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February 15, 2012

Fred Couples


LAURA HILL:¬† We'd like to welcome Fred Couples to the interview room, two‑time Northern Trust Open champ, and this is actually your 30th start here at the Northern Trust Open, so maybe just give us some opening comments about being back at this event where you've had so much success.
FRED COUPLES:  Well, it is my favorite tournament.  Everyone talks about how great a course it is, and I just always liked it from the day I got here.  30 years later, I'm much older, but I still feel like I can play here.  And last year I had a great shot at winning, actually, on Sunday.  I birdied the first three holes and then played very poorly from then on in, but still managed to have a great week, and I look forward to the same thing this week.

Q.  You're one of the few people who knows what Luke is going through, having been No.1 before you won a major.  What advice would you give to him since he finds himself in that spot?
FRED COUPLES:  Well, I wasn't No.1 for very long, but I did get to that spot.  You know, I think there's really not much advice you can give to a player of that caliber.  I think if you're another player that is a very good player, maybe like Kyle Stanley after losing at San Diego, what kind of advice can you give someone?
I think when you look at it, the whole world knows that you've got to make a 7 on the hole to win, and then they say it's the 18th hole at Torrey Pines, it's kind of shocking.  But then the very next week you come back and win.  So it says a lot about him and how good his game is.
So obviously flipping it to Luke Donald, his game doesn't need any help.¬† He's the No.1 player because he plays very consistent and wins.¬† Because he hasn't won a major I don't think throws anything off.¬† He plays well every week.¬† I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a shot at winning here.¬† I don't know how much he's played, but this is a perfect course for long hitters and short hitters.¬† But he's just a great all‑around player.¬† I love the way he plays, and if I could say anything to him, just keep playing, and the way you play you'll be No.1, and someday you'll win a major.

Q.  All things considered, how do you feel physically compared to 20 years ago, golf and outside golf, as well?
FRED COUPLES:  Well, I mean, for me golf and outside golf, outside golf I have a good time.  I enjoy my friends.  I think inside golf, I feel very good right now.  The last 18 years or whatever it's been, I've had some back issues.  But at the same time I still played golf.  I've never had a year off.  I've had months off.
You know, there are some things I wish I would have done in golf, won a few more tournaments.¬† But there's not much I can do about it, and I think when I'm fairly healthy, I play well, and when I hurt myself and don't feel good, I get away and come back.¬† And I think the hardest thing is the practice time of it because everyone wants to play well, and back in the old days, I used to pride myself on telling‑‑ I didn't know how I was going to play every week, but I knew I was going to be ready to play the best I could.¬† Now I come out and I think, a tournament like this, I still feel like I'm going to do well because I know the course so well.
But if I was to come out and play the PGA TOUR full‑time and play 16 events, I probably would have a lot of poor events.¬† It's just too tough.¬† The players are way too good.¬† But there are sporadically moments where I feel like I can still play.
And then on the Champions Tour, I've won a few times out there and won in good fashion, and that's a nice feeling.  So I've had some really good last rounds.  That's to me what that Tour is all about is winning.  If you're someone who just walked off the regular Tour like I did or Corey Pavin or Mark O'Meara, Tom Lehman, honestly you should win some tournaments out there, because if you can compete out here until your late 40s then you should be able to walk out there and compete.  But you've still got to shoot low scores.
So I feel like I'm in a great spot.  I do feel good.  I did not play Phoenix.  They gave me a spot a couple weeks ago because I've had this cold, and I just didn't think I could do all this.  I went to Dubai and played pretty well, and now I'm here.

