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.
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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