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April 2, 2003

Fred Couples


TODD BUDNICK: Thanks, Fred, for joining us coming off a 10th place finish last week at THE PLAYERS and T -7 at the Nissan Open; back-to-back Top-10s in your last two starts. You must be happy with the way you started the year.

FRED COUPLES: I have been playing a lot better. Nice to be here. I don't even know if I have ever made the cut here. It's not one of the better courses I feel comfortable on but I haven't played very much. So my goal is just to come here and keep playing and swinging trying to get better and better and then go to Augusta. So normally I don't look too far in advance but if I go home I don't feel like I will play any golf at all. I missed Bay Hill because of my back so picked this one up. I am hoping to certainly do better than I have ever done which isn't saying much. But all I can say for the course, it's tough: My back is okay, oddly enough. I was off for a month and I went out before Bay Hill so skipped that and didn't play any golf. I played two rounds of golf since L.A. and went to the TPC and everything really just fell into place with very little going on. I hit the ball a little bit on Monday and Tuesday. I played 18 holes on Wednesday. And then I just felt right. My swing felt good and I felt like I was on the right plane and my stance felt good and I just hit the ball really well. I think that's kind of the way the whole week went. I wasn't expecting to do that. So I have got a little bit going and I just need to keep it.

Q. Walking this golf course is a little hard on your back. It's a little dry, and not spongy.

FRED COUPLES: That's a good point. It is dry. One year I came I withdrew after the Pro-Am, I back went out. Then I missed the cut. So I haven't really walked it that many times. (Laughs) But it is -- it's in unbelievable shape. The greens are rock hard and fast so it's certainly, for the guys here, it is good for Augusta. I just have to go out and play and I feel good about my game, so that's a good sign not to be too jacked up before Augusta and overlook this tournament which I have kind have done before. But my wife is here and we're having a good time, so I am planning on hopefully playing well.

Q. Looking ahead to Augusta, could you describe the three toughest shots at Augusta National and why?

FRED COUPLES: I would say -- well, the two right away would be the second shot on 13 and probably the 12th hole when there is a little wind.

You can struggle on it no matter what but when the wind is blowing the 12th hole is really a hard shot. Since they've lengthened 13 just a little bit when you get into the corner it's just such a hard second shot. You can no longer really hook it around the corner and hit a 6-, or 7-iron. Last year I hit 3-wood because it's hard for me to draw a driver so had 2-irons into the green everyday. I never went for it once. I just felt off of the side hill lie and hitting to that green it would do me no good to try and hit 2-iron 230 onto the green. Those two.

Then maybe the 4th hole is a par 3, it's really a hard iron shot to get somewhere close. I think any time you make a comment that you are trying to make a par on a hole and get out of there it's a hard shot. There are several.

Second shot on 11 is extremely hard. And that stretch again, 10, 11, 12, 13, are now brutal with the length. The 10th hole is much harder. 11 is a lot longer. And 13 has really changed the last few years. Even though the ball is going farther, it's just the shape of the hole, it's turned in to be a great second shot hole if you decide to go for the green.

Q. You said that you knew if you went home you wouldn't play. Is this because you know you are going to fall into this stuff or you are comfortable there and it's hard to get into a frame of mind to hit balls?

FRED COUPLES: It's hard. Especially I used to go to Houston, worked with Paul; then he'd come to Augusta saw what I was working on. I went right to The Masters with that. I haven't seen Paul in a while. I have worked with Butch for the last couple of months. But he's busy and I will see him there. But just when I go home I don't really play golf. It's hard to go to a club and get a whole lot done that you want to get done. Any other tournament wouldn't be a big deal, so I thought it was in my best interest to come here. I am going to play Wednesday. I practiced for a couple of hours yesterday. I will play Thursday and Friday. With a little luck I will get to play on the weekend.

If not, you know, then I take Saturday off and I will get to Augusta Sunday and then loosen up and play Monday and Tuesday and a little bit on Wednesday.