Q.  As you get into your 40s and onward, what part of the game is likely to leave you?
FRED COUPLES:¬† You know, personally for me I hit the ball a long way still, maybe just as far in my 40s and late 40s, so I mean, what left me was probably being consistent and maybe not‑‑ I guess consistency would maybe lead to not playing as well for four days.¬† You know, I think it's a competition where you just get a little older where nine holes here or there‑‑ I've had tournaments where I've played good the last day and moved up in the top 10 when I was 47 or 48, and then I've had tournaments where like last year I was leading and then just didn't play as well.¬† But that one time had nothing to do with being 51 years old.
But when I was in my late 40s I just felt like I couldn't continue to play well when I did, if that makes any sense.¬† I just would get‑‑ not tired, but I couldn't practice enough.¬† And you watch; you're here every week.¬† These guys, it's amazing how they play, and I feel like when I was 35 or 40, I didn't play anything like they play now.¬† I thought I played really well, but the top players I think are getting better and better, and there's more of them in my opinion.

Q.¬† Do you have to go back to Germany to get a tune‑up for this Orthokine procedure, or does it hold its own over a long period of time and you don't have to worry about that?
FRED COUPLES:¬† Yeah, that's a great question.¬† You know, I feel like by listening to them, it'll go until it doesn't go anymore.¬† You know, it kind of is what it is.¬† I have not seen Vijay.¬† I actually texted him a couple times after he got back, and I'm looking‑‑ I don't know if he's playing here.¬† I'm looking forward to just seeing‑‑ because I hear he's feeling unbelievable.¬† But I hope it lasts a while.¬† We'll just see how it goes.

Q.  USGA and the R&A are taking a fresh look at the long putters, anchoring, belly putters.  Where do you come down on that discussion and debate?
FRED COUPLES:¬† You know, I think they're pretty smart.¬† Whatever they do is okay with me.¬† I mean, I use a belly putter.¬† I don't know what year I started, maybe 2003.¬† So I've used it a long time.¬† I don't even know‑‑ maybe nine holes one time I played with a buddy down at the club and he had what I thought was a great‑looking Ping putter so I used it for a while because it was like the one I used to use.
It would take a while for me, but what I would probably do is go to a‑‑ whatever the longest putter that they would say would be usable, and that's probably what I'd use, because it's hard for me to hinge or bend over.¬† That's really why I went to that putter, because it wasn't let me bend over any further.¬† So once it hit you, you couldn't tilt, and that's when I would get these little twinges.
You know, it would be‑‑ for me personally, to make a perfect decision, it would be nice to go to like some college events to see if these kids are using it because then I would think they'd have to take a close look.¬† You're 13 years old and you're using it because maybe you putt better, not because you're 45 or 44 and you have a back problem or you have the yips or you have the claw or you have cross‑hand or you split‑grip it or whatever you do.¬† There's a lot of ways to skin a cat.¬† And whatever they decide, then we'll all end up doing.
I'm not going to sit here and say I think it would be a mistake if they got rid of the belly putter or a long putter that you put your hand up on your chest or in your chin or whatever.  You know, it's kind of a decision they'll make, and I'm sure it'll be good for the game of golf, and then we'll go from there.

