By Ward Clayton, special to PGATOUR.COM
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Of all the moments Fred Couples remembered on the afternoon of his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, perhaps the most obscure one was his most important.
After losing in the 1980 U.S. Amateur to eventual champion Hal Sutton at the Country Club of North Carolina, Couples flew out of Charlotte, N.C., to Los Angeles to stay with friends of his parents before going back to the University of Houston for his senior season. Boredom set in and Couples ambled down the street to either hit balls or play a casual round at El Dorado Park in Long Beach. Informed that a mini-tour professional tournament, the Queen Mary Open, was going on and amateurs weren’t allowed to participate, Couples turned professional on the spot and teed it up the next morning.
“I didn’t have a manager, agent, lawyer, chef, masseuse, trainer or a cell phone or anyone to call,” Couples said on Monday afternoon at the St. Johns County Convention Center. “At the time, it was one of the dumbest decisions I ever made that turned out to be a great decision.”
Couples, now 53, finished tied for eighth at the Queen Mary and won $1,800 after borrowing $200 to enter the tournament and was a PGA TOUR rookie in 1981 at age 21. His career has included the 1992 Masters Tournament win and the 1984 and 1996 PLAYERS Championships among 15 career PGA TOUR titles. Last year, he won the Senior British Open and contended earlier this year at the Masters. He will lead the United States team for a third time as captain at this fall’s Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.
Couples was inducted Monday evening into the World Golf Hall of Fame along with 1964 U.S. Open champion and former CBS broadcaster Ken Venturi, Scotland’s eight-time European Tour Order of Merit leader Colin Montgomerie, former European Tour Executive Director Ken Schofield and two-time British Open champion Willie Park Jr. That brings the Hall of Fame membership to 146. The inductees’ exhibits will be available for viewing on Tuesday.
“Thanks for taking a kid from Seattle and putting him in the Hall of Fame,” Couples said to conclude his induction speech Monday night as tears flowed. “This is the coolest night of my life.”
Venturi, who turns 82 on May 15, was unable to attend after he recently developed a series of infections in his back that required surgery and prevented him from traveling from Palm Springs, Calif., where he is hospitalized, for the ceremony. The Hall originally planned for Venturi’s longtime television partner at CBS, Jim Nantz, to accept the honor on his behalf. Also making the introductory speech for former Houston roommate Couples, Nantz asked Matt and Tim Venturi, Ken’s sons, to stand in for their father. Matt said there was “a twinkle in Dad’s eye” when the Hall honor was announced. Venturi has an invitation to return next year and offer his acceptance speech.
“I believe that we’ll see Kenny up here next year and I can’t wait to be here to hear him speak,” Nantz said. “He has come back through so many things and I believe he will come through this.”
Montgomerie’s induction precedes his expected first-time pro golf venture to the United States when he turns age 50 on June 23. He stayed in Europe in order to remain close to his family and won seven consecutive Orders of Merit from 1993-99. Those accomplishments and guiding Europe to the 2010 Ryder Cup title were paramount during his career.
“I was very happy and comfortable at home, and my wife and children were now in school,” Montgomerie said. “I felt there was no need at that stage to come over here. I was No.1 in Europe. … If it's not busted, you don't fix it, and that was why I really didn't come over here.”
Montgomerie is eligible to join the Champions Tour for the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship on June 27. His only long-time stay in the United States occurred from 1984-87 when he attended Houston Baptist University and earned a degree in Business Management and Law. He and Couples share the same instructor, Houston-based Paul Marchand.
“I have crossed paths with Fred many times, in major championships, in Ryder Cups, quite a bit,” Montgomerie said. “Freddie Couples hasn’t been taught to play golf, he was playing golf falling out of the cradle. … Every woman wants to be with Fred and every man wants to be Fred. He’s got both sexes covered, you could say.”
Schofield, 67, a Perthshire, Scotland native, guided the European Tour to prominence from 1975 to 2004 as players such as Montgomerie, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer led the charge in Ryder Cups and major championships. He was selected via the Lifetime Achievement category.
Park, selected via the Veterans Category, was also a native Scot who passed away in 1925 at age 61. He won the 1887 and 1889 British Opens, designed more than 200 courses in Europe, the U.S. and Canada and wrote extensively about the game. His father, Willie Park Sr., was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.