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June 2, 1999

Fred Couples


LEE PATTERSON: All right, sir. Thank you for spending some time with us. Maybe just a couple thoughts as we head into the week then we'll open it up for questions.

FRED COUPLES: The course is in very good shape. It's nice to be back, I played with Jack yesterday and he's doing well, which is great. It's just fun to be here. I missed it so many times, as you know, came back and played well a few years ago and won last year. I think it's a good course for the way I play. I just have to go out and play a little better than I've been playing the last few months. But it is nice to be back as the defending champ and that's really about it.

Q. Fred, is it, with tighter fairways on a lot of the holes, is it as good a course for you as it's been in the past? Might it be a better course for a different kind of player now?

FRED COUPLES: That's a good question. I think that they've done -- I mean the golf course has a few scary tee shots. I think the second hole, I'm not going to go through the whole round, but the second hole is one that jumps out. It's still the same fairway, that's not much tighter. Holes like No. 5, par 5, it's been moved in. Now you pull a drive over there, you've got to maneuver a second shot with that creek in mind. That could be -- you could turn a 6 no problem. Whereas before, if you hit a drive down the left, you know, with the long hitter I might be able to knock a 3-wood on the green down and come out of thick rough. So things like that make it more tough. A couple changes, the bunker on 17 and 13, you know, it looks like they've been there or fit there forever. It's not like he's all of a sudden stuck a bunker there because he's trying to toughen the course up. It fits nicely. Those holes will play tougher, they're longer. Overall, I don't think it's really going to change much. I've always said there's no course that's not good for a long hitter if he plays well. That's an advantage. Davis Love has won Hilton Head five times, I think, four or five times. You would think that would be a course for a shorter, a guy that doesn't hit as long. Davis hits the ball long and straight. It forces you to do that. Because this golf course is a little tighter, it's going to force me to play it slightly different, but I still believe it's a good course for long hitters, just like any of the other courses.

Q. Fred, with all the hype that surrounded a lot of the young guys the last couple years, why do you think maybe they've struggled here? You look at who's won here the last couple of years, it's guys that have been around the block.

FRED COUPLES: Who won before me? Vijay. Vijay's one of the top players. Are you looking at Duval and Tiger?

Q. Yeah.

FRED COUPLES: Not being funny, but that's what you should look at. They can't do it every week. You're looking at, because maybe you're from here, you're looking at your tournament as the focus and I might be wrong, but if there is a writer here, when Tiger comes in, he should play well. If he doesn't, that doesn't mean this course doesn't suit him; it doesn't mean he'll never win here. He could pop up and win here five times in the next ten years. So I think good players have won here because this is an extraordinary field. There's 105 players, you know, I don't know how to put this, but in a 156-man field, you get everyone that plays. And here it's 105 players, in my opinion, a lot of foreigners, great players that come, and then it's a very strong field. So all the guys come. And when everyone comes to an event, very rarely does a surprise winner pop up. You know, you may look at that and say, you know, you can write and say what's he talking about. But Rich Beem winning last week is fantastic. For something like that to happen here, it won't, because guys like that aren't in this tournament, so you get the better players. To single out younger guys, I just played with Justin Leonard, it's a one-time deal. These guys win once or twice every year, doesn't necessarily have to be at a venue like this. It could be in Atlanta, at Hilton Head, it could be at the Western. But here, this is a top tournament, it's Jack's tournament. I think winners, they make a big deal about who wins. That's why, for me, it was a great honor to win last year because there's been fantastic winners on a great course, and it's his tournament.

Q. Fred, you said you've got to play better than you have in the last few months if you're going to --

FRED COUPLES: That's pretty obvious, isn't it? I'm being funny.

Q. But assess your game. Where are you? How far away are you?

FRED COUPLES: Yeah, I think I've played ten tournaments this year and in those tournaments I've played okay. It's the other 15 weeks that we've had I barely have played five rounds of golf at home or anywhere else, so I don't really have -- I'm not into it right now. I love playing still. I'm still going to play 16 or 18 tournaments. I'm not quitting. I just don't feel like going home at this time and beating my brains to the ground. That's my problem; it's not anyone else's. It's just right now, you know, I've been married for seven or eight months. I married into a couple kids, I have a ball when I go home. You know, I find other things to do. Whereas before, even when I didn't want to do it, there wasn't much else to do. I would go hit balls three times a week and I would come and I would never feel like I'm lost. You know, I played yesterday and today and every shot, you know, it was a struggle. If I don't hit a good one on the 12th hole, on the 13th tee I'm thinking of some kind of thought to make sure I hit a good one that time. Whereas before, you know, I teed off on Thursday and I knew I was going to play well. When I didn't, I went home and practiced. Now, you know, I'll go out tomorrow. There's a good shot that I'll play well. But there's a great shot that I won't. And that's not very good odds.

