Fred Couples just played the round of his life. Could retirement be next?

Fred Couples at the SAS Championship last week.

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Even at 63, Fred Couples makes it all look so easy: the buttery swing; the inimitable cool; the easy smiles and unhurried gait, as if there’s nowhere he’d rather be than bashing balls around a golf course and pouring in putts. On Sunday, at Prestonwood CC, in Cary, N.C., all of this apparent effortlessness was especially evident when Couples carded 12 birdies, including seven straight to cap his round, to shoot 60 and win the PGA Champions’ SAS Championship by a touchdown.

“The best round I’ve every played,” Couples said afterward. “Today was my day.”

When you watch Freddie in his element, you’d be forgiven for thinking every day is his day. If only, Couples would tell you. While Couples possesses more golfing talent in his pinky nail than scratch amateurs, his career has not been all sunshine and rainbows. Consider this: Before his win Sunday, Couples had not triumphed in more than five years. On the PGA Tour, after he turned 40, Couples won just once, at the 2003 Shell Open. Neither of those droughts was caused by a lack of effort or a significant diminishment of ability. Couples’ body, in particular his back, just couldn’t support the demands of professional golf.

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Couples’ back troubles date to the mid-1990s. Since then, and particularly in recent years, the pain has been highly unpredictable. One day, he’s out beating balls on the range; the next, he’s withdrawing from a tournament, or in such intense discomfort that he’s unable to sleep. In 2011, Couples was so desperate for relief that he flew to Germany to undergo an experimental back treatment that hadn’t been approved in the U.S. Sometimes he plays through the pain: At a 2018 PGA Champions event in Hawaii, Couples couldn’t bend over and still tied for sixth. Other times the pain is too much: In 2016, Couples’ bum back led him to miss the Masters, something that has happened just once in the last 27 years.

Point is, it’s not always so easy being Fred Couples. Indeed, the pain, at intervals, has led him to mull hanging it up for good. In June, at a Champions event in Wisconsin, Couples was in an expansive mood, waxing on the joys of golf, his physical struggles and his goals. “I don’t have that many more years of this,” he said, “and I want to win one more time, badly.”

Later in the press conference, a reporter had this exchange with Couples:

“And when you win again, whether that—”

“—I’ll be gone,” Couples said.

Reporter: “Really? Out the door?”

Couples: “Yes. So hopefully Sunday night I will be gone.”

Reporter: “That’s it?”

Couples: “That’s it.”

Reporter: “Cold turkey?”

Couples: “A pretty simple thing. That’s why I keep choking on all these five-shot leads. I had a five-shot lead in Seattle a few years ago and I wouldn’t have won anyway, but Brandt Jobe shot, I think, 63. But, yeah, I’m done.”

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Reporter: “When you do win, wouldn’t you want to play one more?”

Couples: “No.”

Reporter: “No?”

Couples: “No.”

A few weeks later, Couples was captaining a U.S. team of golf-loving athletes at an event called the Icons Series, at Liberty National GC, just across the river from Lower Manhattan. I also was in attendance. Curious about Couples’ retirement plans, I pressed him.  

“Yes, another Champions tour win I will probably stop playing,” he said. “I will still play Augusta and probably a couple of others, [including] Sea Island.” (Couples said in Wisconsin that he’d also likely continue to play in events hosted by his tour-pro pals, such as Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.)

Couples added: “I’ve know I’ve walked a lot of miles, it takes a lot, a lot of work [to play at this level]. I don’t want to play mediocre golf. I don’t have the body and the back to pound balls, so I do it in spurts, and sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t want to play the Champions tour and finish 40th. That’s not the reason I’m out here.”

I don’t want to play the Champions tour and finish 40th. Fred Couples

It’s not just underperforming and back pain that weigh on Couples.

“I’m not big on travel,” he told me. “I actually get very panicky and weird when I have to get to a plane and get to a hotel. I’ve just done it for so long. My father worked for 55 years for the city of Seattle before he passed away. I’m on year 42 [in professional golf] and it feels like 400 at this point.”

So…what now, given Couples is a winner again? And in dominating fashion no less. Athletes long to go out on top. Walking now would be an all-time mic drop, maybe Couples’ smoothest move yet in a career full of them. Was that sweet 60 his swan song? I tried to reach Couples on Monday through his agent Lynn Roach but was unsuccessful.

In his post-round interviews Sunday, Couples wasn’t asked about the possibility of retirement. But as he basked in victory nothing he said hinted that he was itching to collect social-security checks.

Couples did say he’d likely put down his clubs for the rest of the month and perhaps catch a Padres playoff game or two. “And then I’ll gradually start hitting a few in November, December,” he said. “That’s normally when I do well because I live in California, the weather’s perfect.”

Perhaps he’ll use some of that range time to ponder his next move.

Alan Bastable Editor

As’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.