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LG SKINS GAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 15, 2007
STEVE BRENER: We have Mr. LG SKINS GAME Fred Couples on the line with us. The LG SKINS GAME will be played at the new Celebrity Course at the Indian Wells Golf Resort next weekend. And Fred is no stranger to this game. This is going to be No. 14 for him and he holds, needless to say, every record: He's won five times; most career skins won, 84; most career skins money won, $3.9 million; and most money won on a Sunday 3.18 million; and he has a record for most birdies in a year, and that happened last year, he had ten.
Fred, thanks for joining us. This will be on ABC. It's our 25th year. Why don't you talk about some of the 14 or previous 13 years that you've played in the LG SKINS GAME.
FRED COUPLES: Well, I think they have all been incredibly fun from players like Nicklaus and Palmer and this year we've got young guys, and I'm still lucky to be in it.
At first, I was a little hesitant because I have not played and they asked me to play, and it took, you know, a good couple days to ask a few people if they wanted to see my mug and a couple people said of course.
So I decided to play. I've been practicing probably the last three weeks pretty hard, and I've been to see Butch a couple of times, going to see him tomorrow. I called him a week ago and said I didn't want to go out and embarrass myself.
So to be in the LG SKINS GAME is great. I've made a lot of bonehead shots and a lot of brilliant shots, and that's really what you want to do in these things. And you want to be very aggressive and really have fun and not really worry about, you know, your failures and just enjoy your success. And when you say I have a record this and that; 14 years, you've got to have a little bit of success and I've been able to make some eagles and a lot of birdies at opportune times and win it a few times.
But it's always fun to play, and I understand you know, there's been some things written about the field and about that. But one thing is, you know, LG is a great sponsor. They are supporting us. I think you know, a hundred years ago, we had Watson, Palmer, Player, Nicklaus; you're not -- never going to get any better than that. We're going to have a good time and we're going to play some golf and enjoy it.
STEVE BRENER: A 26-year career, great career, needless to say, looking at the stats and the Masters was your last tournament, you only played in two events, withdrew on the other in Pebble Beach. It's been a tough year for you. Talk about what you've been going through.
FRED COUPLES: Well, actually, you know, you said something, at the LG SKINS GAME last year, I work on my game. I didn't really like the way I played in the year but I had a few good events in what would be 2006.
Basically came to the Skins Game and had not really played too many rounds of golf like that ever, whether it was ten years ago or 20 years ago and had ten birdies and an eagle and I went and continued to play. I played pretty well at Tiger's event and I got on and pulled a calf muscle and I had to withdraw from the Bob Hope.
And then that got better, and I played Phoenix just to get the kinks out and went to Pebble Beach and played a couple good practice rounds and then ten minutes before I teed off, the first round, I was on the putting green and my back went out and that was it.
And of course, I did as much as I could to get ready for Augusta, and I got through that week and it was really painful and not a whole lot of fun. I just said, I'd had enough.
So since then, just because I get excited about playing, I've gone out and played, you know, a couple rounds here and there and been working on my back and I feel better. And like you say, the last really three weeks, I've worked my way up, since I went to Vegas and I played three straight rounds, tried to bend down and line up a putt, just stupid stuff just to see if I could do it. Friday was okay, Saturday was better; and Sunday, I went out for the last nine and got pretty loose with some shots and now this week I'm working on trying to get to where I feel a little more consistent.
So even though it's the Skins Game and I can play horribly and hit a couple good shots, that's not what I want to do. I want to go out and play well, just like the other three guys.
It's been a rough year, but, you know, I've always said, I feel lucky and blessed, and 26 years, to have a year like this, I can live with that. I'm no longer able to have a back problem and get right back to playing, so that's been the real bummer about it. It's not much fun.
So I'm hoping that, you know, pretty much resting for the whole year might get me another year or two. I don't know. We'll see.
Q. If I'm not mistaken, the back problems date way back to the Doral tournament in '94, and it's obviously been an ongoing thing you've had to deal with since then. You still obviously have had a lot of great tournaments and victories and years since then, but it also has hampered you at times. I've wondered if you've ever had the time to even think about what could have been if that didn't occur to you; if you thought about some tournaments you might have won or the career you might have had without those issues?
FRED COUPLES: You know, that's a hell of a question. What I do look at is what could have been if in '94, my back was in this state. I was very, very lucky to play. So, you know, IT could have been over 14, 13 years ago and it wasn't. There's been a lot of people who have had some problems or back problems and missed a lot of golf.