Q. Sawgrass last week, has it changed your mindset going into The Masters or are you approaching it with the same goals --

FRED COUPLES: Sounds like it's changing my mind coming in here. Actually I would love to keep playing well. So I am trying not to look forward to Augusta because I feel like I am playing much better. So what happens at the TPC, I have had a lot of horrible rounds there too. But I really like the course. I drove the ball extremely well last week and up until Sunday I made enough putts to hang in there. On Sunday I didn't make one putt over five or six feet and I didn't have a whole lot of birdie putts either. It was a hard day. But if I would have made a couple more putts it would have been a great, great, great week. Instead, it was good because as you said, I haven't finished in the Top-10 in a long time. But on a course that hard and almost situations I felt like my game improved a lot. Therefore for Augusta, I feel like that's another place that I really play well and I look forward to going every year. Sometimes I haven't gone in there playing all that great and done well. So my goal, you know, is to be playing like I am now when I get there and continue to hit the ball like that.

Q. What is the general state of your back? How much work do you have to put into it to keep playing and what kind -- some things you absolutely can't do?

FRED COUPLES: Well, I don't do much. I don't certainly going skiing with the kids or snow boarding like Duval or do a lot of those things because any kind of -- if I slip or do anything, it seems to really cause a problem. So swinging a golf club has never been a big deal. A lot of times just picking a suitcase or doing something I shouldn't do, causes problems. So ending that, I think practicing -- I practice pretty hard for the last -- I played six tournaments so far. This is my seventh. In all those tournaments I practiced pretty hard and my back -- I don't know what happened before Bay Hill, it just kind of froze. But I saw Tom last week and he's able to work it right out of there and I am going to hopefully see him Friday here. Then he's coming to Augusta. So I should be in good shape. But what really is the problem is I think the (inaudible) swing in my body I was babying my back and I was swinging more underneath which gets my back to go into a spot where everyone felt like it was putting a lot of pressure. Now I am trying to make better swings and really clear through the ball hard. But Tom and Butch have instilled that it may be better to improve my swing and it will take a little pressure off my back.

Q. An hour of day in exercise or therapy...

FRED COUPLES: Actually in the morning I stretch. Like this morning, you know, I got up at 5:45 but it was real quick, but now I will go home and stretch. To be honest, I don't overdo it which I probably should, but I have gone through stretches where I have gone crazy and then it hurts and I have done nothing and it's been well for a while. So I kind of just feel it out. It's one of those things where you twist an ankle and you baby it around until it feels better and you still don't try and push it. With my back, I have to golf otherwise I can go that route and play not that well. So I am just going to push it until I screw it up. If I can play like this and play another year or two where I feel like I can play, then that's fine. But if I keep saying you know, I want to just take it easy and play a lot longer and you know, play poorly, it's kind of wearing on me. It used to be okay. After two or three years of it, it just gets old.

Q. Speak a little bit to the difference of 12 at Augusta and 17 at the TPC.

FRED COUPLES: Well, I like both holes a lot. I think they are very challenging. 17 at Augusta is one that you know, has just never really psyched me out. I have hit it in the water there. I have also hit some critically good shots on it. I have got a hole-in-one, got a whole lot for par. 12 at Augusta, those things have not happened to me. I have had birdies a few times. Doesn't seem like I have hit it in the water that mean times but the back bunkers are no good. A lot of times it's the same club, but the green at Sawgrass is really a pretty big green. If you do hit it on the mound and it spins back to the front and the pin is in the back or way right, it is a tough 2-putt. If you 3-putt you go away, well, I didn't hit it in the water. Whereas Augusta I feel like really it's a one-time shot. I have heard so many people say just hit it to the left side of the green. That's not really that easy a shot. It's a funny club selection and I don't know too many times where I have gone to 17 at the TPC and really felt nervous about the club. I felt nervous about the shot, but I always felt like a good solid shot is going to put me right where I was going.

At 12 at Augusta it's never like that. When the pin is in the back, if you aim at the pin and push it, you know, except one time it didn't go in the water but it will go in the water. If you get a little wedge and you pull it, with the angle, it is just going to carry and go in the back trap. So it's such a hard hole. TPC is just hard under the circumstances, but the 12th at Augusta is always hard.

