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January 16, 1998

Fred Couples


LEE PATTERSON: All right. Maybe just a couple of thoughts about your round today and heading into the weekend.

FRED COUPLES: I played very, very well on the front, and then the last three days -- the first day, I think from the excitement, I stayed ahead of the game. And yesterday, you know, I had a very short putt to go 7-under and ended up missing it, and bogeying four of the last five holes to shoot 2-under. I went out with an idea today to just keep hitting it. You can say all you want about trying to shoot 5-under and, you know, Indian Wells you should shoot 8-under, but, today, I was here, and I really thought the way I was hitting it, I would play well -- same thing. I was 5-under on the front, and the back 9 I am just a little golf-tired. And I just scrambled a little bit. I can't keep it going just yet. So, I ended up playing a good round; could have been a little better. I keep hanging in there. But as I was just telling someone, tomorrow is obviously a big day. I am playing Indian Wells, and other people are playing courses where you can still shoot 6- or 7- or 8-under. But, if I play well tomorrow, I think I can keep myself in the tournament. If I don't, it is over. So, it is a big day, and I have a knew Lynx driver. I have plugged that in, but I am hitting it very, very well. I am excited about that and, I have been putting well. I think up until those holes yesterday, I have been right there and playing well. As you know, you need to birdie every other hole to have a shot at this thing. So, tomorrow is just another day, and I look forward to playing.

Q. If you are golf-tired, is a 90-hole tournament kind of a tough hurdle?

FRED COUPLES: Well, you know, I will play every day, no problem. It is just I haven't played in two months, nor really swung at a ball, so I am -- my back is not stiffening up. It is just tired, and it gets sloppy. I don't think it matters if it is 90 holes. If I play everyday, it is just I need to give myself, you know -- I think the way it is going, two or three or four weeks of just playing golf and then working my way. I mean, the first day, again like I say, I didn't feel too much. Yesterday, I think, when I missed the putt, then I 3-putted the next green, that took a lot of air out of my system, and I seemed to really get tired. I hit a lot of really loose shots. Today, really the whole back 9, I was mediocre. There were very few holes where I played like I did on the front. So I think it will just take time. I feel great playing. I had worked pretty hard for five days before I came here. And I felt like I was ready to play and opened up with a great round which certainly didn't hurt.

Q. Where did you work for your five days, were you here?

FRED COUPLES: I came down here Friday, and I played Saturday and Sunday and Monday and Tuesday. I hit balls in Los Angeles on, I think, Thursday and Wednesday. So, you know, I didn't putt much, and I came out on Wednesday and putted great.

Q. From a guy with back problems, talk a little bit about what life is like for you with a bad back away from the golf course?

FRED COUPLES: I didn't hear --

Q. Talk little bit about what your back -- how your back affects you away from the golf course? Do you have to be careful the way you sleep?

FRED COUPLES: Yeah, I mean, my girlfriend has a couple of kids. If they run at you and jump on you wrong, I mean, anything can happen. It is very touchy. So I seem to go back, and as soon as I get back, I will go for a walk for 40 minutes. I will come and stretch a little bit, and I feel pretty good. As far as off the course, it is very difficult to do anything. If I play basketball, you know, it hurts. If I throw a baseball, anything you like to do -- I don't ski, so, basically, it takes away everything from what I do. And, my fun is working in the yard. So it doesn't hurt to cut limbs and rake leaves and dig holes. That is what I do. But, it is a pain. I can't say it is getting better. Each year -- the last three or four years, you know, I wake up in the morning, and I walk like a 60-year-old, and then I go for a walk, and I get a little heated and you come in and take a shower. It is not some sob story. It is just the facts. It is very stiff.

Q. You do learn to live with it; do you not?

FRED COUPLES: Sure, you learn how to swing with it. You learn how to realize that. Honestly, until, you know -- later in the round, I don't try and hit the ball as hard when it is tired. I just try and make contact. The front 9, you know, I was swinging as hard as I could. When it gets tired, which is right now, you know, feels like anything can happen. If I hit it in the rough, I try and not be as aggressive as I should be. Because I realize it is just one swing. If I can't quite get it to the green, not a big deal. Here, you don't really have that problem because it is not exactly the longest course, and the rough is not high. But, you know, you eventually learn to play with it. Just like a basketball player with a bad ankle. He is not going to be as quick or as strong or jump as high. With me, there are times when I hit it as hard as I can and there are times when I don't. There are times when I play around my back. It has nothing to do with score. I don't ever come in and say, "I shot 74, my back is bothering me." My back bothers me whether I shoot 64 or 104. There are no days where I go and I run around the course and I say, you know, "My back felt great today." It is the same every day, and I am able to play. So, I think it is good. I don't know what it is going to be like two or three or four years from now, but it is getting gradually worse.