Q. So physically -- mentally, it's tough for you not playing or practicing as much. But has it been better for you physically because of all the problems you've had with your back?

FRED COUPLES: Well, physically in the last four or five years since I've met Tom and we just walked a few holes, I've been fine. Mentally, I'm fine. I've been doing it since I'm 20 years old. This is a time where, you know, things are great for me off the course, and, you know, if I had kids when I was 25 or 30 years old, I know for a fact I would not be anywhere near the player I am. So I look at that and I say, you know, my time is semipassed. I'm not done playing golf. But right now at this particular time in this year, you know, there's so much money that we play for. I mean I've made most of the cuts and had that and it's been fun, but, you know, monetarily, if I make a little more money in the next four or five tournaments I play in, I can't look at it as anything. A great year, a bad year; 50th on the money list, 30th or 70th, I just want to play, get this year passed and have a good time and hopefully not really lose my game where I have to come back and work for six months just to start playing golf. But I think my back's great. In the last year I had a great year, I timed it where I didn't do too much to say I want to play a good Memorial, I need to practice five days in a row. What I did was played two weeks before it, then I came back home, week at home I practiced enough, then I came here and I was playing great. So, you know, we all know what we're doing. We all know how to get to the course. We all know how to get to a tournament and do well some weeks. Like I just said, Tiger Woods isn't going to win every tournament, there are weeks when I think he feels like he's playing great and other weeks where he needs to work on something and he goes and works on it. If you don't go work on your game, you're not going to be David Duval and Davis Love. There's no way.

Q. Is it fair to say, Fred, that you're perhaps more inspired off the golf course today than you are on it?

FRED COUPLES: I think definitely. You know, I never had any kids. I see Jay Haas, I've been to his house and see his son look up and say, dad, you already have to go. I'm to the point where I'm pretty soft, and I'm not saying that whatever Jay did was right or wrong, but, you know, that's hard to -- for them to understand, that I'm in a plane going to another tournament because they've never been around golf. It's new to them. I have chosen to stick around and have fun, because really that's what I want to do. It is a lot of fun to go to softball games and to go to soccer games and do all that, and go to the park and go to the zoo. I'm not doing it 24 hours a day. But I have no problem in relaxing a little bit with golf. You know, again, work is work. This is what I do. I'm not trying to sound like I'm any different than anyone else. It's just that I've been doing it since I'm 20 years old and now I'm almost 40. It's a long time. I've taken time off before, I've relaxed before and come back and played well. So, you know, you never give up. But now I'm just playing just to kind of play and, you know, in your mind, you know when you don't play well what you have to do. When I go home, I choose not to do it at this particular time.

Q. Golf's kind of -- it's an unusual sport. You've been playing it for 20 years. If you're playing any of the other major sports, you're done.

FRED COUPLES: I'm already retired for six years playing golf. You know... (Laughter.) It is a very unusual sport and it's hard for people to understand that, you know, I've been around other sports. It looks like when you're with 30 other guys and you hand pick a few guys on a hockey team or a basketball team has 10 or 12, you have a ball, and you're at home a lot. We have no home games, maybe if you live in the right area once a year. You know, and I travel, I play 18 tournaments a year. You know there's 52 weeks. You can say he never plays. I hear all the time on TV that Ken Venturi, in the old days guys used to play 30 tournaments a year. There were only 30 tournaments a year. Guys would play every week because they could set schedules, they went back, they were club pros. It's just different. Now it's January to January and there's so many things to do that, you know, when you only play 18 tournaments on our Tour, you're also doing other things. Sam Snead to Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, didn't play many tournaments. But we have, I think, 42 events a year.


FRED COUPLES: 47 official events. To me, that's ridiculous. You would never get, you know, I mean the basketball guys now, everyone says, you know, you don't want to go to a game until the fourth quarter. I don't blame them. They're out there playing and busting their butts, you do that 82 games a year and there's got to be times when you go out there and just go through the motions. For us, you don't ever want to do that. Every week is very important. When I play and play well, when I go to a tournament, I never just want to go like I am now; just to show up. That's a waste of your time. You might as well play 30 times and say well, you know, 18 times I played great. But that's 60 percent of the time. That's no fun. So it's a weird sport as far as if you're a good player, you can do it for a long, long, long time, and if you do anything for a long time, you're going to have a few valleys and when you hit the high points, you take advantage of them.