Q. Lifetime exemption still applies to you. Were you glad to see that happen last week?

FRED COUPLES: I was glad to see it happen, you know, I mean, from a long time from now maybe they will change it again, but to see Arnold come back, obviously I think Jack was going to play anyway. I don't know if Tommy Aaron is going to come back and play or Gabriel and those guys, but to me, that's what the tournament is all about. When I first got there Ray Floyd took me up in the Champions locker room. I saw all those guys hanging around. I don't really think a lot of those guys would come hang around just because - yeah, so it took a little bit of the sting away. I felt like looking at Arnold Palmer he wanted to come back and it was a little shocking to him. So I think it's all good for everybody and it will be fun.

Q. In terms of the off-the-course stuff at August you have been talking about it since the season started. It is almost a sense of relief that like within a couple of weeks it will be done?

FRED COUPLES: That's a great point. When I first came about and by winning and, you know, being asked a few times, I don't think that was critical but I just thought it was a little bit odd and then through the middle of the year I kind of started to think it wasn't that big of a deal and maybe she was on the right track. But now towards the end I feel like I am back the way I was. A couple of days ago when she talked about the war and all the ladies that are fighting over there, that took a lot of sting away from the whole thing. I have heard a lot of people talk about it, but even before when it first came out, I just didn't see any comparison and I don't see a lot of comparisons and a lot of things for anything; whether the greens should be faster in Augusta or they are too tough. But when you start talking about the effect it has on The Masters and the people around Augusta and as a player who has been there I think 16 or 17 years, I think it's a little bit ridiculous to just keep pounding and pounding it down their throats when -- she is probably doing a nice thing and maybe some day it will happen, but I am tired of hearing every comparison to August because that's where I play and I am a golfer and I have won it, and until some lady comes up and tells me, you know, I think you are an idiot, you are completely wrong, you don't know what you are talking about, then I would probably sit back and think a lot harder. But I don't see that happening. I just see it's their group and her being so critical of the place that it is kind of getting old. So when we get there, I think after a day of seeing it you will say ahh, no big deal. Then we will play golf. Then whatever happens happens. I couldn't care less if they let 20 ladies in there. But I feel like I know a lot of people there that are getting beaten up by the surroundings by -- a lot of people are pulling out and sponsors are pulling out, and the players are being asked kind of questions about it. I honestly don't have a problem because I don't think anything I am saying is real critical. I just think that they should let it die a little bit.

Q. Could you envision the atmosphere there this year being something less or just different because of all of this?

FRED COUPLES: No, I think it's the greatest tournament in the world. I think they will still have 50,000 people out there screaming and yelling and having fun. I don't know if any of them will get on the golf course. I have had friends come and they all know, you know, that I have given them tickets and they are not to yell, you are the man, or scream something stupid because they have got security there. They will lock you right off the course. So most people know that, and it is a well trained atmosphere and what goes on outside the gates, I don't think it's going to bother one player and if they do sneak inside or get inside, I think it will be kind of funny, you know, and protesting to me, I don't quite get it. Especially now when people are laying down on the streets in New York or Portland or Seattle where I grew up but people can express their opinions, but for the players, I think for us to talk about it, it's gotten to the point where you either like what is going on or you don't. Either way, it's not really going to change anyone's lives. I don't think. If we get a lady in the next year and all these sponsors come back and everything is hunkydory then that will be great.

Q. Last week you played with Davis, great round he had. Does that motivate you at all seeing a buddy like that play that well on Sunday?

FRED COUPLES: No. What motivated me was the way I played Thursday Friday and Saturday. And then what was exciting is the way he played on Sunday. So the motivation, I mean, I think Jay Haas playing well is nice, but there's one thing that I don't really go after is having someone else motivate me. My wife by getting Butch to motivate me, he's given me some motivation and help and I have actually thrived on his help but I loved the way Davis played. I am not saying anything about that. It was the best round of golf I had ever seen and I have been on Tour for 22, 23 years and I have never seen anyone play like that to win a tournament. But the motivation really was the way I played Thursday and Friday and hung on Saturday and I felt like on Sunday I actually hit the ball very solid. I hit probably one of the really poor shots, on the 10th hole, made bogey but other than that, I just was a little off and there were a lot of 72s and 3s and 4s so it was a tough day.

End of FastScripts....

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