Q. Did this come up last year? You had a really good start through The Masters, and then after that, didn't have as many contending finishes. Is that when it started to flare up?

FRED COUPLES: No. Actually, last year, you know, after The Masters, couple of things happened. My father started getting ill, and then a girl I met had some concerns. So I spent a lot of time with them. I didn't play much. When I did play, it wasn't very well. And, you know, golf was secondary for six months. I didn't see a problem with that. This year, you know, I don't like using terms like some guy wins a tournament; he has got high goals. I mean, Phil Mickelson should have high goals. He is an unbelievable player. I have a lot of goals. But, if I don't win here, I am not going to be in here Sunday saying my goal is to dedicate this year to playing better. I want to play better. If I practice and play more, I will play better. If I don't, then I will play like I did last year and I don't plan on doing that.

Q. Going back to the back, can you pinpoint one incident or one sort of period of time when the injury really started --

FRED COUPLES: It was the last round of Doral - I don't know what year. It has been awhile 1993, maybe. 1993 I was on the range and warming up and it just went out. And, I was playing extremely well. And since then, nothing really has happened like that. I have had to stop for some periods of time, but that time it felt, you know, like it blew up. And, it was all just tightening up, tightening up, tightening up and it finally snapped is what doctors have told me. I really have an arthritic back. It is not something that can be fixed or operated on. It is -- it looks old, I guess. It feels old. But that is really the only time. I have hit some balls where it has hurt before and I have played practice rounds and stuff where I have stopped, but in the tournament, I seem to go on and just get around. But, you know, every time I do well, I talk about my back. When I don't, I have no one to talk to about. So I don't like -- it is -- you know, to me it is a non-concern. I have it every day. I wish it would go away. And, if it did, I would tell you. But, today I played a very good round of golf not on a real hard course. I would like to shoot low scores at Bay Hill and Doral and TPC. And here I feel comfortable and I play well. It is the first year. You are excited. But, this back issue is still there no matter where I am at. Like I say, it hurts. I can shoot 73 tomorrow at Indian Wells and it is going to feel the exact same way as it did if I shot 64.

Q. Have you lost length?

FRED COUPLES: I just lost a little bit of strength. I don't lash it out of the rough as hard. I still try and knock it on the green, but the biggest problem is sidehill lies. When I get a sidehill lie, I very rarely hit a good shot.

Q. Join the club.

FRED COUPLES: Yeah, I mean, whereas it used to be the harder the lie, the better I was. I have hit shots from -- I have been in bad spots, but now I can be on the side of a knob in the fairway and I am almost useless. I mean, it is just a flip. If my back is the same off a tee, off the fairway, off a flat, I am okay. But, when my spine goes lower, or higher, it is a problem.

Q. Obviously, a lot of money out here on the west coast this year. The purses are up. Are you still not playing in Phoenix?


Q. Was there a reason there why you didn't play?

FRED COUPLES: I am going to Thailand to play in a Johnnie Walker. It is my last -- I signed up for three years and this is my last year. Then when I come back, I believe I am going to play San Diego and L.A.. I am going to skip, I think is it AT&T and Tucson. So, that will be four of those -- I could possibly play Tucson. But, I am not going to Phoenix because I am going to Thailand.

Q. That is the only reason? Is this going to change next year?

FRED COUPLES: Is what going to change?

