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June 1, 2011

Fred Couples


CHRIS REIMER: We want to welcome Fred Couples here to the interview room. Fred, your 20th time here, a former champion. Just talk about coming back to The Memorial and being here this week.
FRED COUPLES: Well, I had a Presidents Cup meeting last night and then tonight for some clothing and for some other things, so actually I got a spot from Jack and the crew to come play, which was very nice. I won a long time ago. It is one of my favorite tournaments, favorite courses. Just excited to be here. And then after this I go in, and I think as Jimmy said, there's maybe 20 players going to come to a meeting and say hi and try and get them ready to make the team for The Presidents Cup.
But for me, I haven't played much lately. I have a great pairing with Dustin Johnson and my old caddie is caddying for him and then Nick Watney. So it'll be a fun first couple days and hopefully I can just get it around and maybe make the cut.

Q. If I could ask a quick one on The Presidents Cup. You were on that '98 team in which the guys did a lot of Christmas shopping online. How do you get the guys ready to be wanting to play at that time of year?
FRED COUPLES: Right. Well, it's mid-November. The one year you're talking about, we got smoked. I think it was early December. You know, it's a difficult time. Jack was our captain. I'm sure he wasn't too thrilled with the way we played and the way we showed up. I don't think we were ready to play.
And so my goal is to mention a couple things to them. But I know several players are playing the week before. I know Phil is in Singapore, I believe, and Dustin and Bubba Watson are already playing in Australia, a tournament that Greg and I are going to play in.

Q. The Open?
And then there may be a few other guys. I have two picks. So I'm going to lay that on them. The two that I pick will be playing in the same tournament I'm playing in the week before The Presidents Cup. So that's five or six guys, and then I'm just leaving out the rest of the guys.
But that is a very -- it's not so much the flight. Everyone flies all over nowadays, but back then I do remember it was in December, and there's not a whole lot of golf back then in November, 10, 12 years ago.
It'll be a challenge enough to play against their top players, the international team, but we'll be fine.

Q. Does that mean Tiger is going to play the Australian Open?
FRED COUPLES: Well, if he wants to play, yeah. If I pick two people and the other guy is there, he should be there.

Q. So is it a requirement, in your mind?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I think so. I mean, it's a -- I think when I was picked by Jack a while ago, it's an honor to be chosen. Last year I picked -- two years ago I picked the U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan, and I didn't have any problem picking those two guys. It was hard to pick. There were a couple other guys involved, and I just think it's important to not feel like I'm putting any pressure on them to tell them they've got to do it.
I just think it would be the right thing to do, and I'm sure there won't be any problem in that. But they'll know in about an hour and come September when they're picked, I'm pretty sure they'll be ready to go over there and play.
I believe a tournament is in Singapore. They may be playing over there, too. But they'll be playing the week before The Presidents Cup.

Q. Obviously the team -- this may be a little different than you thought it would be from the beginning of this year. There's guys, David Toms comes to mind, that is probably a lock to make the team now after how he's been playing and winning. Have you in your own mind started thinking about guys that you weren't thinking about before, having to give them a pick?
FRED COUPLES: Well, that's a good question. I think what I look at is I haven't been playing much, so I've been watching a lot of golf. I know K.J. Choi will be on Greg's team, and I know David Toms is on it now, which is great. He was one of the guys I called. He was surprised last time, but he was on my mind, and I said, David, I'm going to go with a couple guys. He goes, Well, I didn't even think I was close. I said, Yeah, you were.
Webb Simpson is having a phenomenal year. Obviously Mark Wilson is hanging right in there. But then you've got the Strickers and the Furyks, Dustin Johnson, some guys that have been polished players, and I know Dustin Johnson never played a Presidents Cup, but they'll be fine.
So the clash of the young and the old is definitely going to be there. Bubba Watson is leading the points list. For me personally there's a long way to go. Come maybe the end of July or the PGA, that's when stuff really starts to fluctuate pretty fast and guys -- that 7th, 8th, 9th up to 12th and 13th. It's like this No. 1 lately. You're No. 1 one week and you're No. 3 the next and you're No. 2 the next. It'll be the same for The Presidents Cup points.
There's so many other players that are trying to make a push for the team. If you look at past years, 70 percent of the guys are almost on every team, the Mickelsons, the Strickers, the Furyks. Justin Leonard was on almost all those teams and he's got a long way to go. He was a guy that just made every team. So now Bubba Watson will play the Ryder Cup; he'll be on every team for the next six or eight or ten years. That's just kind of how it works.