Q.¬† Just a two‑part question.¬† From a self‑esteem standpoint, being a great player and then being a great captain, what's the difference between the two for you?¬† And then also segueing off that, by being a great captain, does that change anything for you off the golf course schedule‑wise, looks like you've got a couple more logos on your shirt than we're used to seeing.¬† What's the difference between the two?
FRED COUPLES:¬† Well, I think‑‑ I was here a few years ago when Tim Finchem asked me if I wanted to be the Presidents Cup captain, which was in San Francisco.¬† I thought about, wow, I got to do that, and then he asked me to do it in Australia.¬† So the first time it was a little‑‑ they were both identical.¬† I felt like I dealt with the players the exact same.¬† But it's more fun than playing, to watch, and I'm not going to say to be their leader and to be their friend at the events.
In San Francisco I was playing more out here so I got to see more of them, and then this last time it was a little more a lot of having fun texting them.  I didn't call many of them.  I just felt like throwing a text out every now and then and getting to know them was easier.
But after, I mean, being the captain, even when you aren't a player, I think as soon as you win or lose, it kind of ends pretty quickly.  When you win, it drags on a little longer because everyone congratulates you and tells you what a great job you did.  But personally the best job I did was I had them all playing prior to it, and I got most of them to play in Australia the week before, and that was a big deal.
And other than that, they played really well.  They got to know Melbourne in a couple practice rounds and the caddies did a great job, and then we went on and won.
And as far as the sponsorship, it's kind of funny that you ask that.¬† I signed with Mitsubishi.¬† I've done a couple commercials, and then on this sleeve it's Anatabloc, and it's a supplement that I started taking two months ago, and I've been feeling incredibly well.¬† It deals with inflammation, and that's what I have a lot in my body, whether it's in my fingers or shoulders.¬† My back is what it is.¬† Actually Lynn Roach, my manager, found it, and you start feeling better really, really fast, and then we called the company in Virginia and said, you know‑‑ actually Lynn did all the calling, said, my guy is feeling better, I'm taking it, my girlfriend Midge is taking it who's got a couple little problems.
But personally for me, I don't even know how to explain it.  I just feel much better.  And again, when I've had my back problems, let's just zero it in here.  I'm not going to be a doctor, but I've never had pain down my legs, which a lot of people think are great, but it moves up and down my back because it bounces around, and I really believe that this stuff has helped me.  It's been a couple months, and you can go online and look at it and there are a lot of people taking it.  I don't want to call it a wonder drug, but for me personally it's been phenomenal.
And so they talked, and I believe in it so much that I put it on my sleeve.  That's how that came about.

Q.  I had a couple questions.  Would you want to be captain again, and has the TOUR asked you?
FRED COUPLES:  Well, it's coming up quickly, so to be honest, I've talked to Tim after the tournament, and I've talked to a couple other guys at the TOUR.  I think I have a very good shot of it, and I would love to do it again, sure.

Q.  Secondly, did you see Pebble on Sunday, and what did you make of Phil?
FRED COUPLES:¬† I saw a few holes.¬† I was actually in Dubai getting ready to catch a flight back here, and when I landed, I saw he ended up shooting 8‑under, which I don't know the second best score.¬† I think it was maybe 67 by Barnes, which tells you what a great round that was.¬† There have been some good rounds at Pebble, but to have the lowest round by three and win is a big deal.
You know, they all hit it best‑‑ with Phil you can just tell.¬† I did see a lot of the Hope, and I think he was disappointed.¬† I think he was a little disappointed at SanDiego, but maybe there was a couple things going on.¬† But basically I've been on TOUR a long time, he's been on TOUR a long time.¬† He's a guy you never really worry about, and he can win at any time, but he can get on a roll.
You know, at the beginning of the year, for him to win, I think that's very exciting.  It's exciting for the TOUR, and it's a great win.  And then obviously for the Northern Trust to come in with Phil as the champ, he's won twice here before, is that correct, recently?  So I would think he would be the guy to beat this week, too.

Q.  To follow on that, what were your thoughts on Tiger's final round, his 75?
FRED COUPLES:  Yeah, well, I think the complete opposite of Phil.  I think Tiger has been playing pretty well, and that was surprising.  I think if he shoots 72 to 75, there's not much of a difference.  For him, he's trying to win these events.  He hasn't won in a while.  I know he won up the road, but I think he's playing very well.  Looks like he's swinging well.  I know in Abu Dhabi I watched, and then I watched a couple late nights of this tournament.  They didn't have him on much.  He was on the other courses, but they did show him a few times, and he hit the ball very well.
He's another guy that as he keeps telling everyone he needs more reps, then he needs more reps, because it's a pretty easy game when you're winning seven or eight times in a year.  I'll be honest with you.  It didn't seem to be too difficult.  And I think now he's working, he's getting healthy, and I think he's disappointed, but I don't think he feels like he can't close a tournament because he got beat by Phil or beat himself.  But I think he's on the right track.