My big issue with that whole thing is that a lot of times, when I get rolling, it's the smallest thing. It could be getting out of bed; it could be walking off the treadmill; it could be hitting a 7-iron out of the rough, or it could be leaning over a car. I mean, these are all things that I've done and there's no rhyme or reason. It just wears on you that, you know, in golf, you want to play well, and you get excited when you are playing well. And there have been years where, you know, I don't play much, so I'll play, whatever it is, 16 or 18 tournaments. I do that whether I feel good or bad.
But out of those tournaments, it's not the ones that I do well in, it's just the pace. So to get ready for Augusta, you want to play a couple of weeks before. To get ready for the TPC, you want to play before. It seems like I always have a lot of confidence. It doesn't really matter if I shoot 73, 75 the week before Augusta. I don't lose my confidence and go there thinking, "oh, my God." It's how I feel.
And that's been the big hindrance. It can happen at any time. And it just gets a little old.
But as far as looking back, you know, I mean, probably the only guy that I know that could not say, you know, a handful of tournaments he should have won is Tiger, because every time he's in the lead, he wins. You look at Phil and you look at Davis and you look at lots of guys. You know, I don't really look at it that way. I mean, I don't think I've won as many tournaments as I could have, but if that was the case, I would have won them.
Q. At any point in all of this, had you thought of surgery, would that have helped or made it so that you couldn't play anymore?
FRED COUPLES: Like everyone else, after the Thursday morning episode at Pebble Beach, I decided -- I went down and saw Dr. Watkins. I was in such bad shape that, you know, he kind of thought I was like that for a while and he said, go get some other opinions. So we did, and even he went back to agree that, you know, I come back pretty quickly. I couldn't stand and couldn't straighten up and could barely get out of the car. And he took the MRIs and the X-rays and said, oh, yeah, it's right here, we'll go in and do that, and with six months of rehab and a couple of months of trying to get back to playing, he thought it would help.
So then we talked to some other people and they ended up saying, no, that's not what we want to do. You don't need surgery right now and so I went with that. And right now, I mean, after I stopped playing, I really couldn't have felt better. I'm not doing a whole lot of crazy stuff, but I've been pretty pain-free. I don't know if it's because strictly not swinging a club or not; it must be.
Q. What's the most memorable rules incident you've been involved in, and I wonder if you could walk through that, any point in your career.
FRED COUPLES: Wow.
Q. Or something that's happened to you.
FRED COUPLES: Wow. Well, I tell you, the neatest one was here years ago at the Skins Game when we played and putted out on the last hole and I heard Phil tell his caddie to run up to the truck and get his other driver. And so I went and I asked, it was Arvin, and I said "Arvin, I just heard a little thing, what the hell is he doing."
And he said, "Hey, it's another round, he can go change his whole bag if he wants." I had never heard of that in my life. And what he did is he went and got a stronger driver. It may have been something to hit into the green, and sure enough, he drove it out there and used the club. And I never even -- I don't even, in 26, 25 years on Tour, I had never heard of that.
The most complicated, I would say, not for me but one of the weirdest ones was when Jose Maria stuck it in that tree in TPC and ended up dropping at the base of the tree, wasn't complicated because, you know, he didn't get disqualified, and you've got to find the ball and you know, he did that totally correctly and it was on TV and everyone saw it. But for me, I can't really -- nothing jumps out. And I've had so many unplayables, and usually those are line of sight -- you know, some of them have been where you wake up the next day and you're disqualified because someone called in on the Late Night Show or USA Network and you moved a rock or did something at Doral. But nothing for me. I can't really think of anything that bizarre. I wish I could but nothing out of the ordinary of making something up and stupid.
Q. Do you remember when the Olazábal situation was?
FRED COUPLES: It was a long time ago. I would say the early 90s. Does anyone remember that? Someone may know more than I do. But I do know it was the 10th hole and he hit it out of the junk and no one saw it. He was way in the left and some guy in the gallery thought it was up in the tree, the palm tree and they saw a ball up there, but no one identified it. I don't know how it happened. Ended up dropping it right there but it took a while to do the whole thing.
Q. Is there a young player on TOUR that reminds you of the way you play the game, somebody you might consider the next you?
