Fred likes watches, older ones especially. The old simple ones. Also modern art and reliable restaurants where you can smell the fried garlic and there’s no wait for a table.
There’s a nod to Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo in this. In an early version of the script for The Godfather, Puzo and Coppola have Clemenza giving a playing lesson to Michael Corleone, son of the movie’s namesake, about how to make spaghetti sauce. In an early draft, the script had Clemenza saying this:
“Hey, come over here, kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you sauté some garlic.”
Something didn’t sound right. They changed sauté to fry. And that made all the difference.
And so it is with Fred. He does little gestures. It’s almost a lost art, on the PGA Tour. Everybody’s in such a rush.
He missed the cut. Hey, he’s 62. He missed the cut at the 2022 Masters. Does it matter? It does not. He made some new friends. Will he see them again? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, various members of the Famiglia Migliozzi will be shaped by their time with Fred. In a meaningful way? Not likely. But in a way. They’ll carry the encounter.
Maybe Fred will be in Rome next year, at the Ryder Cup, as an assistant captain. Does it matter? Not really. But, you know — it’d be nice.
Maybe Fred will make the cut at next year’s Masters. Does it matter? Not really, but it would be nice.
Maybe Fred will win on the senior tour again. Does it matter? No, but it would be nice.
Maybe Fred will be an assistant captain on Davis Love’s Presidents Cup team come September. We won’t even attempt an answer.
On his way to the carpark, an old acquaintance asked Fred about Guido’s game. Fred likes it. He started citing, shot for shot, the shots that Guido missed, when all he needed was to do this, to do that. “He could have made the cut!” Fred said.
Then he started talking about Guido and Higgo and Higgo and Guido. Fred likes talking about other people. He doesn’t like talking about himself. That’s why he makes friends and fans wherever he goes. That’s why the Masters pairing committee so often pairs him with Masters rookies. You know, in his own way, Fred’s a welcoming committee.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com