Q. There was a story about when you became captain again that you told Tiger, Don't make me waste a pick on you. I think it was a joke at the time. Is it still?
FRED COUPLES: Well, there's one thing about Tiger, and I say this because I text him all the time -- I'll try and use it the right way -- not if he doesn't want to play. If he's not ready to play, he'll be the one to tell me, Don't waste your pick on me.
I was being smart and obviously at the time it was pretty easy to be smart. He will tell you he's struggled and now he's injured a little bit, so I don't even know how much he'll play, but he doesn't have to prove a lot to any captain, I don't think.
You know, I'm no different than anybody; if I tell you today that if he just plays fairly well I'm going to pick him, I can't imagine that's the dumbest thing anyone has ever said. And if I sit here and say, if he continues to play like he is, in my mind he will be the guy to say, No reason to take me over there. He's not a difficult guy at all.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about what you remember about Royal Melbourne from '98 and what you're going to tell your players about it, the challenges that it presents.
FRED COUPLES: Well, I'll answer the second part. What I'll tell my players, it's one of my favorite courses, but I won't get too heavily involved into telling them much about the course. I don't know how many guys have played it. But it is beautiful. It's a great spot.
And The Presidents Cup -- when we were there in '98, I was partnered with Tiger a few times, and we won one, lost one, and then I just -- we were never in the ballgame. They smoked us from the get-go. It was a pretty good shellacking. That I do remember.

Q. Shifting gears a little bit, Luke Donald is now the new world No. 1. Can you talk about his game and how his playing elevated him to that level?
FRED COUPLES: Yeah, Luke Donald is an incredible player. I like the way he plays. I was paired with him at Augusta the first two rounds. You know, he's just got -- he knows how to play golf.
There are a lot of people that are really, really good and they get to a certain spot and then they just kind of hang there. And he's the kind of guy who -- his game has gotten better over the years. I don't know how old he is. I don't know how many tournaments he's won. But he's going to win a lot more here in the near future, and the reason being is because he knows his game; he doesn't bomb the ball, he doesn't do a lot of incredible things, but he makes very few mistakes. And in golf, when you play and you don't make many bogeys, you're ahead of the game. And Luke makes very few mistakes. So he's a very strong player.
This No. 1 is so close that how long he holds No. 1 will be if someone else wins, I think. I don't really know how it works. But he will not fall off the turnip very quickly. He'll be up there a long time.

Q. Can you go over what happened with your hands?
FRED COUPLES: Well, what happened with my hands is about three weeks ago I went with my girlfriend to see her dermatologist because I had a couple moles that she didn't like looking at, and I don't have many -- I don't have a great body, but I don't have many moles. So I went in there, and the lady said, Well, these don't look that bad. I said, Great, do not take them off. And girlfriend said, No, take them off while we're here. So then she checked a few, and one she actually thought wasn't all that good, and then after that we went to the hands, and then the hands became pretty much of a lot more serious talk.
So what happened was I ended up with 13 -- I call them freeze marks, where then they bubble up and now they're looking much better, and I just have to keep a close eye on them.
I don't think it's anything horrible, but at the time she scared the hell out of me just by the way she looked at me and what she said. And then I clarified it, the results came back and there was one mole that's -- she needs to -- I don't really know. I just kind of listen. But the hands I was really worried about because there were marks everywhere. I didn't really have many marks. I mean, I don't wear sunscreen, but I just didn't have spots on my hands to figure that I needed 13 of them removed.

