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May 31, 2006

Fred Couples


JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Fred, for joining us for a few minutes in the media center at the Memorial Tournament. I know you've had some great memories here over the years. You played very well here last year. I'm sure it's fun to be back.

FRED COUPLES: It is. It's one of my favorite tournaments. I played yesterday, a double eagle, and my caddie came out to tell me some of the changes. Jack is always tinkering with the course, and I think that's great. I'm going to go out and play this afternoon in the Pro Am. I've had a lot of time off since Augusta. I played Byron Nelson, missed the cut. And I played fairly well at Colonial. I'm looking forward to getting in the swing of things. It will be interesting to see how I play. I don't really feel that great about my game right now but this is such a good course. It kind of demands some pretty good shots. Hopefully I can turn it around.

Q. You've had some of your business events this year on your courses, if you will?


Q. Riviera and Augusta. Any rhyme or reason for that?

FRED COUPLES: I'd like to say they're a handful of my favorite courses. I almost play the same schedule for 20 years. So I haven't ventured to too many other spots. I don't know, I grew up in the Northwest. This isn't like Sahalee, but it's the same kind of grass. And when it's soft, you take huge divots. It's the same feel, same greens, and I just think it's a phenomenal course. It's a course where when it's playing easy, you have to shoot really, really low, and I think Jack is kind of tired of that and now he's changing it the other way.

The last couple of years I've played some really, really good golf to shoot the scores. The one year I hung in there, I couldn't catch Ernie, and last year it was very exciting, and Bart played well and ended up winning.

Q. When is the last time you played out of a bunker with furrows?

FRED COUPLES: I heard about it. Today. I'm going to purposefully hit it in quite a few bunkers so see what's going on. I know Augusta used to have the sand that was raked and now they're raking it, but not like here, they're raking it a little rougher, where you don't walk in and clip it or nip it out of there and put some spin on it. I saw Ben Crane last night, and he said, "Hack it out of there, and when you're around the greens you won't put any spin on it at all." I'm curious to see. I've never played with furrowed bunkers.

Q. Could you talk about the last round of the Masters. Were you guys enjoying that as much as it appeared? Has Phil changed at all since he started winning these majors and?

FRED COUPLES: Has he changed in what way?

Q. Personally?

FRED COUPLES: Phil, as they say in all his commercials, he's a great guy. I used to play a lot of practice rounds with him and now he's got kids and he doesn't come out as early and play as many practice rounds and when he does, it's usually at another golf course. So I choose to play when we're playing [], so I don't play many practice rounds with him anymore. The last round at Augusta was a great pairing for me. I felt like we both played really, really well, and it was a lot of fun. And there were a lot of comments between us. Our caddies are best friends. So it was an interesting 18 holes. So it was a fun day.

Q. In what way are you a better golfer now, do you think, than you might have been in the early '90s or something?

FRED COUPLES: Well, I say that when I play / L with, when I get to come in here, it's usually because I'm playing well. So I feel like I really feel like I hit the ball better, but not as often. And I just don't play I've been off for, I think, four weeks after Augusta, and I took last week off and didn't play a round of golf. So I'm not really that worried about when I come back anymore. This week might be a week where I just try and visualize where I'm hitting the ball. And Westchester might be a better week and then the U.S. Open.

My goals are obviously to play well. It's just a lot of times I try and work on my game when I get to the tournaments. A long time I played better golf more often, but I think now I just know equipment is better, there's no doubt. And I think everyone thinks they're a little better. But I feel like I hit the ball like at Riviera and certainly Augusta is the best four days I really have ever played. I putted pretty well, but I just never made any. Some of them were I was near the lead and I didn't want to get too aggressive, because not many people were shooting 68's or 67's for sure. And I just played four really good rounds and a couple of more putts on Sunday, which is your last chance, I didn't make. If that was like a Thursday round, to shoot 71 it would not have been disappointing. But obviously when I got to 14 I knew it's all so easy, but I knew if I made that putt I would have one heck of a chance of winning. And I just put a lot more into it. It was a normal stroke for me, not a great stroke, not a bad stroke, but I didn't want to hit it easy, did I want to hit it hard, did I want to hit it right of the hole, all of those things were over the top, and that was a huge disappointment. But the golf part, I just have learned to maybe not hit as many crazy shots and, therefore, I hit better shots.

Q. It seemed like you're competing so well?

FRED COUPLES: And I think a lot of that, true, is in the short game. And even though if you're going to put 25, 5 footers throughout the week with me and Phil, there's going to be a huge, huge advantage. But in the race of the whole thing I feel like throughout the week, again, when I hit the ball solid and play well I can contend. If I have a good Sunday I usually will be right there.