Q.  You characterized this as a golf course that's great for long hitters and great for short hitters, and you can't say that about a lot of places.
FRED COUPLES:¬† No, that's a‑‑

Q.  Is that the beauty of this golf course?
FRED COUPLES:¬† It is.¬† It's a unique course because there are some shots that favor long hitters.¬† The grass tends itself to be, I think, difficult.¬† If you're a guy who takes kind of big divots and you're trying to take them on this‑‑ I mean, again, I feel like it's a pretty easy course to get to know because it just sits right in front of you.¬† But not unlike a lot of courses where you say you can't miss it here or there, I mean, you're not trying to miss shots at any given time, but when you're trying to pitch the ball on these small greens out of this kikuyu rough it's a nightmare.
I think time helps, even though I haven't been here and no one else has in a year, when I get in there I have a little more feel what the ball will do.  But the rest of it, you can get a short hitter, there's a handful of long holes, but the greens are so small that the long hitters playing out of the rough, if they do get a decent lie, coming into these greens with shorter clubs is a huge advantage, whereas a shorter hitter feels like he's not at a disadvantage.
And you're correct; you hit it right on the button that over the years they play here‑‑ I remember losing to Corey Pavin, which Corey Pavin has won a lot of events, but I was outdriving him by 50 yards every hole and there was no advantage.¬† He would work the ball in there.¬† I played with Aaron Baddeley last year who hits the ball a long way, and he's a great putter, and I think that's really the best combination at any tournament.¬† But here if you have length and you putt well on these greens, you'll do fine.

Q.  Getting back to Phil briefly, he's admitted, as all athletes, that you have some lazy mental days, but he also seems to raise to the big stage, like Sunday.  How important is it late in your career to have someone pushing you to give you that motivation?
FRED COUPLES:  Are we talking Phil?

Q.  Yeah.
FRED COUPLES:¬† Well, I think Phil‑‑ I mean, Phil has won 40 times, so when you sit and look at that, that's amazing.¬† Tiger Woods does play.¬† He has for the last 15 years.¬† But if he hadn't, Phil would have been probably our best player, maybe Vijay for a long, long time.¬† But that's not how it went.
So the motivation for Phil, I think, was to beat Tiger, and he didn't do it many times, and then he finally was paired with him and beat him, and I think winning is all really Phil wants to do.  I think most of the guys that win a lot, that's the goal.  But to beat Tiger is what you have to do, and he did it that particular time.
I feel like, as you said, maybe Phil's mental part‑‑ I see Phil has not a streaky player.¬† I see Phil as a guy who can shoot 64, but then I see him at other times when he shoots 68 and a guy shoots 65 or 66 and beats him, that's very difficult, because you're still playing great golf, you just have to be one or two shots better on Sunday, and for 40 times he has been.¬† He doesn't go out on Sunday with a nine‑shot lead and shoot 74 and win by two or three.¬† He's got people all over him.
The guy is a true champ.¬† I'm older than him, but I look back and I think that he's one of the all‑time great players that I've seen play because of the way he plays.¬† It's very exciting golf, but at the same time it's great golf.
And we pick on him because maybe he's three‑putted from five feet before.¬† But when you do that, you're not scared‑‑ he's not scared at all.¬† He's not a guy to back off, and when you play that way, you're going to have those little things happen.
I don't think you can really compare him to any other players, because a lot of guys get timid when they fail, and I think he gets stronger and plays better, which I think is a great attribute for his game.