Q. Was it only an aesthetic thing or has it caused discomfort?
FRED COUPLES: Well, they're big blisters, so there were a lot of them on there. I couldn't put my hands in my pockets because they would break. It got kind of tight, the skin, just because they were popping up. It was just one of those things where I just took some time off and let those things heal. A couple people asked me if it was contagious and a few other things through the airport. It's pretty fun. I wish I could have put my hands in my pants so no one could have seen all this stuff. 13 blisters on your hands, you start to think people are looking at you like you've got something.

Q. What's Joey going to bring to a player?
FRED COUPLES: For Dustin? You know, well, he brought for me, for 21 years at the beginning, he's never been late one time. You know, he's been a great caddie. He's caddied with a lot of great players. Most of his buddies out here, Bones, John Wood, have been with their players a long time. I mean, if he can help Dustin at all, I think it might be -- one thing that's going to be hard is him clubbing Dustin with irons quickly. But the other part he may help him off the tee clubbing Dustin where he doesn't have to hit driver every time.
It'll be interesting tomorrow because this is a course where I think you've got to -- even though it's long, there are a lot of holes out there you want to work the ball in the fairway and just get it in the fairway, and I know Dustin likes to bomb drivers because he drives it so well.
But other than that, I think Joe -- I have a lot of respect for Joe. I think he's done a phenomenal job, and I hope he stays with him a while because I'm not taking him back. (Laughter.)

Q. Can you just talk a bit about where the international team is placed at the moment? As you mentioned K.J. just won THE PLAYERS. I guess they're expecting a pretty strong challenge.
FRED COUPLES: I am. We all know that. Even up in San Francisco and being on the teams, when you throw those guys together, I know most of the Presidents Cups have been in America, we've won most of them, but all that is kind of like -- if you're leading this tournament after three rounds and you won a few times a month ago or whatever, it's kind of irrelevant.
When we go to Australia, they're going to have a lot of South Africans, a few Australians, a few Asian players. I know there's another kid, I've never even seen him, that's in 10th. I don't even know if he's here. But they have great, great, great players that are pretty young. I think the Retief Goosens and Ernie Els, maybe Vijay, they're old guys, but the rest of them seem like they're in their 20s. I know K.J. is not.
But our team is a lot alike that way. We have the Furyks and the Strickers and then we get down to the guys in their late 20s. I think it's great for golf.
I very rarely look at players as European players or international players, I just look at how skilled they are, and when you go to a Presidents Cup, obviously you have USA versus the Internationals, but they're very good. And great guys. And it should be a great event.

Q. The first time the Open was at Congressional, it finished on a par-3 and they've obviously since changed the route on that. What's your feelings on that? Are you glad they made that change and it's finishing on a traditional par-4?
FRED COUPLES: Yeah, I think that's -- I know they talked about it and they thought it was okay and it was still a very difficult shot. To be honest with you, I can't remember the drama on the 18th. I think -- don't laugh, was it with Ernie and Colin? Was that the last time? So I know Colin bogeyed the 71st hole. I don't know if he had a birdie putt on 18 or not to tie Ernie, and I think Ernie made a nice par maybe.
But it's a little -- you know, if that 18th hole is the 72nd hole now, that's totally different. You've got to bust a drive down there and you've got to hit an unbelievable second shot, and that will probably be to the right of the flag, and then you've got a tough two-putt, whereas if you hit a par-3 and you're one ahead and you just hit a 6-iron on the green and hit a good shot it's probably over, whereas if you're playing a hole 480 or 500 now, it's everything. You've got to hit a perfect drive, perfect second shot and still two-putt to win a tournament.

Q. McDowell just played there recently and was saying he doesn't expect anybody to break par. Why do you think there's the sanctity of par every year?
FRED COUPLES: Well, one, they're very hard courses that they choose; and B, they set them up with four to six inches of rough just off the fairway and then if you really start hitting some wild shots you can put it in stuff eight inches tall. If the timing is right and it doesn't rain, I think in D.C. it can be hot and muggy, they just become extremely tough courses.
This one we're on right here, Jack sets it up just hard enough that we can enjoy it, and if he wanted to, he could play here where probably 8 or 10-under would win or maybe even less than that.
You can take any golf course and make it a U.S. Open course, especially nowadays when they make it 7,200 to 7,500 yards long. But Congressional is going to be incredible. Bethpage was incredible. I think they do a great job picking the courses. But they like to think par is a good score, and they're going to do everything they can to get it to that number. That doesn't mean that someone can't go out there and get it to 5- or 6- or 8-under, but that won't be many guys if that happens.

