Couples Completes Comeback
The search started almost three months ago on the practice range at Pebble Beach, when he beat balls for six hours with Butch Harmon at his side.
'He's never done that in his life,' Harmon said.
It ended late Sunday afternoon at the Houston Open when Couples was flawless over the final five holes and wound up with a four-stroke victory, his first on the PGA Tour in five years and 87 tournaments.
He raised his putter in triumph. He smiled to an adoring legion of fans. He slapped hands with Mark Calcavecchia as if they had just won the Shark Shootout.
What followed made it clear there was nothing silly about this victory.
The happy-go-lucky Couples was so overwhelmed that he broke down on national TV, tugged the visor over his eyes and walked away.
'I haven't won in five years. I haven't played really well in five years,' Couples said. 'I worked hard on my game, and it meshed. I have a lot of people to thank. That's what was going through my mind. Didn't get it out very well.'
The message was never more clear.
Players in his age bracket (43) with far less ability have been winning their share of tournaments over the last five years.
Hal Sutton, who turned 45 on Monday, has won six times since 1998, including a Tour Championship and an 18-hole duel with Tiger Woods at The Players Championship.
Scott Hoch, 47, has won three times in the last three years. Mark O'Meara was 41 when he won two major championships. Bernard Langer, 45, qualified for his 10th Ryder Cup team and didn't lose a match at The Belfry.
'I have been practicing,' Couples said. 'I never really thought I'd win this quickly, but I thought I could win again if I practiced and played.'
Couples was looking for the easy way out last year when he got behind a failed proposal to start a Major Champions Tour -- eight events on classic courses for players between the ages of 37 and 55 who had won a major.
'If I play like I did last year and keep deteriorating, and the PGA Tour is tough,' Couples said at the time, 'there's nowhere for me to play golf.'
The solution wasn't a gimmick tour with guaranteed money.
The secret has always been in the dirt.
'He hadn't worked hard,' Harmon said. 'He had been fooling
A desperate Couples hooked up with Harmon during the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Couples told him how terrible he had been swinging, and Harmon didn't believe it until they got to the practice range the next day.
Couples hit a few 9-irons.
'It's worse than you said,' Harmon told him.
Harmon's time already is cut thin. He still works occasionally with Woods, and his clientele includes Calcavecchia, Darren Clarke, Adam Scott, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ben Crane.
His deal with Couples: You put in the time, I'll make the time.
Not only did they spend six hours on the range, Couples went to Carlsbad, Calif., during the Match Play Championship -- even though he wasn't playing -- and worked with Harmon at the TaylorMade test center.
'That's when I knew he was serious,' Harmon said. 'He's worked his tail off ever since.'
They essentially shortened his swing, taking undue pressure off Couples' already sensitive back.
'What I had him visualize was to feel like he was coming over the top to hit a pull hook,' Harmon said. 'He had to get his arms in front of his body coming down.'
His victory in Houston moved him to No. 29 in the world ranking, which assures him of returning to the U.S. Open and likely will get him into the World Golf Championships for the first time in three years.
'A lot of people think Freddie doesn't care,' Harmon said. 'I think he showed how much it meant to him. Very seldom do you see him that emotional.'
As one of golf's most renowned swing gurus, Harmon gets his share of perks.
He has written several books and made just as many videos. He has endorsement deals with Titleist and Buick, a TV gig with Sky Sport in Britain. He operates golf schools in Las Vegas and the Bahamas.
What happened Sunday ranks among his greatest rewards.
Harmon already was emotionally spent from a funeral service for his mother-in-law over the weekend. He got home and turned on the TV in time to watch the final three holes of the Houston Open, and the brief interview that followed.
Couples started to thank his wife, Thais, and Harmon when his voice cracked and his lips quivered, and before long, tears were flowing from Houston to Las Vegas.
'I had tears in my eyes when he holed out,' Harmon said. 'Because I know how hard Freddie has worked.'
