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Golf is still fun -- and relaxing -- for Fred Couples

The golfer talks about Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, the Champions Tour and the grind of practicing versus the fun of playing.

November 16, 2009|By Mike James

Fred Couples' smooth swing and laid-back personality have helped make him one of golf's most popular players since he broke onto the PGA Tour in 1981. Couples, who turned 50 last month (how is this possible?) and is now eligible to play the Champions Tour, was in Los Angeles last week to promote the Chevron World Challenge, his friend Tiger Woods' tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks on Dec. 3-6.

Couples, winner of the 1992 Masters and 15 PGA Tour events, was captain of the victorious U.S. team in the Presidents Cup in October. He talked about his plans as a player, Michael Jordan's role as an assistant at the Presidents Cup, Woods' season and a variety of other topics. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Question: What's your plan for playing next year?

Answer: My plan is to play the regular tour. Knock on wood, I'm going to play more golf than I've played since I was 25 years old, tournament-wise. I have to play seven or eight on the senior tour and about 12 on our tour. I'll play Newport Beach, the L.A. Open, San Diego ... Pebble Beach. ... I'll never really be able to come back to the PGA Tour, but I still love to play with the guys and get the good pairings that I get. I've played with these guys my whole life and I want to play with them as long as I can, and I think that'll be one more year.

Q: Why do some players move on to the Champions Tour and have so much success right away, and others, like Ben Crenshaw, not do so well?

A: That's an unbelievable question. I just played with Nick Price, and he hit it better than I did, and he hit it pretty long, and he's won once [on the Champions Tour]. Then you get Tom Pernice and he turns 50 and wins his first event. I have no idea. I think one thing is ... Nick Price had such a long, strong career and won a lot of majors, and when he turned 50, he wasn't playing that much golf. Whereas Tom Pernice, and Fred Funk is another guy, they seemed to be able to win and they have good games. Putting is a strong part of their games, and maybe it isn't for Nick Price. I think Mark O'Meara never won an event. I play with him a lot in the desert, and that's hard to believe. He'll tell you the same thing.

Q: How much do you play when you're not competing?

A: Now, I'll play a lot. I don't ever practice. I'll warm up for 15 minutes and go play. When I'm done, I'll go do something else. I'll be home next week and I'll probably play three times and not practice one time; in the old days I would not play any golf and practice four days. It's just more fun to play. The grinding of pounding balls is the hardest thing, and there are guys that do it because that's what they have to do to play at a high level, and there are guys who practice just because they don't have anything else to do, and I think that's great. I get very relaxed when I go play golf; there's just a difference between pounding balls and just playing 18 holes.

Q: Tiger Woods had an interesting year; he won a lot, but no majors. Why?

A: He's won 14 majors pretty quickly; it was very condensed. And he's still got a long way to go. He'll tell you to get the first major was hard, but to get the 15th is just as hard or harder even though he's a much better player. [In this year's majors] he didn't panic; he didn't choke. I watched the final round of the PGA. Did Tiger play his absolute best? No. Did he in every major he won? Of course not. I think the other guy played an extremely good round of golf. Y.E. Yang on Sunday didn't miss many shots, and that's not easy to do against Tiger. So when he got down to the nitty-gritty, the guy beat Tiger. He'd have 25 majors by now if no one ever beat him. Last year for Tiger, in his mind it was probably a good year and a bad year. You can't really call it a bad year, but he wants to win majors. If he could have won one major, he'd probably trade that for five other wins.... Still, he was a threat in all the majors but one.... Looking into next year, I'm sure Tiger himself is working on a couple, three or four things on his swing in the off-season to make him even better than he is.

Q: How many majors is Tiger going to win?

A: I would bet everything I own ... how many has Jack won, 18? ... I bet he wins 19. Whether he wins 25, it depends on when he wins his 19th. He's got eight more years or so of top golf, he'll win 20, easy.

Q: Tiger or Jack, the greatest golfer ever?

A: Well, I think now it would be Jack. But Tiger's been on tour, what, 13 years; Jack won again at 46. You give Tiger 12 more years and he's going to go down as the greatest player by far. But today, I can't give that to Tiger. He doesn't have as many great finishes. When Tiger gets up to Jack, he'll become the best player. And if he stays at 15 majors and wins 30 more events, he'll probably still go down as the best player, because he's there every single week that he plays.

Q: In your mind, how many majors should you have won, besides the one ('92 Masters)?

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