Q. About Dustin and Joe, I presume you've never played with them before since Joe went to work for Dustin?
FRED COUPLES: No, I have not. This has just been a couple weeks, yeah.

Q. Are you aware how the dynamic is going to be? Are you going to be watching?
FRED COUPLES: No, I'll be laughing with them, just whether this was done two weeks ago or next year sometime.
No, Joe has got a job to do and I have a friend caddying for me this week, and it'll be interesting, and I'm sure they'll help Tony out, who's my caddie.
No, this has been a long time for Joe. I've tried to get him to caddie for a couple other people, I don't know, two or three years ago, maybe even four years ago he caddied for Davis when I didn't play a lot, and now Davis certainly has his own caddie, and at that time he had his brother caddying for him a lot, so Joe got to caddie for Davis.
For me to play the Champions Tour and have a year like I did last year, Joe has got two kids and he's got a family, and it's the entertaining thought to think that Dustin Johnson can win once, which for him is probably not a great year, and Joe will make more money caddying for Dustin than he would caddying for me if I won four times on the Champions Tour.
He waited, stuck with me in my late 40s and had a good year last year. I didn't push him to go work for Dustin, but I tried to go push him to work for someone else and then Dustin's bag came open and that's a pretty tough one to not go to.

Q. We're streaming live on PGATOUR.COM on a couple holes and if I could just ask you, on No. 16, the par-3 that's been reworked, and then No. 11, just your thoughts on those two holes, how you approach them?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I'll start with No. 11. That's a very hard hole for me. It's all -- I think if I hit a good drive I can go for the green, and if I don't -- certainly hit a bad drive I can put it in the creek or in the right where then you can't get it over the creek. Not to go over too long. But it's a hole that doesn't really fit for me, so I usually just hit a 3-wood and try and get it in play and then I'll lay up with a longer club, which is a tough lay-up and then have a longer club into the green. I think that's the way a lot of guys will play it. Today it was blowing straight into the wind and you'd take a 5 in a heartbeat if it was playing that way in the tournament.
16 is absolutely beautiful. It's brand new, so the green is rock hard and I'm sure a lot of guys are going to complain about that, but that's part of life. It's beautiful. It's got the pond and the green curls around the left where the water is, and it's a hole where you have to hit a perfect -- really a perfect shot to get it on the green, and that's a good par-3.
If I had to guess, I'd say they're going to move the tees up a little bit because the green is so hard and it's the first time playing it. But coming several years from now when a guy has got a lead and he goes over there and the pin is back left over the water, he's got a 5 or 6-iron in his hand, it's going to be a very, very tough shot. But it's beautiful. Beautiful.

Q. You talked a minute ago about the blend of old and young that might be on your team. I wonder if you could speak to that and golf in general, this kind of generational shift we're going through. I'm sure you've gone through a couple of them in your career. Does it seem like there's more guys in this next wave coming through than there has been in previous shifts, if you will?
FRED COUPLES: Yeah. There's so many young players. You know, it used to be young players were in their late 20s, a good player who developed and then started to win. Now you have Manassero and McIlroy and all these guys who are barely in their 20s, and one of them isn't. He's 18 or 19 or whatever he is, with raw talent and great games. To win anywhere -- I know Manassero has won three or four times in Europe. That's incredible.
Ryo Ishikawa in Japan has won five or six or eight times over there and I don't think he's close to 20 yet. Those are guys that I consider to look at just like I would our TOUR players.
I was just sitting with Nick Watney. I think Nick Watney is a very polished player, but now I think he's above that and he's learning how to win. And then once they do that, they can start winning -- whether they win once a year, twice a year and they start to get six, seven, eight wins by the time they're 32 or 33 and then you hope a major pops in there, those are the guys that will be doing that. The Bubba Watsons who came out here and everyone kind of thought maybe he's a little bit of a freak show because he hits it so far. But he's a very, very good player and he's not a guy who's going to go up and down year to year. He's just going to become better and better.
And you get other guys out there that -- on our tour that play, not foreign, because Luke Donald is one of them. Luke Donald had chances to win majors. I remember at Chicago I think he battled with Tiger and struggled on the last day. But those are things guys do all the time, and now he's No. 1 in the world.
So it's just kind of a thing where you just keep playing and you let time go by, and when you're 24 years old you think you're a great player, and sometimes when you're 31 or 32 you're not as good as you thought you were, and then you've got other guys that come through smelling like champs and they become great players. It's just kind of one of those things.

