Couples voted in for Hall of Fame

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ATLANTA – Fred Couples made golf cool. He made golf look easy. He made us think Dos Equis had modeled their “Most Interesting Man” campaign after his own charmed life.

Back specialists have him autograph his own MRIs.

International Presidents Cup captains ask him for advice.

He has Michael Jordan on speed dial, but rarely answers his calls.

Ernie Els refers to him as the “Big Easy.”

He once received a standing ovation for a toast at the annual Champions Dinner at The Masters . . . without saying a word.

Dr. Bob Rotella asks him how to stay in the moment?

He once made par at TPC Sawgrass’ 17th hole after two tee shots.

Fans thank him for not signing their hats.

For years caddie Joe LaCava paid him 10 percent.

And now he’s a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame with a resume that may or may not have been worthy, but then statistics and victory laps were never going to decide whether beloved “Boom Boom” received the Hall call.

In fact, the only real surprise on Wednesday at East Lake when Couples was announced as an inductee was whether he answered the phone when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and the Hall of Fame came calling.

“I did answer the phone, but I think it took maybe three or four times to connect. I let Tim wait a little bit,” Couples, 52, laughed.

For the record, Mr. Cool enters the Hall of Fame with 15 PGA Tour victories, one major championship (1992 Masters) and a flawless record (2-0) as the U.S. Presidents Cup captain, heady if not Hall of Fame stuff.

Yet what paved Couples’ path to the World Golf Village was his status as an icon. He didn’t win as many as some, but when he did win he did it with style, like that ’92 Masters triumph when he held his tee shot at Augusta National’s 12th against the bank and defied gravity.

He didn’t just win, he made it look effortless and easy like lapping a world-class field was as natural as that syrupy swing. Therein lies perhaps the greatest misconception in golf.

Where the public saw an indifferent almost irreverent swing, those closest to Couples knew the intensity within.

“When you watched Michael Jordan play you’d say, ‘He isn’t even trying,’” said Davis Love III, one of Couples’ closest friends who tied for second place on this year’s ballot with 38 percent of the vote. “No, it’s because they put the work into it. He might not have hit more balls than Vijay (Singh), but he knew what he was doing.”

Check the record, when it mattered the most and his back cooperated Couples delivered. In his career he’s posted 11 top 10s at The Masters, including three consecutive top-15 finishes at Augusta National since he turned 50 in 2009; and is his generation’s quintessential cup warhorse.

He played his first Ryder Cup in 1989 and has a 7-9-4 record, and a 2-1-2 singles record, and is 9-5-2 in five Presidents Cups. He will make a third turn as the U.S. Presidents Cup captain next year in Ohio and will serve as one of Love’s assistants at next week’s Ryder Cup because, “I need him,” Love conceded.

Following Couples’ second consecutive victorious stint as the U.S. Presidents Cup captain the 12 members of last year’s team were asked who should be in charge in 2014 – all 12 pointed at Boom Boom.

Relaxed? Sure. Laidback? Without a doubt. But know this, tucked neatly beneath that smooth exterior is a competitor that burns with every shot. He may have spent an inordinate amount of time horizontal on his couch but he wasn’t lounging, he was recuperating a fragile back that likely cost him multiple Tour titles.

But when he was healthy and hungry there were few in his generation that were better or more driven.

“When Freddie shot 74 on Thursday or Friday, you could bet he’d go shoot in the 60s the next day,” Love said. “Every time he had a bad day it motivated him to come back. When Freddie got to the Masters it motivated him. That showed someone he does care. He does have a lot pride in his game.”

In a rare moment of clarity for Couples on Wednesday he allowed that he considered himself a “good player, not a great one,” even figuring with a slight grin that his 51 percent of the Hall ballot was a “popularity vote.” It was an interesting twist given his newfound Hall-of-Fame status which prompted the follow-up – does he consider himself a great competitor.

“The object for me, really, was to play. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were extremely boring for me. They actually were. I really hated them,” he said. “When Thursday came and I had an eight o'clock tee time and I got to the course at (7 a.m.), it was really still boring. But when it was 7:59 is when it all started for me.”

He may not be the most decorated member of the Hall of Fame, but he will be the most interesting.