Q.¬† Getting back close to Tiger again and Australia and he fulfilled your expectations of playing well, do you see anything that's different about Tiger now as a player and perhaps as a person than pre‑2009?
FRED COUPLES:¬† You know, that's a great question.¬† I think as a player I can answer that quickly.¬† I mean, he's been hurt for a while and hasn't practiced.¬† I do know that once he was chosen to be on the team, I mean, I had friends‑‑ he's working four to six hours a day on the golf course.¬† He was telling me he was going to be ready.¬† Don't worry about me, I'll be ready.
And then when we got to Australia the week before, we had dinner‑‑ we were there six nights.¬† We had dinner four nights.¬† My caddie was working for him.¬† So there was a little bit more of an easy feeling.
But we met at the‑‑ it sounds stupid, but we were late a couple times and he hung out at the elevator a couple times instead of going to the restaurant and saying I'm going to eat and just get going.¬† Again, he's one of the guys like Phil that I love to be around, I think because they're such good players, not because I know them that well.¬† I've stayed with Phil at a few tournaments.¬† Tiger I've had dinner with a few times.¬† But when you see them on the course, I can find them or they'll find me and there's five minutes to chitter‑chatter.¬† I just respect their game.
But as far as a player, I think Tiger is working his way into becoming another top player.¬† But I can only speak from having a bad back for a long time, but he's had knee problems, and his swing, I think you can see a few of the issues, and now that he's stronger he's working on his swing, his swing looks better.¬† But I think as a person he's different, and he needed to be, and I don't know media‑wise‑‑ I look at some of this stuff, and I just kind of laugh or cringe because just a couple things that‑‑ I asked him to play one of the off‑season events.¬† He picked Cordevalle.¬† I got chastised for picking Matt because of this and that.¬† The tournament, I played an event there the month before, the Jaguar event, and I told them there might be a shot that he might play there, and they were all excited and the guys wrote me a letter saying thank you.¬† But I don't know what he does, right or wrong.¬† He just played a tournament.
But for picking him, I never had a second thought that he wasn't the right guy to pick.  Did I leave a couple guys off the team?  Of course I did.  But we went and won, and he's played well since.  I just felt like he was the right guy to be playing there, and I think it's helped him, too.

Q.  I'm curious about 20 years of champions' dinners at the Masters.  Any wonderment or amusement at what you've seen or perhaps what you've eaten?
FRED COUPLES:¬† Well, it seems like there's a handful of older guys still hanging around, but the deaths of Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead and maybe the latest, Seve‑‑ Seve spoke a little bit once in a while, but Sam Snead was the guy in that room and would always tell a joke or two.¬† It's not a stiff dinner by any means, but the food is usually phenomenal.¬† Everybody has their own little twists and turns.
But personally, it's a very fun night.¬† I have been known to skip some dinners at some events for this reason or that reason.¬† I've never missed that dinner.¬† And I think it's‑‑ I don't know how many guys are in the room.¬† I'd hate to guess.¬† I don't know if there's 25 or 30 or maybe not even that many.¬† But I usually sit next to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Ray Floyd, and what a night for me.¬† So there's a lot of stories told.
But it's usually very quiet and a nice night.¬† And again, the food, I know when Phil won, he had pints of H√§agen‑Dasz for everybody‑‑ quarts for him.¬† He would have a second.¬† That makes it so special.¬† You kind of hear what's going to come out, but then for dessert they come out with these trays of vanilla pints of H√§agen‑Dasz and you go, wow, nice move there.
But I'm trying to think of other meals that people‑‑ Jos√© the one year had Spanish food brought in that was incredible.¬† Vijay had a couple little different things from a guy he knows in Atlanta that drove down and cooked.¬† Normally it's chicken or steak and then whatever the past champion provides, and I think 90 percent of the time people eat what he is suggesting on the menu.

Q.  Who's in the room at the dinner that hasn't won the Masters?
FRED COUPLES:  It would be the chairman.

Q.  Just Billy?
FRED COUPLES:  Yeah, and then the people helping serving and all that.  Maybe a couple of them have won under a different name, I'm not really sure.  No, just Billy, and then Ben, the curator, whatever, he's the new speaker.  That's the other thing.  Byron Nelson did that from the time, which was amazing.  He would stand up and usually had about four to six kind of stats that would blow your mind on a few of the things.  That was a lot of fun to listen to, too.  He always got up and gave an unbelievable quick little speech, and now it's Crenshaw, and it's kind of the same.  Ben is very good at doing that, too.
LAURA HILL:  Freddie, thanks for your time.  Good luck this week.

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