Q. How much do you think the fact that Tiger has fallen off quite a bit has enabled more of these people to emerge?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I mean, to emerge? We were talking the other day, Phil Mickelson has never been No. 1 in the world. I think that's incredible to me. Never been No. 1 money winner in the world. These are things you were pointing out that were just shocking.
But you're going up against Tiger Woods, and even when Tiger didn't have those crazy years, Vijay was having them, and Vijay was phenomenal. Those were years where three or four guys were winning six, seven, eight times a year.
So when I look at it, when you do make these runs like Tiger did, they just don't happen very often. You know, Greg Norman was No. 1 for a long time, but he didn't do anything like Tiger Woods. And I think when I'm saying that, that's not a slight, it's just how it was.
And that's kind of how it's going to be now, where Luke Donald can win once or twice more this year and get himself four or five wins, that's incredible, he'll stay No. 1. If Westwood can win a couple more, he'll be No. 1. And Kaymer -- I don't know of any Americans -- Bubba Watson would have to just dominate to become No. 1. But that's how it is.
Tiger hasn't changed his game, but he's let somebody else become No. 1 because he's struggled or whatever the words would be, and I think that's a good thing for golf.
At Tiger's age I'm more concerned about his body than his game. His game will come back. But it's hard to come back when you've got knee problems and hip problems and Achilles problems and all that stuff.
But as far as those other guys battling out, they're world-class players, and I think those three or four guys, until we, on our tour, that's American, can get a guy doing what they're doing, the Europeans will be No. 1 here for a while.

Q. Do you think Tiger will break Jack's record?
FRED COUPLES: Of majors obviously? Do I think he will? You know, if I could answer that when he comes back to see how he feels, because I -- he's had so many knee problems that I can promise you that up until this back pain I've had or back problem, I can play and I feel like I can do well for a while, I couldn't imagine not being able to use my left knee to play golf. I think it's basically impossible to do what you used to do. And in golf that's the toughest thing.
If you're an older basketball player and you get thrown on a team that's pretty good and everyone is doing well and you win a championship, you say, Oh, my God, I just won another championship, maybe like a Robert Horry, who's a great player.
But in golf when you're No. 1 and then you start to slide and your mind keeps telling you, man, I remember a year ago I could do this and then two years ago I did that, that's the mentally -- that's the toughest thing you go through. There's no other guy who can pick you up but yourself.
For him that won't be the problem; it'll be this knee issue. I don't think he swings violent at it. I don't think he does anything different than Charl Schwartzel when they swing, I just think his knee is a little tender and he's got to get it right so he can come out and start to play every day feeling good.
There's been tournaments -- talking about me, I'll go play two really good rounds and I'll wake up Saturday and my back is killing me, I kind of slowly fall back, and that's not fun for anyone, let alone a guy who's been No. 1 for ten straight years or longer. That's not much fun.

