SAN FRANCISCO – Fred Couples likes it fast, and when it is, trying to keep up with him is no easy task.
On a fast track and perfect conditions, Couples is leading the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at TPC Harding Park. That’s significant enough on its own but there is more.
Ten minutes after walking off the course Friday following a second straight 6-under 65, Couples wondered about the time. His tee time for the second round was 12:10 p.m., and he was comfortably done with it in less than four hours.
“We're flying around,” Couples said. “I wish we could do this … I think we're flying. Maybe we're still playing slow, I don't know, but it seems like we're running.”
Couples expects more of the same Saturday when he’ll be playing with Peter Senior, who also moves briskly around a golf course. Senior did a fine job of keeping up with Couples Friday. When it appeared Couples might take off and leave everybody behind, Senior dug in and added a solid 69 to his opening 63. Senior is 2 strokes behind and he knows keeping up will be a challenge.
“I don’t expect anything less of Freddy,” Senior said. “We enjoy playing together. I think Freddy enjoys it more because he gets me by about 70 yards off the tee but he’s a great guy and we get on pretty well. That’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed is playing with the really good players. You still learn a lot. Even though we’re late in our careers, you still learn things around the course so I’m really looking forward to playing with him.”
Couples is winless this year on the Champions Tour. When he has played, he has played very well with four runner-up finishes in 14 starts. Two of those came in major championships on the Champions Tour.
“It’s my last chance (to win),” Couples said. “It’s a big event. The top 30 players, all the best players on the Champions Tour, and I want to win. There’s no doubt.”
Therein lies the rub. To win more, Couples believes he must play more and, of course, practice more. That’s not been easy to do with his physical problems. Most recently, he’s got a sore neck that he refuses to make excuses about and didn’t need any Friday. He found some time for practice before the AT&T Championship last week in San Antonio.
“Then I went there and I made an 8 on the first hole from 65 yards from the middle of the fairway,” said Couples, identifying it as a “brain freeze.”
“It kind of threw the whole week off. I just kept playing and working on my swing and I'm doing well here, but I need to practice, I really do. I might be kidding myself but I'm going to try and play more because if I'm going to do this, I know I can win out here, I've done it the first couple years. If you're playing well, you need to win. I'm not saying it's easy, but you asked the question and my goal is to win here. If I don't, I pretty much will be ready for next year.”
That’s the good news for the Champions Tour and for all of Couples’ fans. One month after his 54th birthday, he’s planning on playing more golf.
“I'll be honest, I'm never disappointed playing out here,” he said “I've been doing it for 33 years and it's important. When I play it's important to play well, but it's really not important for me to hit balls when I'm home. And there's a lot of guys that don't.
“Twenty years ago I could take a month off and not touch a club and the second week after playing be ready to really, really compete. Now, if I take a month off, it's like all of a sudden I never played before. So then I have to practice a little bit. That's not my idea of fun on the Champions Tour to finish 25th. When that happens, then I'll figure out what to do.”
Couples knows he can still move it with the best of them and the adrenalin still rushes when it’s time to compete. And put him on a course like TPC Harding Park, like the one he grew up on in Seattle, and everything is perfect.
“This is one of my all-time favorite courses so that helps, too,” he said. “But as far as length, I've been long my whole life and it's really how I play.”
And then Couples told a story about another way he plays golf – sans glove. That makes him as unique as his swing makes him. Only once in his life has he ever worn a golf glove.
“Someone will have a picture of me wearing a glove in the long drive contest at Southern Hills in Tulsa the year Ray Floyd won, 1982,” Couples said. “It's a great story, I'll tell it real quick. Back then if you were in the Top 5 on the PGA TOUR in driving, you were automatically in the long drive contest. Back then it was Big Cat Williams, remember him?"
The temperature was typical of Tulsa in midsummer. Couples, then 22, made it to the finals.
“It's 400 degrees and you hit a couple, then you wait,” he said. “I'm sweating so bad I couldn't hold onto the club. So I borrowed a glove and I’ve actually seen the picture of me hitting a golf ball with a glove on, it will be the only one ever.
“Personally, I don't know how people play golf with a glove. And if I did wear a glove, it would be the loosest glove. When they put them on and they're on skintight, I don't know how you hold onto the club. I usually put Super Glue on my thumb every day to keep it from getting little razor cuts.”
So there’s the trick to bombing the ball off the tee, Fred Couples-style. Take off the golf glove and use a little Super Glue instead.