Fred Couples is still the one to beat - even with a creaky back
PEABODY -- How can Fred Couples take seven weeks off to rest his aching back, use a tournament as a refresher for the next week, but ends up winning the "refresher," like he did last week?
Welcome to the Champions Tour.
Couples is not only the biggest draw on the over-50 tour, but he's the most talented player here.
Since 2010, he has not only won 13 tournaments with the "old" guys, but he's done it on a semi-minimal schedule (85 starts over eight years) compared to say, Bernhard Langer, with 32 victories on the Champions Tour with 180 starts.
There's one big difference between Couples and Langer. Health and ...
"Bernhard Langer is one of the hardest -- is the hardest worker out here," said Couples. "Scott McCarron. They're really good players, no doubt. They've been good -- Bernhard's been good forever, but they practice really hard, and they're ready to play."
What he meant to say is, at 57, with a creaky back, golf isn't as important in his life as it was from mid-1991 to early-1993, when Couples was the best player in the world with six wins, including a Masters, over two years.
Senior U.S. Open fans witnessed in yesterday's practice round that Couples' sweet swing is sweeter than ever. In fact, his sweet swing is probably the reason he didn't have to call it quits two-plus decades ago when his back began causing big problems whereas Tiger Woods' back, probably due to his powerful swing, still isn't right.
Couples, who is here at Salem Country Club for the 2017 U.S. Senior Open, got a whiff of what he was in for in his first-ever Champions event as a 50-year-old rookie in 2010.
Tom Watson, a decade his senior, birdied the final two holes (22-under-par) to beat Couples by a stroke in Hawaii.
"And I thought, 'Wow,'" recalled Couples. "And I just kept playing, and I believe I won three in a row. My scores were better and the courses were maybe a little bit easier."
While he has from time to time played on the PGA Tour, including the 2017 Masters in which he was on the leaderboard through two rounds (1-under) before finishing 18th, the grind is too much.
"When I got in my mid-40s, I could play, but I couldn't sustain -- I couldn't go play three out of four tournaments," said Couples. "So then you go home and you get rusty, and then you come back, and you're playing much harder courses.
"But for my game (now), the Champions Tour courses are a little more simpler than Bay Hill or Muirfield, Jack's tournament or Colonial," said Couples. "You can't just be a little bit sore and go play Colonial and shoot 68 or 69 ... I still hit the ball a long way, and I can birdie a lot of holes, and that helps me. On the regular Tour, you start playing rounds where you don't birdie any holes, you're going to finish 70th every time."
Despite his talent, Couples is not a sure thing here in Peabody.
While he won only one major during his PGA career (1992 Masters) and two majors in the Champions Tour (2011 Senior Players; 2012 British Senior Open), he has been a constant competitor in all of the majors ... except in U.S. Opens.
Couples has only three Top 10s in U.S. Opens and has one in just three attempts in the U.S. Senior Open.
Yesterday was his first-ever round at Salem C.C.
"But I do like U.S. Opens. In the old days, I probably played well in two of them out of 20," he said. "But it's hard. A lot of times, back then, I didn't really have the game to play four great rounds of golf. I would drive it in the rough too many times or not have the short game of some other people. But for me, I'm going to have a good time this week and hopefully play very, very well."
This article is written by Bill Burt from The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.