In LA, up until I think I bogeyed 15 and 16, you know, I really wasn't missing too many shots. 15 it was a driver and a 2 iron. And 16 I hit a really bad iron and made bogey there.

Q. As you said, Jack likes to tinker with his golf course. The last ten years, because of the technology, he's done some serious tinkering with length of bunkers and fairway width and everything. I wondered No. 1, how well do you think that this course has done staying up with the technology and how much more either does he have room to do out there, not only room, but how much more can he do to kind of keep pace with technology, which doesn't seem to be stopping any time soon?

FRED COUPLES: Well, I think it's got a feel to it that last year it played hard and fast, which was different. In prior years you get rain and you get some wind. So the course plays you're going to get four days, and very rarely do you play them all the same. So the tinkering part is he lengthened some holes, and this obviously, I'm just hearing it from one guy, you hit it in the bunker this week, and you're going to pay a huge price. Before he's had absolutely perfect sand. You could have the toughest little bunker shot, and if you're a very good bunker player you could put some spin on it and get it to 8 to 10 feet, no matter how hard the shot.

Now it sounds like you're going to be playing away from the pin, 30, 40 feet away from the hole, on bad shots. But as far as the tournament, I think it's always been everyone's favorite stop, besides world events and all that.

But looking at it, I know he's lengthened some holes. And a lot of times that really doesn't stop the players. I remember going to Akron, the World Series, and par 70, you get guys shooting incredible scores. What really dictates it is the rough and how hard you get this course. And this would be one. Westchester next week if it's not soft, you look at the scores by the end of the week, but especially here if you get the greens firm and as fast as he gets them, everything slows down. The putts aren't as easy, getting the ball close to the hole isn't as easy. But you've got the best players, and there are going to be some of 66's and 67's shot. But he's got rough and some more length. I heard the 12th hole has been lengthened. So there, itself, makes that hole much, much harder. It used he lengthened it to hit a club you hit 15 years ago.

Like at Augusta this year, once we got there and everyone played, you hear all the horror stories. The 7th hole, and the 11th hole was unplayable. If you get 20 mile an hour winds and it rains, and no roll, now you look at a course that's incredibly long. But when you lengthen the hole, you want it to play under conditions that you think the conditions will be. So if we come out tomorrow and it rains four inches and he's got this course playing firm and a fast, then it's not what he had intended.

Q. One thing you hear golfers say in their late 40s, as they transition to the Champions Tour. They lose their length off the tee. You still seem as long as a Sabbatini or Mickelson. Do you see yourself possibly playing out here into your '50s, like Jay or Loren, would you come out here a little more?

FRED COUPLES: I would love to. I don't know where this I've always been a long hitter, we know that. But it seems like I've picked up a few yards. I've been with Bridgestone the last two years, and everyone always asks how is the ball. This isn't an add for Bridgestone, I would never use any equipment that's not the west. And I haven't used [] a Titleist ball in 18 years, I used it a couple of years ago, it's a great ball. But I'm not using a ball that I don't think is long. And it's given me 3, 4, 5 more yards.

And I was driving it with Rory and Phil and that length certainly helps. But as far as playing, I would love to play tournaments like this. I know Jay is here this week. Riviera would be another one, and even like the Bob Hope to get the season started. As I get older and start to play a little better personally would like to play on the Senior Tour if I'm playing well because it's to me it's fun to be in those positions. If I come out here and play when I'm 50, and I could be on the Senior Tour, possibly playing well and being in the last group, that's what I would rather do. I have no intentions of coming to Memorial as a mediocre player and trying to make the cut and finish 6 /# 0 this when I could be somewhere and fill in the right category. I used to say to Jay, it's about winning, it's about winning, but I still compete out here. And he's winning every other week. He's won three or four in a row. That's what I would love to do. If I can't, then the Senior Tour will just be a place for me to play. But I feel like if I stay healthy I can go out there and compete with whoever is going to be 50, 55 years old.

Q. Back to Augusta briefly, do you care who your playing partner is, how does that affect you, do you have a reference preference for the kind of playing partner you get?

FRED COUPLES: We'll be perfectly blunt, here. It would be much easier for me to play with Phil and Tiger, but I would love to play with Tiger, because I'd know I was in great position in the tournament.