The answer was there all along.
Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head
But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.
One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.
It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.
And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.
Hey, whatever works.
Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'
AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.
Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.
The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.
“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”
Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.
“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”
Curry jokes about Romo's 77: 'Got him by a stroke'
This just in ... professional athletes are competitive. Even when they're playing their secondary sport.
Playing in the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship on a sponsor exemption Thursday, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo started hot with an even-par 36 on his opening nine holes, but faded down the stretch to open with a 5-over 77.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Ron Kroichick, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry couldn't help but crack a smile when informed of the score, saying, "I got him by a stroke."
Just told @StephenCurry30 that Tony Romo finished 5-over in PGA Tour event in Dominican Republic. Curry smiled and said, "I got him by a stroke." He shot 4-over (twice) in https://t.co/gZ56s2K2Mk start last August.— Ron Kroichick (@ronkroichick) March 22, 2018
Curry was referencing his brief foray into pro golf last August, when he shot back-to-back 4-over 74s at the Web.com's Ellie Mae Classic.
So just in case Romo needed another reason to go low tomorrow when he tees off at 1 p.m. in the second round, he's got one.
Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3||Group 4|
|(1) D. Johnson: 0-2-0||(2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0||(3) J. Rahm: 0-1-1||(4) J. Spieth: 2-0-0|
|(32) K. Kisner: 0-0-1||(21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0||(28) K. Aphibarnrat: 2-0-0||(19) P. Reed: 2-0-0|
|(38) A. Hadwin: 1-0-1
||(48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0||(43) C. Reavie: 1-1-0||(34) H. Li: 0-2-0|
|(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-0-0
||(60) L. List: 0-1-0||(63) K. Bradley: 0-1-1||(49) C. Schwartzel: 0-2-0|
|Group 5||Group 6||Group 7||Group 8|
|(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0||(6) R. McIlroy: 1-1-0||(7) S. Garcia: 1-0-0||(8) J. Day: 1-0-0|
|(30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
||(18) B. Harman: 0-0-1||(20) X. Schauffele: 1-0-0||(25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-0-0|
|(46) C. Smith: 1-0-0||(44) J. Vegas: 0-1-1||(41) D. Frittelli: 0-1-0||(42) J. Dufner: 0-1-0|
|(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0||(51) P. Uihlein: 1-0-0||(62) S. Sharma: 0-1-0||(56) J. Hahn: 0-1-0|
|Group 9||Group 10||Group 11||Group 12|
|(9) T. Fleetwood: 1-1-0||(10) P. Casey: 2-0-0||(11) M. Leishman: 0-2-0||(12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0|
|(26) D. Berger: 0-2-0||(31) M. Fitzpatrick: 0-1-0||(23) B. Grace: 1-1-0||(22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0|
|(33) K. Chappell: 1-1-0||(45) K. Stanley: 1-1-0||(35) B. Watson: 2-0-0||(36) B. Steele: 1-0-0|
|(58) I. Poulter: 2-0-0||(51) R. Henley: 0-1-0||(64) J. Suri: 1-1-0||(55) A. Levy: 0-1-0|
|Group 13||Group 14||Group 15||Group 16|
|(13) A. Noren: 2-0-0||(14) P. Mickelson: 1-1-0||(15) P. Perez: 0-0-1||(16) M. Kuchar: 1-0-1|
|(29) T. Finau: 2-0-0||(17) R. Cabrera Bello: 1-1-0||(24) G. Woodland: 0-0-1||(27) R. Fisher: 1-1-0|
|(39) T. Pieters: 0-2-0||(40) S. Kodaira: 0-2-0||(37) W. Simpson: 0-0-1||(47) Y. Ikeda: 1-1-0|
|(61) K. Na: 0-2-0||(59) C. Howell III: 2-0-0||(50) S.W. Kim: 0-0-1||(54) Z. Johnson: 0-1-1|