U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Couples Shows Little Rust Despite Balky Back
June 27, 2018 | COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Fred Couples had an issue this spring that his fellow competitors in the 39th U.S. Senior Open Championship rarely face: He was trying to remember where he left his golf clubs.
Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, was preparing for his 33rd trip to Augusta National in April when he realized that his clubs were in Palm Springs and he was in Newport Beach, Calif. This would be unusual for a touring professional, except that he hadn’t used them in earnest in nearly three months, since he tied for sixth place in January in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the first PGA Tour Champions event of the year.
This week at the U.S. Senior Open, Couples is competing in just his fourth event of 2018, if you don’t count the member-guest tournament he played at Big Canyon Country Club a couple of weeks ago. That event at his home club was a test run for back-to-back events – last week in Madison, Wis., and this championship, which begins on Thursday. It’s a sporadic schedule brought on by chronic back problems that Couples has battled for much of his career.
“It’s just part of the deal,” said Couples, 58, on Wednesday at The Broadmoor. “If this is the last tournament I ever play, trust me, I will not have a problem with that. But if I can get in another three or four in the next five months and play a few next year, that will be great. But I’m not going to play 15 tournaments [a year] ever again.”
If quantity is an issue, quality certainly has not been. Couples made the cut at Augusta for the 30th time, eventually tying for 38th, and he finished tied for third last week behind Scott McCarron at the American Family Insurance Classic, an event he played in partly because good friend Steve Stricker is the host. Couples tied with Stricker and 2014 U.S. Senior Open champion Colin Montgomerie, two shots back of McCarron.
“I just show up every now and then and play when I feel like I can,” said Couples, whose back has limited him to competing in just four of the eight U.S. Senior Opens he has been eligible for since turning 50. His best finish is second behind Bernhard Langer in 2010, when the championship was played just outside Couples’ hometown of Seattle. Last year, he tied for fourth at Salem Country Club in Massachusetts, in his first start since 2013.
As good as his results have been, Couples admits that the lack of practice and competition have hindered him from his absolute best. “I hit a few mediocre irons last week,” he said. “On Sunday, I had a few wedges from 70 to 90 yards where the pins were more tucked, so you had to hit a much better shot to get it in there and stop it. I hit a couple that were disappointing. And then you’re seeing McCarron, playing with him, he’s birdieing some holes.”
This week’s challenge is not unlike those he has faced in the 23 U.S. Opens he played, or the previous four U.S. Senior Opens.
“They’re very, very tough courses – this one is no exception,” said Couples. “You have to drive it; you have to be good around the greens, and obviously you have to be a really good putter. These greens … I don’t know what anyone else is saying, but I think they’re brutal. If you don’t get your second shot in the right quadrant or area,
you better be good putting from 4 to 6 feet for pars, because you’re going to have a lot of them.”
Sweating over 4-footers is something Couples doesn’t envision doing for too many more years – simply because he doesn’t expect his back to allow it.
“When it stops happening, that’s another good sign for me to not worry about it and stop playing,” he said. “Because I have no interest in playing if it’s mediocre. I don’t even want to leave the house as it is, why would I want to go finish 50th? There’s no chance of that happening.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.