But Phil has as many fans at Augusta we all do. When you're playing, you get people walking, but seems like there's 10 thousand people lined up at every hole. But when you're playing out there, I know Tiger very well, and I could say some things to Tiger and Phil that I might not say to Rory /SAB I teeny or even someone like Vijay. Although it's all fun. I have no problem I think I made a comment somewhere that I'm going to tell the guy, "Nice shot," even if I hate them. What I was going to get across is not that I dislike anyone, it's just sometimes when you're playing with guys, you're in the heat of the battle and some people don't want to say,"Good shot." Or "Nice putt." Or whatever. I have no problem with that. I couldn't care less if a guy talks to me or not. I have Joe to beat up or talk about stuff. But with Phil there was a lot going on, more with any other tournament and it didn't make it easier. Matter of fact, when I walked off the 14th green, there was not a whole lot said for a hole and a half. But you get over it. He would have rather seen me make the putt, I'm sure because then he would have had a lot of work to win. But it's not like I was the only guy out there. But at that time I think that put him with a couple, two or three shot lead.

I'd love to play with Jay Haas every time in the last group, he's one of my best friends, or Davis Love. But it's certainly fun to play with anybody. When you're in the last group at Augusta, you can put me with I don't know somebody.

Q. When you first started having serious back trouble, which was about '94 or so, could you have envisioned being able to contend at Augusta and Riviera at age 46 and doing the things you're doing now?

FRED COUPLES: You know, I just played in a thing yesterday and I really I played with a guy and we were playing they could use my shot. And this is a quick story, I put him in some thick rough, and he slashed it out and hurt his wrist. We went up to the green, and he couldn't really play. In my mind I thought, "I've got a bad back," I still know I've learned how to play with it. As I just saw Tom /PHAORS last night and this morning, and he said, "Geez, you're horrible." But then this morning I saw him and I bounced back pretty quickly, so I'm blessed in that part. But there are guys with bad wrists or elbows or knees. I've had a back. It's the only problem I've ever really had. I can play around it. Did I ever think yeah, I've always thought I wasn't real thrilled in '94 because I rested for three months and went out and played one event and my back went out again. And since that time I've met Tom and I've walked off the course at the TPC and flew him in and I won four days later. So those things they're minor miracles, but they do happen.

So my game is good when I feel good, but it's good when I don't feel good, too. But I just don't play well enough. And the late '80s and early '90s, I didn't really have any of these second thoughts. So now when I hurt myself I seem to take more time off, which, I think, is better. But not really for a golf game when you come back. But I'm able to go getting back to it, you hurt your wrist, there's no way to play. If I hurt my back in the third round or second round, I can slap it around and get it around and maybe the next day wake up and feel okay. Whereas John Daly at Memphis, these guys withdraw. If Daly continues to have a back problem, you just get used to it, it's not much fun.

Q. As you look back over those last 12 years, are you pleased or at all surprised that you're still extremely competitive at this age and stage?

FRED COUPLES: No, I wish I would have pushed myself more. But that's not my mentality. My mentality is to play and have fun doing it. I'm not someone that could say, "Geez, I wish I would have won 30 times instead of 15." But I wish I would have played well more often, especially the last five or six years. But you have to go out and really practice. And the last couple of years I've practiced more, and I seem to play more often and a little bit better. And a little bit goes a long way.

When you start finishing 18th or 20th instead of 60th, you feel like you're competing. I went through stretches a couple of years ago, where every week the best I could do would be 40th. When you're out there on Sunday playing at 9:00 and when you finish and you're walking across the green and the guys haven't even teed off, it's a horrific feeling. It doesn't mean my game is great, it's just more fun. The closer you get to the leaders the more fun it is, no matter who you are.

Q. Can you imagine playing and being deaf, playing the game of golf?

FRED COUPLES: I think that would be the only way I can compare that to is playing in Scotland and it's so cold and ski caps, and every time I hit a shot I lifted it over my ears, because you have to hear the sound. So I think that would be a real struggle if that would have happened, wake up tomorrow and couldn't hear the click of the ball.

Q. Can you talk about the influence your father had on getting you into the game and developing you as a golfer?

FRED COUPLES: My father was a baseball player and my brother was a baseball player and they wanted me to be a baseball player. The influence he had was after I started. And then we played a little bit of golf together and he actually started playing I think when he was 36 or 38 years old. And I believe I was nine or ten. A friend of my brother's is the one who started me playing. But my dad actually played every Saturday and Sunday and then every now and then I would play with him.

Q. Have we reached a stage with what Phil has done the last couple of years that he is the favorite at the U.S. Open or is it still Tiger?

FRED COUPLES: Like the favorite, like odds on to win? I think it would be Phil this particular time, since Tiger hasn't played in ten weeks or however many weeks. If his father hadn't passed away and he was playing and playing here, I think Tiger would, odds wise, be ahead of Phil.

When you're that good I think that's all irrelevant. I think a long time ago I went to Augusta as a favorite, but if you're a favorite every week your whole life, you just take it for granted. I think if they had Phil favored over Tiger, he would see that, but I don't think he would care and neither would Phil.

JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Fred, for joining us.

End of FastScripts.

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