Fred Couples’ return to the Pacific Northwest for last year’s Boeing Classic was brief. After hitting his opening drive of the tournament on Friday, Couples’ career-long back problems suddenly resurfaced and swiftly forced one of Seattle’s most popular sports figures out of the event. Since the injury last year, Couples has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and he’s also finished second four times on the 2013 Champions Tour. He’d like nothing better than to end a victory-drought that has now stretched to more than a year with a win in his hometown. Champions Tour Media Official Phil Stambaugh caught up with Couples recently and talked with him about his quick exit from the 2012 Boeing tournament and his hopes for making amends at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge this year.
Q. Last year in Seattle, you had to withdraw from the Boeing Classic after the opening tee shot due to a back issue. Are you looking forward maybe with a little extra incentive to going back to the Boeing this year after what happened last year?
FRED COUPLES: I'm looking forward to playing well up in Seattle, but the answer is that it doesn't embarrass me, it just was a very weird situation where I went up there, I played the pro‑am on Wednesday and Thursday and I wasn't feeling great but I was never expecting that to happen, to hit one shot. So my expectations are high. I like the course, I play pretty good there. I think after three weeks off, I should be ready to go. It’s my hometown and I want to play well this year.
Q. You were in severe pain after having to withdraw. How long did you have to stay in Seattle before you were able to travel back home?
FRED COUPLES: When I left the course, I went with my friend John Bracken to his house and I didn't get out of bed until the following Friday, so that would be one full week. During that week at his house, I was able to get up and move around, but after 30 steps, just the pain made it not worth it to try to do anything else. I’ve had similar things like this happen with my back so I know a little bit on what I needed to do and how long it takes. I think I flew back home on that Friday and then I obviously started missing a lot of tournaments and I think I was gone for a couple months.
Q. You've probably had a lot of scares with your back over the years. Was that one of the worst experiences you've had and did you ever doubt that you would be able to come back in this particular instance?
FRED COUPLES: Well, it's happened like that probably five times and I pretty much know when all of them were. The very first one was at Doral and then it happened in Tampa, then it happened actually overseas, which was really no bargain, and then this time here. I think what normally happens is it feels like a bomb goes off. I just bent down to pick up my tee and when I straightened out, it's just so fast and then my body locks up. Walking down that hill to my golf ball was probably the dumbest thing that I ever did. Once I got down the hill and went to my tee shot, I just couldn't move. It's a different feeling but it's the same when it goes bad every time. There have been other times when I've played when my back has a spasm and I kind of know what to do to relax it and get through a round. But on that first hole last year at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge, there's no way I could have finished. It was a full blow out. It's worrisome, but at the same time, after a couple days it felt like it was getting better and it continued to gradually get better. It just takes such a long time to recover. It’s part of the deal and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Q. You’ve had a solid year this year but haven't won. Are you looking forward to the final third of the season and the Presidents Cup?
FRED COUPLES: I am, I'm looking forward to it very much. Everyone wants to win and I'm no different. I’ve been close several times this year. Second place is good, but not all the time and I'm kind of looking forward to getting back. I've got a few more chances to play and win. The Presidents Cup will be a special week for all of us. But I do want to win. My goal is if I feel like I can win and when that happens, perhaps I can win a second event. However, you've got to get the first one in there and I'm hoping that will happen soon.
Q. You came close at the 2010 U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee. How nice would it be to get a win in Seattle?
FRED COUPLES: I’m not sure there’s anymore pressure on me to win in my hometown. Sahalee was a tough golf course for that U.S. Senior Open and I played good for 71 of the 72 holes. There's a lot of pressure anywhere. In my mind, I'm from Seattle and I want to win in Seattle. I feel like the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge course is a really good course. I just have a few holes where I can’t seem to make birdie on. I just need more birdies in my round and on a couple of these holes, I just can't get it done. On the 17th hole, I very rarely par the hole and it ruins a lot of decent rounds. So when I get up there, I've got to pay more attention on how to play the par-3 17th and get it on the green, two-putt, and get the hell out of there. It's just a hard hole for me.
Q. What's your strategy at Bear’s Canyon, the driveable par-4 14th?
FRED COUPLES: I think the best way of playing it is the same every single time. I had seen it several times on TV before I turned 50 and I think the very first time I played it in the Boeing Classic, I hit a shot with a 3‑wood right onto the green. That was really like a comforting feeling. If I would have started by hitting a lousy shot, then I think every time I played that hole I would feel uncomfortable on it until I hit a good shot but I did that straight away in my first competitive round on the course. I think No. 14 is a great hole.
I've played with some long hitters that lay up and some short hitters that have to lay up, but I just feel like it's a perfect 3‑wood tee shot for me. I don't have to swing really hard. I just have to hit a good, solid 3‑wood shot. It's a very exciting hole and challenging because even if you hit a decent shot and get it in the wrong spot, it's almost impossible to make a birdie. And when your ball's in the air for 12 seconds, it still looks good, but if it kicks down and goes in that right bunker, the odds of getting it up and down are slim. Sometimes when you go over the green and the pin's in the back, that's not good either.
FRED COUPLES: I’ve played that hole now six times in competition and I've gone for the green every round. So far, so good. I think it's a great hole and it just gets better as the week goes. When you're playing Friday, you can freewheel it. If you have a great round going, you can make another birdie there, and if you're even par or 1 over and you hit a good tee shot there, you can make birdie to kind of turn your round around and then maybe you can pick up a birdie or two on those par 5s coming in. But at the same time, if you make a blunder on the drive at No. 14, then you've got to stand on that tee again and you can make a 6 or 7 pretty quickly. So it's in your mind, but I do like the hole.