SNOQUALMIE -- When Fred Couples arrived in Seattle late Wednesday night to stay with his longtime buddy, John Bracken, it didn't take long for the conversation to turn to a couple of his favorite topics: the Seahawks and Mariners.
For two hours they discussed those teams' fortunes and tribulations, a common venture for the O'Dea High School graduate who grew up on Beacon Hill and famously honed his golf swing at the nearby Jefferson Park public course.
Couples lives in Southern California, mostly a nod to a chronically ailing back that requires him to take every possible shortcut when it comes to air travel.
But Couples remains, at his core, a child of Seattle, a vocal proponent of its virtues and a loyal fan of its sports teams. Couples is a Seahawks season-ticket holder and will be in Green Bay, Wis., in two weeks for their season opener. Couples misspoke Thursday (perhaps a Freudian slip) and initially said he's a Sonics season-ticket holder; he corrected himself and added wistfully, "I wish it was the Sonics. I'd get those, too."
At age 57, Couples finds himself at a stage of great contentment in his fabled golf career. In town for the Boeing Classic, which begins Friday at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge, he is having a strong season on the Champions Tour.
Though his balky back (and a new wrinkle: a hip injury) limits his tournaments -- and knocked him out of this one last year, to his great regret -- Couples has played exceedingly well when he tees up. He has won twice this year on the senior tour, finished a competitive third in the Senior British Open in Wales and was 18th in the Masters at Augusta, a tourney where he traditionally shines and the source of his lone major triumph in 1992.
Couples just doesn't know when his back will act up, and he's at peace with that. He said in a recent Golf Magazine interview that he can feel great away from the course, "and once I swing a club, it all goes haywire." But with the help of the same personal trainer that works with former Huskies receiver John Ross, Couples is plugging along.
"I actually do very well,'' Couples said, stopping to knock on the table at which he was sitting.
Sure, there will be extended stretches of forced absence for Couples, such as last year when he bizarrely (his word) hurt his hip while awkwardly exiting his airplane seat to use the restroom. Nothing showed up on an MRI exam, but it knocked him out of action for six months and limited him to three tournaments all year. There was the year (2012) when he arrived for the Boeing Classic but wrenched his back picking up his tee after his very first drive and had to pull out. He stayed in Bracken's house for five days and never got out of bed.
"This year I haven't played many tournaments, but I've actually practiced and played a lot at home,'' he said. "I'm making it, so I feel pretty good. I feel very lucky, because at the same time, in a roundabout way, I know my body and I know when I need to NOT go try and play.
"I mean, it doesn't matter to me if I take three months off. It did when I was 30, 35. It really bothered me. Then I would come back and I wouldn't play that well and I wouldn't feel that well. At my age now, there's no way I want to go play a round of golf and not feel well. What would that accomplish?"
Couples empathizes keenly with golf's most famous back patient, his good friend Tiger Woods, contrasting his own functional recovery with Woods' frequent setbacks. Couples is trying to impart a bit of his own laissez faire attitude to Woods.
"Maybe the best player to ever play has had a bad back, and he's never really bounced -- pardon the pun -- back,'' he said. "I've been able to do it, I think, since like 1990. ... I told Tiger, 'You don't have to play.' I really needed to play. I didn't have 92 wins and 14 majors. I had a few wins and one major, and I could go play. But that's where I feel lucky."
But he also noted that Woods, 41, might have another avenue for success in nine years when he becomes eligible for senior golf.
"When I was 40, I said, 'No way. I'm going to grind this out, keep playing, and then I won't play the PGA Tour Champions much,' '' he said. "I actually love it. ... As long as I'm capable of playing OK, I can see doing it for a handful more years."
Couples yearns to win this tournament in his backyard, having finished third twice and tied for third another time. Whatever happens, Couples will soak up the Seattle sports ambiance to its fullest while he's here. This is a guy who has raised the 12th-man flag, who checks the box score each morning to see how Ichiro did, who watched every shot of the UW women's golf national-title match in 2016 and who checks the news of Husky football before even his alma mater, the University of Houston.
"I do love Seattle, better than any city in the United States,'' he said. "There's no doubt. I would tell that until I die."
And he's unquestionably the greatest golfer (and one of the most successful athletes) this city has ever produced. That makes Couples a hot commodity in his infrequent playing appearances here, a blessing and a curse.
"I will have a fun week,'' he said. "I really like to play and see a lot of friends, but they have to understand I'm grinding trying to win this thing. When I get to be (less competitive), and just come up here, I'll laugh and giggle on every shot I hit. Right now I'm not quite there yet."
This article is written by Larry Stone from Seattle Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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