Captain Couples easygoing but hard to understand

By Doug FergusonOctober 7, 2009, 1:11 am
Presidents Cup

SAN FRANCISCO – The Presidents Cup will feature 34 matches over four days at Harding Park, bringing together the best players from everywhere in the world except Europe. The entertainment value could start well before the competition.

Fred Couples is the U.S. captain.

He could say anything. His remarks, at a news conference or the opening ceremony, could go anywhere.

Remember, this is the player who once said, “I’m a lot older than I was when I was 30, which is hard to believe.”

Couples, a former Masters champion who reached No. 1 in the world, is known for the grace, power and simplicity of his swing. He is perhaps even more famous for telling reporters that he doesn’t like to answer the phone “because someone may be on the other end.”

This might be golf’s version of Yogi Berra.

No, he has never been quoted as saying, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Then again, there was that time Couples was playing in the Ryder Cup and offered up this assessment of the U.S. chances: “I think if we can stay ahead every day, we’ll have a good shot at winning.”

“You hit the nail on the head calling him the Yogi Berra of golf,” Phil Mickelson said. “That’s the kind of manager – captain – he’ll be. I think it will be a fun week.”

That’s one reason the U.S. players have been looking forward to this week at Harding Park.

Couples makes it fun.

He wanted to be a Ryder Cup captain, yet he was never given serious consideration. Couples made the mistake – not that he would ever apologize – of publicly poking fun of players having to spend too much in a tuxedo and shaking too many hands at dinner parties.

When he accepted the Presidents Cup job, he was making arrangements for the week in San Francisco and asked a PGA Tour assistant to book one dinner at DiMaggio’s (he first referred to it as Mantle’s). Couples suggested a reservation for six, until he was reminded there were 12 players on the team.

“These guys don’t want to eat with each other every night, do they?” Couples said, and it wasn’t clear if he was kidding.

Yes, it should be a fun week for the Americans.

“We all know what kind of attitude Freddie has, and I think that will be a good attitude for the team,” Steve Stricker said. “I think it will relax us. He’s kind of a free-spirited, free-caring guy, and very light to be around.”

The choice was logical, if not a little late.

The Presidents Cup began only in 1994, and Couples remains the one player best identified with these matches. It was his 9-iron from the bunker on the final hole in the inaugural year that took a crazy spin and stopped 2 feet from the cup for a 1-up victory over Nick Price that was the clinching point in a U.S. victory.

Two years later, when the matches were much tighter, it was Couples who made a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to beat Vijay Singh in the final match of the Presidents Cup for a 16 1/2 -15 1/2 victory. He played in his last Presidents Cup in 2005, making a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole to beat Singh again.

The plan was for Couples to be captain in 2005. That changed when the matches ended in a tie in South Africa in 2003, and the tour thought it would be good to have Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to return as captains to settle the score.

Couples, who turned 50 on Saturday, is still good enough to play. Even with limited play and his ailing back, he had four top 10s this year and twice had a chance to win on the back nine, at Riviera and the Houston Open. He is 69th on the money list.

He has been good for a long time, so long that he has a hard time remembering.

“I’m playing as well as I’ve ever played,” he said earlier this decade, “except for the years I played better.”

Couples has played with Tiger Woods in two Presidents Cups, and the world’s No. 1 player is as comfortable with Couples as any captain over the last 12 players.

For all that a captain does – wild-card picks, clothing, pairings, dinner reservations – Woods looks forward to what Couples has to say.

“I can’t wait to listen to him, his speeches, and see where they’re going to go,” Woods said. “When they start off one way, they never end up there. I think that’s one of things that we’re all going to have a good time with.”

Lost in his lazy manner is how much Couples pays attention, not only to his players, but just about everyone in golf.

Perhaps the only unknown about the U.S. captain was whether he would be able to communicate with his players throughout the year when he wasn’t at a tournament. That requires a phone, and Couples doesn’t like to answer the phone.

Good news – he learned how to text, and he’s relentless.

Of course, Couples still doesn’t have a grasp on this new era of communications.

“The tour tried to make him do e-mail and iPhone and all that to try to get him up to speed,” Davis Love III said this year. “They got him to at least where he’s really good with texting. But you can text him, and then immediately call him and he still won’t answer. He hasn’t figured out that, ‘We know you’ve got the phone in your hand.”’

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda fired eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record at the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda, who is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda, leads fellow American Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.