Freddy Unplugged Life Is a Breeze

By George WhiteNovember 17, 2005, 5:00 pm
Hes the guy the older women all want to mother, all the younger ones want to marry. Can it really be that Freddy Couples is 46 now? He still has that look of being forever young, that manner of being forever charming.
Fred finished 38th on this years money list, and thats a marked improvement over six of the last seven years. It was only in 2002 when he finished 103rd, 2001 when he finished down at 131st. But even in those lean years he was definitely a fan favorite.
Fred Couples
Fred Couples continues to be a fan favorite on the PGA Tour.
Its fun, its enjoyable, and I always say, its a lot more fun playing mediocre golf in front of a couple of thousand people than playing really good golf in front of 30 people. So ' I mean ' were lucky, Couples said last week while he was playing at the Franklin-Templeton Shootout.
He was among the two or three best golfers on the planet in the early 90s, you know. But then came the back problem, that fateful day on the driving range at Doral in 1994 when he heard something snap like a pretzel. Hes never been the same golfer since, though he certainly has teetered on the spectacular at various times. But hes learned humility, hes learned to accept reality, and hes learned that all the fame is only one split second from being gone in an instant. And fame, he definitely knows, is a fleeting thing.
I never, ever looked at going to the course and hoping people were going to come out and feel thrilled that I was going to be there, Freddy says. People always say it ' and Im not taking it for granted, its just there.
They want to come see people they can relate to, or see people do special things. John Daly hits the ball 350 yards, so they love him. Hes a little different than most of the other players. But the ones that stand out ' I dont think he can really give you an answer. Its just, hes a hell of a golfer, hes young, and he handles himself very well, and hell do it forever. Hes not gonna change. So, as long as he stays healthy, itll be the same for him.
And thats how I always look at it ' like Greg Norman, whom I have a lot of respect for; Jay Haas, whos still playing well. But Jay doesnt get the backing that Greg Norman does, because Jay is not Greg Norman. Greg is HUGE. And people will come see him just to play nine holes.
People will come to see Fred Couples play nine, too. How many wins has he forfeited because he was not able to play regularly? What toll has the back ' which by now has become so stiff and arthritic ' taken on his career? He has learned to listen carefully to what his body is telling him, but he is extremely fortunate that he long ago chose golf for a career and not baseball, which he might have chosen.
Yeah ' golf is a great game, and if I were a baseball player and hurt my back and missed 20 or 30 games, it would be a struggle, he conceded.
You know, youve got to come back and do a lot of things. It could be a lot worse ' I could have a bad wrist, you know. I could have operations of the hip, the knee ' all those things, and really get away from the game. But I think in golf ' were able to pick and choose. You know, I missed the 94 Masters because of my back. I missed the British Open last year and the PGA. Those are things you really dont want to miss ' but it happens.
I never get down and worry about it because, up until the time it happens, Ive been able to come back and play golf; sometimes not really that well, but Im still able to play.
Actually, his back is somewhat improved over what it was 10 years ago. I think by playing a little bit more, its actually helping, he says. And not going home for three weeks and trying to let it rest, and then come out and practice. So Im trying to play a little more ' this year I did ' for a couple of reasons: when I did do that, I felt great.
Freddy has evolved and matured so much over the last decade. He's married and has two step-children. Life could hardly be better.
But at times in the past, he was short with the fans, withdrawn at times with the media. He was just a down-home guy who was thrust into the world No. 1 position. He had a difficult time accepting the high price tag that came with incredible success.
By doing well, he ventured, youve got to go and talk to the media and tell about your round. Where youre vacationing. And what kind of car you own.
Im not some kind of freak that doesnt want to tell people stuff. But its more to do ' hopefully next year I can play much better than I have.
And though he has an easy, relaxed air about him now, he says the constant attention in those days was oppressive at times. What I enjoyed most about golf back then was playing on Sunday with the Normans and the Elses and the Davises and, you know, Vijays and all that.'
Get ready to see more of Fred Couples. He may be 46, he may have a faulty back, but he again has goals. And those goals can only be reached if he plays more. That means teeing it up more often.
I am, Freddy declares. Im going to do everything I can to make the Ryder Cup team. Definitely have to play more to make that team, and thats definitely my goal.
So, my goal is not to come out and say Im going to win and all that, but Im going to play more and see what happens.
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Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.