Q. You talked about Luke Donald a couple times. This tour always seemed like it was a tour built on being long. Do you think Luke is more of an anomaly out here by the fact that he got to No. 1 by being 150-plus in the driving distance on the PGA TOUR?
FRED COUPLES: You know, that's a great question. I just watched him play at Augusta, and he is unbelievable with a 3, 4 and 5-iron. When you're not long, you've got to learn how to hit the ball, and right now, he's close to being a machine. I mean, when he played at the Match Play, he beat guys -- I mean, I think he birdied -- it seemed like he birdied every four or five holes, but that was cold and seemed like a little bit of wind and wet and long, and you wouldn't have thought he could have won there.
And when I watched him play at Augusta, he didn't have a problem hitting -- playing the 11th hole and hitting irons into 13 and 15. He just is plenty long. He's just not as long as -- he's past 150th? That's surprising to me. But he's a great putter, too, so that certainly helps.
But I don't think he'll get shorter. He's such a young player, so he'll play like this for a long, long time. And the courses now are already built to these lengths, so a lot of times guys will say, well, the game has passed them by because instead of 6,900 to 7,000 and being short, if you're one of the shortest hitters on the tour now and you're 40 years old, the game can pass you by pretty quickly because we're playing courses 7,400 and 7,500 yards long every other week, so that's a huge adjustment. Whereas Luke has been out here playing these courses since his rookie year. He's got no problem.

Q. I just want to talk a little bit about your transition to the Seniors Tour last year. Calc was here last year and he said he couldn't wait to get out there, it was going to be fun to play with all his mates again. What was your experience like?
FRED COUPLES: Well, last year was a lot of fun. I may have played a little too much because I still wanted to play a few times out here, and then I did start to play well out there. You know, this year is the total opposite. You know, I haven't felt as good, so I've stayed away from playing the Champions Tour, because it doesn't serve me any justice to go play out there and finish 25th or 30th because I can't physically hit the ball.
At Augusta it's my favorite tournament, I would crawl around there if I had to, and I got it around very well. I know how to play the course. You don't have to make seven birdies a round.
I've played well there. People say, geez, you just played -- Augusta to me is very different. I get very pumped up to play. I felt horrible and I continue to feel mediocre when I play, so that's why I'm not playing much on the Champions Tour. I really like the Champions Tour. This is just an odd year, and hopefully in the near future I'll start to feel better and hopefully play a little at the end of the year and it'll be a nice quiet year and I can come out at age 52 and start playing again on the Champions Tour again next year.
CHRIS REIMER: Just wondering from a captain's perspective what you gain out of a week like this when you are having a couple meetings and sitting down with players?
FRED COUPLES: Well, yesterday I played with Jim Furyk and Pat Perez, and we had a great time, and Matt Kuchar, so I asked them a few questions. And obviously Furyk in San Francisco was one of my main guys, one of the four with Phil and Tiger and Stricker, and so he said a few things. And so I got a lot from him yesterday.
And then today there's a meeting, and I'll go throw my face in front of the younger guys who have never played on the team or who have never been on a Presidents Cup team and just tell them I'm watching. I'm not going to be out here much, but I text them a lot and keep in touch and basically I'll get a few phone numbers, and when I leave here I probably won't see any of them for six or eight weeks maybe, and then I'll come out and play a tournament and say hi again.
Once you get to this point, the team will change some, but barring crazy things, a couple guys will push off and then a couple guys will push on, and then it just works its way, even though we're only into early June, it'll work its way into itself.
I'm not going to go in there today and tell them, play hard. They all know what they're doing and they all don't even want to be in this meeting in 20 minutes, so I don't blame them. There's nothing I am going to tell them that I haven't heard.
And I am sure they're expecting somebody to come in there and sit, have a Coca-Cola and get the heck out of there, and that's basically about what's going to happen here.

Q. How many guys are getting fitted, measured?
FRED COUPLES: Today I think a couple more guys got fitted, but maybe 30, and a lot of them got fitted at the Match Play and in LA. So we're going to go with Peter Millar -- if you want Peter Millar clothing, and the women are going to wear Polo. We've got a tuxedo one night. It's really going to be fun. I had Levi Jeans going to sponsor the whole day, and Commissioner Finchem said, sorry, we cannot play in jeans.

Q. Based on your comment about the Champions Tour, are you planning to play in the senior majors the rest of this year or are those up in the air, too?
FRED COUPLES: No, they're up in the air. I think there's one in Toledo up the road. I don't even know when it is.

Q. Last week of July.
FRED COUPLES: That's probably got an outside chance. Anything before that has got some issues.
CHRIS REIMER: Captain Couples, thanks for joining us.
FRED COUPLES: Thanks for having me.

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