Q. Fred, your back problems, we know that they were chronicle, but you took a lot of time off to relieve those problems. Did you accommodate your back with your swing? Is that something you could relate to amateurs that may have back problems, did you try to do that? What did you do?

FRED COUPLES: No. I think that when -- when it was bad for a while, I still tried to play. Just like, you know, someone coming back too quickly from an injury. And then I felt myself really playing poorly, protecting it. So then I just kind of went away, took quite a few weeks off. But when I come back to playing and my back's there and this guy Tom has done a great job, I don't really think too many times a year I actually feel bad. My back has been bad for a long time. It's been even playing well, it's always a little stiff. But just like right now, I freewheel it, I have no problem hitting the ball, I have not changed my swing any, I don't think I swing as hard, but that's more the way I play. I think I play the courses a little better than I did when I was 30 years old, by being a little smarter. But I still hit the ball as far, just not every single time. I mean there were times when if I was really, really swinging well, I wanted to swing hard, I knew I would hit it straight because I was hitting everything else straight. So I could get 20 more yards. Now it just kind of happens. I'll hit the ball 280, 280, 280, then I'll hit it 300. It used to be the other way. I knew I was going to hit it that far. But my back has been -- the only thing it's done is it stopped me for playing for a few years a lot, then I've just learned that 16 or 17 or 18 times was good for me and that's why I only play that amount of time. I would love to play 24, 25 tournaments, but I do other things, and it's just too big of a grind. You know, not comparing our sport to anything, but John Elway wanted to play this year, he came out and said I physically can't do it. I can physically play golf forever, but I can't do it 24, 25 weeks a year. It's just too much to go to a tournament and not feel good and just to play. I really don't care to do that. If I do it correctly, I think I can play for a long time.

Q. Can you share with us some of the things that Tom has worked with you on to do?

FRED COUPLES: Well, they're pretty simple things. He's got a procedure that he does, and, you know, he's worked -- he's seeing Ernie Els and Davis Love and Glen Day and six or seven other guys, that's just what he does. He knows he can help us and he does. It makes everything that much better.

Q. Fred, you said you have more outside interests now. What does that do to your Ryder Cup aspirations? Do you have as much enthusiasm?

FRED COUPLES: Well, yeah. The thing with the Ryder Cup is that I could possibly play another tournament to try to make that team if I was close. You know, I've done nothing this year to have a run at the top ten finishes or top five finishes to get points. You know, I will not be picked because I won't be playing enough to say, look, I'm playing great, I don't want to be picked; I want to make the team. Again, there have been guys my age or older on the team before, but it's time, you know, if it's even close to let other guys do this that can maybe play five years in a row. I've played five Ryder Cups. If I don't make it this year, it's just because I didn't play good enough to make it. But there's still plenty of time. I mean I need to win a tournament to play, but I would dearly love to make the Ryder Cup. I would not be picked. I would tell Ben, you know, don't choose -- I mean I'm not worthy of being chosen. If I was playing four or five weeks in a row at that time and I said, look, you know, if I play well, yeah, pick me. But I'm not going to be playing at that time, so there's no reason for him to even pick me. And, you know, I would tell him, if I don't make the team, you know, pick a Justin Leonard who's playing 26 times, who's a great player, who's been on the team; let him be the guy the next ten years to keep going. I've been lucky enough, but I will definitely try, you know, to play and make it. And at the rate I'm going, it's just going to take a miracle.

Q. It was six or seven or eight tournaments a year that actually get the full fields that... (Inaudible) Consider real tournaments because there's so many --

FRED COUPLES: Well, not real tournaments. There are a lot of great tournaments and there are a lot of very good tournaments. If you're asking if this is one of those, this is a great tournament. This is not a major, but it's right below what we all think is a major, the TPC. Then you get the Memorials and the Bay Hills, help me out here, you know, Colonial's a great tournament, Hilton Head is. But I think Jack's is way up there. People obviously respect him. He gets great fields. It's a great locker room. It's a great setup. But, you know, every week is a big tournament, and I don't play in a lot of them because that's the way I do it. But I never would say the Kemper Open last week is a bad tournament because it didn't have a field like this; I mean they're all run almost perfect. But I can relate to your question. This is a big tournament.

Q. How about 20 years ago, would you say the magnitude of the tournaments would have been bigger then because you had more top names in more tournaments?