FRED COUPLES: You know, I like the way Camilo Villegas plays. I think he's an incredible player. He hits it a mile and he's fairly accurate. He's kind of got a long -- he's got a great swing but he pounds it.
You know, we're certainly different people but I like the way he plays. It seems like he makes a lot -- you know, I've always made a lot of birdies and I think for him, he'll probably be a better player than I was quicker by looking at him.
Nowadays, these guys come out, they are so polished. But I would say he pops in there, he's a great, great player. There's probably a few other guys but his name, I just like the way he plays. He's very impressive.
Q. (Question regarding physiotherapists).
FRED COUPLES: You know, Dr. Patterson -- you know, Tom I worked with forever and I probably still will. It's just that the last three, four, five times, you know, I won't put words into his mouth, but I think it's gotten to a point where he can get me to a certain spot. But there's something in my back that, you know, he probably wouldn't want to hear it, but you have to figure out why it keeps happening or getting worse, tremendous spasms.
It used to be where I would have him come out, and we all know the story where myself, Davis, he worked with tons of guys, Greg Norman for awhile, Faxon, Ernie Els, worked on Tiger once or twice, Mickelson, everyone has tried him. Went to this guy Patterson and he tried to get my body in a little bit different shape, and he's done a couple things that my body actually gets a curve in my back and takes the pressure off. If I can get to that point, then I can go see Tom, too, and have the little touch-ups. I just needed to find someone else and this guy is in Waco. Brad Elder, the Nationwide player that has just got his card, he's been seeing him and said to give him a shot, and it's been pretty good.
Q. (What advice have you gotten from people over the years, and have you spoken to Rocco)?
FRED COUPLES: Pretty much anyone who comes up and says something, I listen. A lot of times I'm thinking about the third hole at Augusta when they are talking to me; it just gets so frustrating.
But Rocco -- yeah, my back -- the people should talk to, they shouldn't call me. They should call Tom Borg or these other people. You know, there's not a whole lot I can really physically do about it. It's very brittle; it's shot. But what happens to one guy is great where another guy it's not. I was working with Brett Fisher who used to be on the TOUR and walk in and Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson was in there, the pitcher, and Kerry Wood didn't even look like the same person. He had lost 30 pounds and I just said, "Hi, how are you, nice to see you, hope you have a great year."
And I go, "You look great."
And he goes, "Well, it's all this guy." Kerry Wood pitched about 20 innings this year and Randy Johnson pitched about four games. So, you know, people can tell you all kind of stuff. And Rocco I've talked to. I've talked to Greg Norman, all kinds of guys about that. I've talked to people from Farmers Insurance and Dell computers. You know, what one guy does doesn't necessarily work for other people, but it's all in the mix of back problems and mine is a little more complex than a lot of people.
But at the same time, you know, I feel pretty good a lot of times. I don't have pain down my legs. I don't have any of that stuff yet, so I feel pretty lucky.
STEVE BRENER: Fred is donating 20 percent of his winnings to those that are displaced by the Southern California wildfires this October. And last year he was kind enough to donate his charitable share, 77,000 to the Esperanza Firefighters Assistant Fund. One of the guys wanted me to ask you, raising a lot of money here and they wanted to ask what you think about, you've got $145,000 for somebody to play a round with you Sunday at the Masters at Tiger's Block Party. What did you think about that?
FRED COUPLES: Yeah, I think how that started was Tiger had this tournament and Greg McLaughlin asked me to go up and talk about the program they have and an auction item. You know, it was going pretty well, and I had said, you know, because I haven't been playing much, I'm going early and I can take someone with me to play Augusta on Sunday. And so the bids went from, you know, 30,000 to about 80,000 in about a quarter of a second.
And a few people kept bidding, it got up there, and then of course I put my foot in my mouth and said, well, I'm going to leave Saturday night, and I'd love to fly -- the other people can come but they can't play but I'd like to fly them with me.
So one gentleman said: "If I get it, you'll go on my plane because I guarantee my plane is bigger than yours," so I said no problem. And that's a gentleman that bought it and it's a guy that supports Tiger, and I'll leave his name out of it, but it's an incredible gesture. I know he played with Tiger in an event last year, the same guy who donated a bunch of money.
So, it went really well. You know, I was happy to be a part of it and Tiger's been incredible to me. So really, the whole day was an outing where Tiger hits balls in a clinic and goes out to a school down in Orange County. And then I stay there and I played with all the groups and he's been nice enough to give me a spot in his tournament, and I'm certainly not even close to being -- I'm not playing, but I just happened to be there and like I say, got a great tournament.
