A Sit Down with the Captain
It seems as though Freddie Couples, 48, has it all; matinee idol good looks, a game that has earned him 15 PGA TOUR wins, including the 1992 Masters, loads of money ($3.5 million won in the Skins Game alone!), two PGA TOUR Player of the Year awards, and now the captaincy of the U.S. Presidents Cup team.
Because of his easygoing nature and liquid smooth swing, fans think Couples never gets flustered or uptight. In fact, says his best friend Davis Love III, Freddie is one of the tensest players on TOUR. He just keeps it inside and always handles himself with class and distinction.
I had a chance to sit down with Freddie and find out a little about whats going on with him these days.
Matt Adams: How are you feeling ?
Fred Couples: I am doing OK. I practiced a little bit in Vegas and worked with Butch (Harmon) a couple of times. I played about eight rounds of golf at Shadow Creek, had a few money games and got the heart rate going. I felt pretty good going into the season.
MA: Its not the heart rate going that people are constantly talking to you about; its your back, of course. How is your back feeling and how do you feel that it is going to hold up?
FC: I feel better, so knock on wood. Im OK. But, you know, anything can happen. I can hurt it getting out of the car or picking up my golf clubs or whatever. But as far as swinging it actually feels pretty good.
MA: What are doctors telling you about your back? Why does it flare up and lock up, as you said?
FC: We talked about surgery but I said no. Im trying to do a couple of simple things and not do too much. But basically I would say its like a 75-year-old persons back. Im on my way to hopefully go in the other direction. Ive been working with Tom Borris for so many years that it got to the point that he was frustrated. Then I met a guy in Waco (Texas) who worked on it a couple of times. Hed loosen it up and then Id get back to the other stuff with Tom. I think I will be able to play for at least a few more years.
MA: You mention that youre working with Butch Harmon. Is there anything that hes doing with your swing to take some of the stress off your lower back?
FC: Yeah, but it is very difficult to do. Butch is just an incredible teacher. I feel like I really dont know anything about the game. I dont really understand some of the stuff hes telling me, however he wants me to try moving more like a David Duval finish or Anika Sorenstam. Ive seen it on video. I certainly cant do what they do, but thats the feeling Im trying to get so that my spine will kind of go with my finish. Thats where Butch is very good. He knows how to take stress off without ruining your swing and I actually felt like I was doing it and I felt pretty good. As far as the swing its always the same. Ive got to shorten it and tighten it. It helps me hit the ball crisper and obviously with a little more accuracy.
MA: Looking at your bio, your first victory on the PGA TOUR, brace yourself, was at 1983 Kemper Open.
FC: Were you born yet, Matt?
MA: Yes , I was born, I remember it. Its clich to say its not much more than yesterday, but does it feel like it?
FC: No. It feels like a long time ago. And the more I hear people talk about the 1992 Masters I keep thinking that was 16 years ago! Im actually more of a guy who looks at other guys and what theyre doing. I dont look too far in the past. I enjoy when people come up and say I like the way you play. Even last weekend when I was in Vegas, there were a couple guys that claimed they were at the Kemper Open in 1983, which was 24 years ago, and it just sounds funny.
MA: What are your goals in 2008?
FC: One of my goals is to play better than I have. I still believe I can play and Ive said this my whole life, otherwise I wouldnt do it. And now I want to be consistent. And when I get up there on the leaderboard be able to play on Sunday and see if I can win again. Anyone out there, whether youre a young kid who just got on TOUR, you want to see if you can win. Or, if youre an old guy like me, you want to see if you can still win. The odds are well against me. But I know I still can play and I hope to play better this year.
MA: How exciting is it to be named the captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team?
FC: Not in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen. I think I'll do a great job, and I'll certainly have a great time. The Presidents Cup is a treat to play in, and it will be doubly to captain the thing. As close as I am to these guys, I feel like I'll have fun with all of them, whether they're 50th in the rankings or first. I think it's a great time in my life to be able to take the U.S. team to San Francisco and go against Greg (Norman), who I played a lot of golf with and admire what he does. It's just going to be fabulous.
MA: Any plans on how you will approach the event?
FC: I don't expect guys to sit around and listen to me at night. But we're going to be playing and doing things, ping-pong and fighting and wrestling each other and getting rid of some of the tenseness before the morning starts.
MA: Good luck this year and with the Presidents Cup, Freddie.
FC: Thanks, Matt
Copyright 2008 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a golf journalist, best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life), golf course general manager and the host of the Fairways of Life Show on the PGA TOUR Network and does on course play by play for their live coverage of the PGA TOUR. To view Matt's books or sign up for his 'Golf Wisdom Newsletter,'go to www.FairwaysofLife.com.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”