FRED COUPLES: 20 years ago I think there were, you know, probably 40 tournaments. I was so excited to be on the PGA Tour, that I played every tournament I could. It's not like that any more. It's such a big deal for me to play and do well in the tournaments, that I think I'm going to play well. I won the B.C. Open, it's probably one of our smallest tournaments. I've played there just as many times I think as I've played here, which is ridiculous. But for a stretch, I didn't come back to Memorial. And, again, as I said last year, that was my problem and me being stubborn and stupid for not coming. But, you know, they don't miss me here. If I'm not here this week, if I didn't win last year and I didn't come, it would be, you know, not that big of a deal. If Tiger Woods didn't come, people would wonder why. If Tiger Woods doesn't go to the B.C. Open, we all think we know why, it's not as big a tournament. We all play in different spots, and it would be nice for other players to play other tournaments, but, you know, we all set our schedules and this is one that you really don't want to miss.

Q. Fred, can you share some of your thoughts on British golf and the fact that the British Open's going to be at Carnoustie this year?

FRED COUPLES: Well, I love the way they play over there. I've never played Carnoustie, so I don't know a thing about it. But, you know, that's a great way of playing. It's windy, it's cold, it's wet, it's warm, the courses play short and hard. You know, you get 1,000 different ways to play over there.

Q. Given that it's kind of a down year, as you were talking about earlier, motivation or whatever, where does the U.S. Open fit in?

FRED COUPLES: Well, I think the U.S. Open always fits, you know, right there as a tournament you want to be prepared for. So I've got this week to play and then I will definitely play every day next week and I would love to play well. Pinehurst is an unbelievable course. And that's a tough week. You know, I remember last year playing at the Olympic Club the first day and I hit every fairway. I ended up bogeying the last hole, I had to shoot one over, I could have hit it every where and shot one over. Instead I worked on the game and hit every fairway. The U.S. Open is about scoring. If I play in the rough for four days, I can't compete for four days. What needs to happen for me is I just have to have everything go right. In my opinion, you're going to see Jim Furyk and Justin Leonard on the leaderboard in the U.S. Opens all the time because of the way they play. Curtis Strange won it twice, Ernie Els and Davis Love up there a lot because they're the best players. You're not going to see them there every single year. There might be a year where they go out and maybe not play four days or hit many fairways and they play, but they're still capable of doing it. And Ernie's won twice and I think basically because of his length and his short game. And I think Davis is not quite -- he doesn't have the short game Ernie does, but I believe Davis, in his career, will win and I think that will be a huge, huge feat. It would be for me, too. Whereas Augusta, the British Open, those are tournaments that I really feel like when I go, I have a great shot at winning. Pinehurst, you know, things would have to go great.

Q. Is it a tournament that you really wanted to win during your career, or is it a tournament -- I mean the Open. Is it a tournament you thought you would win or you thought you could win?


Q. Yeah.

FRED COUPLES: You know, by hesitating, I would say I really go there with the idea of playing very, very well. And if that's 3rd or 5th or 10th, winning would be close to an upset and I don't know if that downplays my game, I guess it does. But the British Open is a tournament that I always felt like was set up just as hard, but wind blows -- I mean I feel like I can play in unbelievable conditions very, very well. Whether there's eight feet of rough or not. Whereas the U.S. Open, it's normally fairly calm and it just comes down to getting the ball in the fairway. That is not my strength. And you need to do that very, very good. A lot of percentage of the times. So when I go to all the U.S. Opens, it's a dream week. When I play well, it's a nice feeling. I've had a few top tens, I finished in Hazeltine -- finished between Scott and Payne, I was way behind. They were five ahead I think. Other than that, I've had a few good last rounds to maybe finish tenth. But it's not one that I've ever gone to and felt like this is my week I'm going to win.

Q. Does it make it any tougher for your preparations as far as being motivated, or is it more of a challenge?

FRED COUPLES: Actually, it's a very good challenge because the times that I do play well, I leave feeling like, you know, I've done a good job. And I don't -- a lot of times I don't ever look at it that way. The British Open, I've had a few times where, you know, I've played mediocre the last day and gone from the top three or four or five to tenth or seventh or eighth. I've had a good record there. But a lot of it has been very disappointing. That's tougher to take than having a pretty good week at the U.S. Open, and that might be finishing 15th because the British Open, I just feel like I can go and win. By never winning it, you know, that's a little bit of a let down. By having a good number of chances. But the U.S. Open, you know, it's a grind. It's four of the hardest days for me ever. When I do well during the day, I look and I say, you know, you did all right. If I come out at the Memorial and I'm in 8th place after the first round, it's kind of just another round. A good round, but just another round, and I don't ever look into it any deeper than that. I think just because the U.S. Open is so hard, that any time you have a good round, it's a good round because you've conquered the course.

