Couples Easing Back into Career

By Associated PressNovember 6, 2007, 5:00 pm
For the first time in five years, a week in November will go by without any tournament sanctioned by the PGA TOUR.
 
Not to worry.
 
The new FedExCup did not kill off the silly season, which arrives later this month when the LG Skins Game celebrates its 25th anniversary and marks the return of Fred Couples to competition.
 
Couples is the undisputed king of the silly season, a title he doesn't mind as long as it's mentioned in November instead of March. He has earned more money in his career at the Skins Game ($3.9 million) than the four majors combined ($3.5 million).
 
Since 2002, he has played 91 times on the PGA TOUR and earned $6.4 million, then played 14 times when the season was over and collected $3.3 million.
 
Only this year, the silly season has never been more meaningful to him.
 
Couples, one of the most popular players on the PGA TOUR, has been coping with a faulty back the last 13 years, but this was the first time he wondered if his career might be over.
 
'I thought it wouldn't be the end of the world,' he said. 'Playing golf is great, and I've done it for 26 years. But the last three years have been horrible.'
 
Even with a back that could go out at any moment, Couples has managed to play at least 15 times a year (regular season), and five of his 15 victories since he first hurt his back in 1994 have included THE PLAYERS Championship and the Memorial.
 
This year was different.
 
He missed the cut at the FBR Open in Phoenix, noteworthy only because he has made the cut 82 percent of the time in his career.
 
Warming up for the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, his back went out on the first tee at Poppy Hills, and he got the caddie for his pro-am partner -- who happened to be a club pro from New Jersey -- to fill in for him.
 
He had to withdraw from the Nissan Open, a tournament he had played every year since 1981 and won twice. It was a struggle to get to Augusta National, and a minor miracle that he made the cut on the number, but only because the course was so difficult. Couples shot 76-76 and made it to the weekend through the 10-shot rule. He remains the only Masters champion to have never missed the cut.
 
Stretching, twisting and massaging his back at every turn, he closed with a 71 and tied for 30th.
 
That was April 8. And that was his last competitive round.
 
It got so bad that Couples contemplated surgery, and only after he sought more opinions did he decide against it.
 
'Other years, I've missed some events,' he said. 'But the last few years, I would go to my knees, I can't move, I'm locked up. I'm somebody you see when they're crunched over. It gets to be a week before you walk around, a week or two to get feeling decent, then practice, then go to Bay Hill and play horrible. It stinks.'
 
It seems odd that no one has seen Couples since the Masters.
 
Even when he's not contending, he has a presence on the golf course that endears him to fans and players around the world.
 
Maybe this was just a coincidence, but at the British Open one year, the practice range was divided with European players on the right side and American players on the left. Couples sauntered onto the range and took a spot in the middle of the Europeans, and the chatter and laughter picked up immediately.
 
'It's been strange not to see him. He's a blast. Rocks are flying when he's around,' Justin Leonard said. 'But it's not like you can pick up the phone and call him.'
 
That was a reference to when Couples famously said that he doesn't answer the phone because 'I get the feeling whenever I do that there will be someone on the other end.'
 
He called last week while driving back from Waco, Texas, where he has been seeing John Patterson, a back specialist whose clientele includes Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz and Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady.
 
'I wasn't horrible, just a little crooked,' Couples said. 'He loosened me up and I'm heading back to practice and start playing. You want to talk about the Skins Games? I hope with two weeks of good practice, I won't embarrass myself. But I haven't play any golf.'
 
That he's even practicing is good news.
 
He went to Hawaii with his family in June, tried to hit balls and his back went out. He tried again in July, got excited about how he was playing, then went to Arizona to try to prepare for the PGA Championship.
 
'I went out in the heat of the day and lasted only a handful of holes,' he said.
 
There has been progress, however small. He played a corporate outing at The Olympic Club in August. He played a member-guest at Gozzer Ranch in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, five nine-hole matches over three days, and finished second behind Andrew Magee.
 
'This might be my last hurrah,' Couples said. 'If this doesn't work, I'll set it down and try to not worry about it.'
 
The LG Skins Game will be played over Thanksgiving weekend at the new Celebrity Course at Indian Wells, and Couples will be going up against defending champion Stephen Ames, Masters champion Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich.
 
This will be the 14th time Couples has played. He has won it five times. And this was almost the first year he turned down the offer, not comfortable with taking the invitation after playing so infrequently.
 
Now he's thrilled to be there, even if he has no clue what to expect.
 
'I'm sure I'll slap around a few good shots,' he said. 'I'm not going to hit fat shots and snap hooks. But I'm a little concerned about trying to hit the right shot. In the Skins Game, there are shots you have to hit it in there 4 feet to have a chance. I don't think I can pull that off. But if I can compete, I'll be OK with that.'
 
Related Links:
  • News, photos and more for Fred Couples
  • Full Coverage - LG Skins Game
     
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  • Watch: Pros try to hit 2-yard wide fairway in Dubai

    By Grill Room TeamNovember 18, 2017, 5:20 pm

    While in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour prestented a little challenge to Ross Fisher, Richie Ramsay, Nicolas Colsaerts and Soren Kjeldsen. On a stretch of road outside of town, the four players had to try and hit a 2-yard wide fairway. Check out the results.

    Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

    By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the season-ending Tour Championship as he attempts to win a third straight title on the European Tour and a second career Race to Dubai crown.

    The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for a 7-under 65 Saturday and overall 15-under 201.

    The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

    Rose is looking to be Europe's season-ending No. 1 for the second time. His leading rival for the Race to Dubai title, Tommy Fleetwood, is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

    Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

    ''So, last day of the season and I've got a chance to win the Race to Dubai,'' Fleetwood said. ''It's cool.''


    DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship


    Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Race to Dubai title, is tied for 13th on 10 under after a 67.

    Fleetwood had a lead of 256,737 points going into the final tournament and needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

    Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey.

    Rose, who made some long putts for birdies apart from chipping in on the 13th hole, looked to be throwing away his advantage on the par-5 18th, when his second shot fell agonizingly short of the green and into the water hazard. But with his short game in superb condition, the reigning Olympic champion made a difficult up-and-down shot to stay ahead.

    ''That putt at the last is a big confidence-builder. That broke about 18 inches right-to-left downhill. That's the kind of putt I've been hoping to make. That was a really committed stroke. Hopefully I can build on that tomorrow,'' said Rose. ''I know what I need to do to stay at the top of the leaderboard. If I slip up tomorrow, he's (Fleetwood) right there. He's done everything he needs to do on his end, so it's a lot of fun.''

    The last player to win three tournaments in a row on the European Tour was Rory McIlroy, when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in 2014.

    Fleetwood was 1 over after seven holes but turned it on with a hat trick of birdies from the eighth, and then four in a row from No. 13.

    ''I wanted to keep going. Let's bring the tee times forward for tomorrow,'' quipped Fleetwood after closing with a birdie on the 18th. ''Just one of them strange days where nothing was going at all. A couple sloppy pars on the par 5s, and a bad tee shot on fifth and I was 1-over through seven on a day where scoring has been really good ... Ninth and 10th, felt like we had something going ... it was a really good last 11 holes.''

    If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon: