Long Journey for Couch Capped by an Amazing Finish

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2006 Zurich ClassicNEW ORLEANS -- From the time he was 16 and made the cut in the Honda Classic to get his first taste of golf at the highest level, Chris Couch never doubted he was good enough to win.
 
He just didn't realize it would take the better part of 16 years.
 
And no way he could he have scripted a week like he had in New Orleans, capped by a 55-foot chip that dropped for par on the final hole to close with a 7-under 65 and win the Zurich Classic by one shot over Charles Howell III and Fred Funk.
 
'It was awesome,' Couch said Sunday night, Mardi Gras beads draped around his neck.
 
Couch finished at 19-under 269 and won $1.08 million for his first PGA Tour victory, and the first sporting event on national television in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.
 
Adding to a memorable week for Couch was the way it started. He arrived in New Orleans a week ago Sunday, headed down to Bourbon Street for some drinks, and then got lost trying to find his car parked six blocks away.
 
He was lost in the wrong part of town. He got into a car with the wrong kind of people. And when he asked out of the car, the section of town was so seedy that Couch ran as fast as he could for 20 minutes before he could call police and get safely to his car.
 
Has any winner of this event ever had a week like Couch?
 
'I doubt it,' he said, Mardi Gras beads draped around his neck. 'It's been an adventure. But it couldn't have worked out any better.'
 
He could say the same of his career.
 
Couch stood next to his idol, Tom Watson, on the practice green at the 1990 Honda Classic and knew he wanted to be a golfer. But the road to stardom was rocky, and Couch once tried to give up. The only reason he didn't get the assistant pro job in Gainesville, Fla., was because the head pro said Couch had too much talent to quit.
 
Three years ago, he missed the first four cuts on the Nationwide Tour and was out of money when he called a good friend on tour, Brendan Pappas of South Africa, and asked to borrow $3,000 to get through the next couple of events.
 
'I finished 25th, second and fifth in those three tournaments and kind of took off from there,' said Couch, who celebrates his 33rd birthday Monday. 'I've always thought I could win out here. Even when I was missing cuts earlier in the year, I still knew I was good enough to win. It's just a matter of everything coming together.'
 
Couch got a reminder how long the journey was being in the final group with Howell.
 
When he was at Florida and played a college tournament at Augusta State in Georgia, a junior program allowed some of the teenagers to caddie for the college kids. One of those juniors was Howell, who caddied for Couch.
 
'It's like going from college caddie to tour runner-up,' Howell said with a laugh.
 
Howell remembered how hard Couch hit the ball in college, and Couch remains one of the big hitters on tour. What he saw Sunday was a player who never flinched, not under the pressure of being in the final group for the first time, not on a rain-softened course that gave way to a slew of birdies.
 
And as he stood over that chip for par, knowing he had to get up-and-down to at least get in a playoff, Couch stayed positive.
 
'I was thinking this would be a great way to win a tournament,' he said. 'It would be something I'd remember always.'
 
Related Links:
  • Golf Chronicles: After Katrina
  • Leaderboard ' Zurich Classic of New Orleans
  • Full Coverage ' Zurich Classic of New Orleans
     
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