Freddie Turns Back the Clock at Memorial

By George WhiteJune 8, 2004, 4:00 pm
It was almost as if nothing had changed the past dozen years. Freddie was Freddie, and it was inconsequential if he was 32 again, or if he really was 44. Is it really 2004, or had we slipped back to 1992, with Fred Couples winning three times, finishing second a couple of times, and finishing third three times?
Yeah, hes 44 now; yeah, he has a terrible back; yeah, hes a family man now with a wife and two kids; and yeah, the hair is grayer now and hes made use of a variety of belly putters. But he will always be a golfer, and its weeks like last week that make him realize why.
At one of the bigger tournaments of the year ' The Memorial ' with one of the best fields of all, Couples beat everyone save Ernie Els. Whoa! Freddie certainly hasnt been doing this in recent years, last years win at Houston excepted.
If the past decade had been the same as last week, we might have seen this particular Freddie a lot more.
I wish things would have been different, said Couples. His personal life became a tragedy with a divorce and a suicide marring the past decade. He has had so many problems with his back. And frankly, in the middle of it all, he discovered golf wasnt that important when he took on the contented life of California family man.
We all assumed that Fred Couples would just as soon have chosen some other occupation. But he set the record straight in a hurry.
I still love to play, he said, correcting the assumption that this easy-going guy could not wait to get off the golf course for good. He said that last year he was playing well ' remember, he had won Houston ' and then at the Wachovia he had to concede to back problems once again.
It was just a bummer, he said. I mean, I had four holes to go on Friday and I was 8 or 9-under on that golf course. And for the rest of the year, from that point on, I had all kinds of problems.
He was out five weeks, and then he never could regain the lost momentum. Its taken him until now to start to play like Fred Couples again. And if you dont think a week like last week is an unbridled joy to Freddie, then just listen:
I haven't really hit it like this in a long time, he said. It is fun. But this week was special. I was right there four days. I mean, winning Houston was truly a ball, to not have won in a while. But if I can continue to play like this, it will be more fun.
It was 1994 when the back flared up. He was on the driving range at Doral when suddenly something went pop ' and Couples pulled out of all tournaments for three months. He had torn an outer layer of a disc in his lower back, and from that day to this, he has had numerous flare-ups.
The gallery at Columbus was wildly pro-Freddie ' as the crowds are most everywhere. They wildly cheered when he first got into contention Friday, and they were just as histrionic when he played the final round Sunday with Els ' the acknowledged Big Easy. But Couples is almost as big a fan favorite as Tiger Woods.
When Ernie hit his chip on 16 - I mean, I had a 35, 40-footer, but they were going nuts, said Couples, a little taken aback by it all. I mean, they knew what was going on, but they were not really rooting against him, they were just rooting harder for me. Most of his irons were six or eight feet from the hole, but when I did hit one better than he did, obviously it was louder.
And Ernie wasnt offended at all.
You know, he's been playing like that forever, said Els. I love watching him play, as well. He's got a great short game, and he's got a great way of playing the game.
They gave him some serious support out there. I mean, he's such a great player to watch. He's got this slow action, he makes things happen. He's such an exciting player. I mean, look at him today. He holes shots, makes long putts. He's a solid player. The fans just love him.
Couples never knows when the back might go. It generally happens when he least expects it. Many times an act as simple as getting up from a chair will twist the spine in such a way that he is bedridden again. And one thing he has learned in the past decade ' he rarely ever abuses the back by hitting golf balls.
You would think you would slap it out of the rough and twist your back in half, he said. That's never happened. It's usually the dumbest things. And so I walk on eggshells all day long and then I get out of a chair and my back goes out.
I can go out and hit balls, which I'm going to try and go do, and I can get tired and my back can ache, but normally when I'm out of commission, it's goofy, crazy stuff.
So hell continue to play, and the finishes that wind up like The Memorial will bring him great pleasure. And he will continue to cheat the chiropractor as long as he dares. After all, theres nothing that gives him the elation of playing well in a big tournament.
I've gotten a lot of good breaks, conceded Freddie. But as far as having a back issue, if you asked me 15 years from now and I've quit and I can't straighten up, then I'll come back and tell you I should have stopped five years ago.
But I don't think that will - I hope it doesn't happen.
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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1