Q. Yes, Fred, I wanted to know, can you talk about your days at the University of Houston, your recollections of how McCallister and Nantz became friends and roommates?

FRED COUPLES: Well, I went there the first week I was there and I met both Blaine and Jimmy. My roommate was John Horn, and we shared a little spot with a shower and restroom, so we were called suite mates. We all met the first week there. Then we all hit it off and had a great time. I only went three years, but, you know, we've all gone on to do -- John Horn's a pro in his home town, Blaine's on the TOUR. We all know what Jimmy's doing. It was a lot of fun. I think school -- we had a great coach. And it was a great school to go to, just because of the fact that it was like going to North Carolina in basketball, UCLA in basketball. Houston was a great school, a lot of great tournaments, great preparation for the PGA Tour. I think that led me on to a lot of good things.

Q. Was Nantz, was he in broadcasting then in college?

FRED COUPLES: Not the first two years, no, then he started working for radio, basketball, the Rockets. Then he was working with Coach Lewis in basketball.

Q. Getting back to the Open, do you play Opens differently than you play other tournaments? More defensively? In Augusta, there are places you can be more --

FRED COUPLES: Easy question, yeah. You play the U.S. Open differently. You know par is a great score. That doesn't mean that you can go out and shoot par. But it's a -- Pinehurst will be really different. Pinehurst will be -- it will test your -- a lot of what you consider good shots are going to trickle off the greens because of the crown, you're going to be left with some very difficult little chip and runs, or however you play it. But basically you drive in the rough, especially Bermuda grass, I'm sure you're not going to get on too many greens, especially they're going to roll off on one side or the other. It may be better to get yourself in front of the green with an easier chip, so you're always playing defensive. You know, any time you get hard greens, you're just trying to get a ball on the green. So, yeah, I mean every year it's like that. It's the same. You're not trying to go out there and be a hero and shoot 8-under for the week. First of all, it's probably not going to happen. Second of all, if it does, you'll win by six shots and play four of the best rounds in your life.

Q. Stars and Avalanche game... (Inaudible)

FRED COUPLES: I don't know, I don't know.

Q. Flip a coin, right?

FRED COUPLES: I can only get in trouble by answering that. (Laughter.)

Q. How many tournaments do you play that afterwards you say, boy, that was a fun week and have you ever said after a U.S. Open, boy, that was fun?

FRED COUPLES: First of all, U.S. Opens are all fantastic courses. You know, I went nuts, I think, after the second round last year on the 18th green because of where the pin was. Other than that, you know, some guys don't like the U.S. Open. I actually think it's a great way to set a course up, make it as hard as you can, if the weather permits, it's really a test of maneuvering your ball around the course. And if you need to get it up-and-down, you have to get it up-and-down. So many tournaments nowadays, if I go and play and I don't get it up-and-down by missing greens, I'm still able to birdie a lot more holes. So a U.S. Open basically makes you get the ball up-and-down and I think that's a huge part of the game. You know, it's not like playing the 17th at the TPC where that green was rock hard and a lot of balls were hit a little too far and they bounced over or trickled over, if you had a U.S. Open at Sawgrass and you played the 17th hole, you would see that happen a lot. We -- that I know of -- have never played a hole like that in the U.S. Open because it would probably be unplayable. So what you have is a lot of rough, a lot of small greens, the Olympic Club, Pinehurst, Winged Foot, Oakmont, Pebble Beach, they don't screw around so they pick perfect courses and it's a grind. At the end of the week, I don't think you sit there and you smile and say that was fun, but you've just played an unbelievable course. And I think that's kind of the most fun of it. I mean I look forward to next year Pebble Beach. What an opportunity to play one of the greatest courses in the world, but play it in the U.S. Open, not an AT&T where you can hit it all over and still play well. Here, you know, when you play in February and then play it in June, it's like night and day. I think the courses really bring us to our knees and they dominate the week, and a lot of the other tournaments are set up semitough, but you can still make mistakes and still play and it kind of doesn't work on your brain. You know, this idea of saying you need to be patient in a U.S. Open, there's no doubt. Once you make a bogey and you get upset and play a little aggressive, the next hole, you make another bogey and you can't just turn it on and say I'll birdie 17 and 18. It just doesn't happen.



LEE PATTERSON: We appreciate your time.

FRED COUPLES: Thank you.

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