SAN DIEGO – Dressed in board shorts with an Air Jordan hat pulled low on his forehead, Fred Couples ambled up the ninth fairway on Torrey Pines’ North Course joking with Tiger Woods and making fun of Joe LaCava, his former caddie.
Couples said he ventured out to Torrey Pines this week to pay off a few Super Bowl bets that went south for him.
“It was ugly,” smiled the lifelong Seattle Seahawks fan who estimated he lost about 10 bets with various friends, including LaCava.
Few, if any, from outside Woods’ inner circle are afforded an entire morning with the former world No. 1. Couples moves just as easily around Phil Mickelson as he does Michael Jordan and disarms all with equal parts charm and chumminess.
It’s why Freddie emerged as the clubhouse favorite to captain the next U.S. Ryder Cup team before the European victory celebration had wrapped up.
“You have to have the ability to let your ego down and let a system that has worked in the past, that allows us to be more prepared, like the [Paul Azinger] system in 2008,” Mickelson said on Wednesday. “Fred is absolutely one of the guys that would fit that bill.”
Players en masse threw their support behind Couples to be the next American skipper both publicly and privately. It’s why he had a meeting with PGA of America chief executive Pete Bevacqua in early December to talk about a Couples captaincy.
While Couples can at times go astray in conversations, rambling off topic with amusing anecdotes and observations, on this he was very direct when asked about the opportunity.
“I’d love to do it. Whoever is the next captain I believe they want other players involved who would be the next few captains,” Couples said. “It would be fun.”
Fun has been a central theme in all three of Couples’ victorious turns as a Presidents Cup captain and the Ryder Cup task force, which met on Monday in San Diego, has touched on everything he would bring to the table.
In his signature style Couples said he is content to let the process unfold at its own pace as he awaits a second meeting with PGA president Derek Sprague in the next few weeks
“I haven’t asked. I’ve played a couple of rounds with Phil and I just walked nine holes with this cat (Woods),” said Couples of the two task force members. “You know, they know what they’re doing.”
And Freddie knows what he is doing when it comes to team competitions.
At the root of the American Ryder Cup woes, at least as far as Couples is concerned, is a format that forces captains to juggle lineups and sit players during the team portion of the competition.
“The Presidents Cup is easier. At the Ryder Cup you have to sit someone,” he said. “I think there is sometimes animosity when our guys are sat, and I’m not talking about Phil [who at the 2014 matches sat an entire day for the first time in his career]. It’s hard when everyone wants to play every single match.”
There are parts of the gig that don’t exactly fit with Couples’ laidback persona, including a two-year window of intense media exposure and a hectic week during the matches filled with off-course obligations.
“Well, I was Presidents Cup captain and flew to Australia for a media day. That didn’t really interest me,” he said honestly.
But for Couples, being a captain is not complicated. It’s all about the players in the weeks leading up to the matches and when the first tee shot goes in the air it’s about letting them play.
“If I was the captain I would have nothing to do with Minnesota [site of next year’s Ryder Cup]. What am I going to tell them? I can’t tell them to chip better or putt better or drive it better. They are doing the best they can,” he said.
He also made it clear that whatever the PGA has been doing the last 10 matches, a span in which the U.S. has won just twice, needs to be fixed.
No endless dinners, no time-consuming team meetings, just golf.
“When we go to Augusta you don’t go to black-tie dinners, you do everything on your own. I’m not saying the Ryder Cup needs to be that way but I’m saying it should be catered to the players,” he said. “It’s all about the players.”
Even the closing ceremony is an obligation Couples would rather do without, explaining as only Freddie can that no one wants to sit through another hour or so of speeches, win or lose.
“I saw a fistfight at the end of the New England-Seattle game, I mean do we want to go sit and listen to a closing ceremony? When and if we win in Minnesota will they [Europe] want to go listen to that? I don’t think that should happen but I’m not running it,” he said.
Most of all, Couples thinks the decision should be up to the players whether that choice is Freddie or someone else.
“The next guy they choose will be someone the players want,” he said. “I know that sounds harsh, but I think if you sat with our top 50 players and had them write who they wanted as a captain two years ago, I don’t think many guys would have chosen Tom Watson.
“I idolize Tom Watson, he’s helped me with my game, but I’m just talking about the players.”
In short, Couples would be the ultimate players’ captain, a leader who owns the team room with a smile and a joke. Maybe even a few friendly wagers.
He does, after all, need a few bets to go his way after the Super Bowl.