Q. Do you and all your Skins Game experience have a favorite memory or two in particular, and why do you think about the format has worked for you for so long?
FRED COUPLES: The format, I'm kind of fearless and a lot of people miss a putt or hit a bad shot, and they get affected by it whether they want to -- you can see it. With me, you know, it's not that big of a deal. I mean, failure is, you know, something we all get used to, and the better you are, probably the more you're going to fail. And in the Skins Game, you've got to be able to bounce back pretty quickly.
And a lot of times where I've done really well, that's how it's gone and so you're always in the game. What you don't want to have is really a horrible nine holes where you know, you're not in the game and all of the sudden you start to panic. The LG SKINS GAME is really about having an opportunity to win, when in your mind, you don't want to think -- it's like winning a tournament. Every putt, oh my God, if I make this, I'm winning the Bob Hope Classic. And that's not good.
So you want to be relaxed and you want to play, but no matter how relaxed you are, you know, it's going to be a tough thing and that's kind of how I look at it.
STEVE BRENER: And a couple of moments you remember.
FRED COUPLES: A couple of them, I hit an unbelievable shot with Palmer at Bighorn where I had a 2-iron to the par 5 and the ball was almost, I won't say chest-high but waist-high, and hit it like a baseball bat and knocked it on the green. I ended up making birdie, which tied the skin, I believe. I think someone else birdied the hole.
But really, you know, there's been quite a few. I think you know, the little playoff we had with Tiger a few years ago, hit some great shots and just walking down the fairway with him would be the same as walking down with Arnold and Jack. Even though I played so many years with the Normans and Pavins and Azingers and all the stuff.
But, you know, a lot of it's inside stuff. For instance the Funk thing with Tiger and the dress and all that. It's kind of comedy. The shots are going to be hit whether they are from me or someone else.
I would say it's the guys that I have played with that have really made it the most fun.
Q. You've had success in a lot of these off-season events. Do you think it's because you're just better than the guys who are not practicing too much? There's a little humor in there, but I wonder, if you could get everybody to go to events and not be prepared for them, would you always win?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I've never won Tiger's tournament and that's probably the strongest field assembled. You know, I've won a couple of times in the off-season, Jamaica and the Johnnie Walker and other places.
The Skins Game, you've got three guys to worry about. So the odds are in your favor. You know, won a few Shark Shootouts with unbelievable players, and that's a great format where you get alternate-shot and a scramble. But I play in a lot of them. For me, the year is really a grind, but I don't play that much.
So if you look at 16 or 18 events, and I don't play in those events like I play in three in the off-season, but I enjoy getting a call from Brad Faxon and saying, hey, do you want to play in the Shark Shootout; or Ray Floyd or David Duval; this year I had John Daly. This to me, that's fun.
I flew down to you New Zealand to play with Michael Campbell in the Shell match, and that was a day and a half. But if it's something that you want to do in the off-season, it's just enjoyable, but most of them are just fun events. I can't explain why. Not everyone can play. I've always been one that said, yeah, I'd like to play, I'll be there.
Q. Are you optimistic or cautiously optimistic about the 2008 season and the kind of schedule you might be able to play?
FRED COUPLES: No. I'm not optimistic at all. I'm day-to-day, week-to-week. That's just kind of the way it's been. But I feel good, you know, so I guess I'm not really cautiously optimistic because when I go out and play, there's only one way I know how to play, and if that's hitting a ball off a downhill lie or whatever, I'll do it.
But I think only time will tell and I'm going to sort of play every day maybe but one up until Saturday. And of course that's only nine holes and if I play well, great, and if I don't, you know, it will be a fun time.
But really, I'm just trying to get the competition in and say hi to everybody and play. But next year, I don't know the schedule. I think Bob Hope might be my first event. You know, I have to be ready to play, and if not, there's no reason to do it. And that doesn't mean, you know -- I almost feel like I won a tournament. In the last two years, I've been close three or four times but not many more than that. And is that fun? No, not really.
But it's still an opportunity. You know, when you get close, if you play well, you win. But right now I want to be able to get to the Bob Hope and be able to play five rounds and see where I can go from there.
STEVE BRENER: We appreciate your time, Fred, and good luck to you. Look forward to seeing you at Thanksgiving.
End of FastScripts