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.”’