Q. Your schedule?

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

Q. Are the crowds a little too wild there for you?

FRED COUPLES: You can come up with any reason for any course. Phoenix, it is a great course. I have played well there before; felt like I should have won the tournament. But, yeah, there is a lot going on there that I think, you know, is a bit much, but that is not why I skip it. I have skipped it the last five years because I have played in the -- it happens to be the same time as the Johnnie Walker. So, if I hadn't, I probably would have played three out of five times. It is just -- it is hard, you know, to go there. I have heard people have five different reasons, you know, the tents I hate, the greens are always bumpy and I get off to a bad start, I don't like the people there, you know, I have no problem with any tournament. I don't ever play Kingsmill because it is hot and I went last year at a different time, I had a ball. Anyone that plays Phoenix would have to admit it is a pretty vocal crowd. It is a struggle to play. If you don't play well people are screaming and yelling at you, and you know, a lot of people think it is a good feeling. I seem to enjoy L.A. a little more when people yell at you. I love the course. The TPC at Phoenix is a good course. I have no problem with a whole lot of things at Phoenix. I just haven't gone because of the Johnnie Walker.

Q. In other words, you might go next year?

FRED COUPLES: I am sure I might go. If not next year, the next year. I mean, I don't skip tournaments when they are that -- it is one of the best fields in the west coast -- everyone does a great job. I have been ripped apart for not going there and that is one good reason why I don't go, you know, I mean --

Q. Who ripped you a part?

FRED COUPLES: I don't look at names. I just have people send me articles. And, there is a tournament chairman there that had his name on it one year, so, you know, I see him every year, I tell him I am going. That way, he doesn't ask me twice. (Audience laughter.) Is that right? So -- I mean, I am not -- I don't get mad at anybody. I just don't feel like if you don't -- I mean, I have played 15 tournaments last year. I mean, there are 45 tournaments. I didn't see 30 other tournaments asking why I don't go, you know, I mean -- I think he has, you know, I can sit here and talk about it all day. But, I wish him the best. I always say that. It is a great tournament.

Q. I think people would like you to come back.

FRED COUPLES: I would like to go. And, if all those people want to see me play next week they are going to have to fly to Thailand. (Audience laughter.) And, I don't want to go to Thailand to be honest. Nothing against that. I just don't -- once I get there I will be excited, but I am going to play more. I am looking forward to playing this year. I said that last year, it was a rough year. There was more going on than I wanted to deal with. But, you know, I was -- I learned a lot last year. It was -- I don't know the right words I always say it was fun to be around my father and to see this girl get better. I thoroughly learned a lot off the golf course and I think it will help me this year. I will still mope around when I am not playing well, but when I get done I will realize -- the easiest cliche in the world, there is other things besides golf because I did it last year. And, I really enjoyed being away from golf. But, this year, I am going to enjoy playing. And I expect to play better and I look forward to continuing to play like this.

Q. Is your girlfriend healthy now?

FRED COUPLES: She is doing great, yeah. She is actually on her way down here to watch tomorrow and Sunday. So, you know, like I say, I would love to win every tournament, but I would love to just keep playing like I know I can play. And, confidence, I always have in my game, sometimes it doesn't really matter. But, you know, getting back to this tournament tomorrow is -- Indian wells is a great course to play if you are going to try and shoot a low score and, you know, I need to do that. I think most of the good scores are on all the courses, but Indian Wells has the lowest scores. Anything else?

Q. Do you think that playing a limited schedule and not travelling a lot last year is going to help your back this year without the wear and tear?

FRED COUPLES: I don't -- I wouldn't say anything about my back. It has helped me get more fresh about playing golf. When you play too much - and I haven't had that problem for four years - but I think if you also look at the top players on the money list, I don't know if anyone has ever checked the average of how many tournaments they play in, but I am not going to name guys that don't play that much, like Nick Price and Greg Norman and Ernie Els and Tiger Woods, I mean, they play 18 to 20 times. That is half a year. But they pick the strongest tournaments and, you know, I like doing that. But, I also like the Bob Hope. I think this is a great tournament to play. I think what happens in the desert is unbelievable. That is why I play every year and I don't know how many times I have skipped here, but I play well. Getting back to, you know, back to the answer, I think the better players don't play as much as people think. I think the guys who need to play, play 30 times and they work their way up the money list as they get older, they play 28 times and 26 times. The good players play well all the time, so they don't need -- I mean, when they play, they play good. I mean, you are not going to see Greg Norman play bad two weeks in a row. It is not going to happen, or Tiger Woods, so if they do happen to play bad, they don't say oh, my God, I better play a couple of more tournaments to get my game back. My first years on Tour I remember playing -- I played 32 tournaments. I thought it was easy. There is no way I could play 32 tournaments now nor would I want to. But, I think you want to play in the strongest tournaments and therefore you think you are having a full year. I mean, that is the way I look at it.

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