Liberty Mutual alliances based more on friendships than science

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Presidents Cup captain and co-captain Fred Couples and Jay Haas are in their third year together at Liberty Mutual.
April 24, 2013

By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

It’s not exactly a science. It’s more about friendships, common sense and perhaps even just a bit of whimsy.

David Frost, tongue planted firmly in cheek, said last week he was waiting a bit longer before making a decision on his partner for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf. Frost wanted to be sure his partner-in-waiting had his game in shape.

No problem there. Frost’s partner is in good form.

Truth is, Frost wasn’t about to make a change anyway. He and Michael Allen are defending champions this week at The Club at Savannah Harbor. Plus, they’re both on top of their games and will again make a formidable duo.

Many of the pairings in the unique two-man format are based on friendships forged years ago. Other partnerships have been fashioned more recently.

Some pairings occur naturally. Sandy Lyle (1988) and Ian Woosnam (1991) are former Masters champions and two of the golfers who led Europe’s charge into prominence during that era. Peter Jacobsen and D.A. Weibring have added careers as prominent course architects to their playing resumes.

Fred Couples and Jay Haas have been close friends for a long time. Couples, the Presidents Cup captain, has always had Haas at his side as an assistant captain. They’ll be in charge again this year – for the third time - when the United States takes on the International contingent at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.

Kenny Perry and Russ Cochran are another natural combination, this one identified by geographic borders. They’re the boys from Kentucky.

Perry is a native of Elizabethtown who lives in Franklin. Cochran is from Paducah. Both have something else in common – they’re on the mend. Cochran was forced to withdraw from the Greater Gwinnett Championship last week with a wrist injury. Perry returned to the Champions Tour last week after undergoing surgery on his left knee.

The Frost-Allen partnership began last year. Allen got off to a fast start in 2012. He won in Tampa Bay the week before the Legends of Golf. Frost’s best golf was still to come and he added a second victory at the AT&T Championship.

“We had been talking about it,” Allen said. “I had played with Corey (Pavin) the year before. He was going to play with someone really good so … ”

Again, tongue-in-cheek.

This year, Pavin will play with John Cook, whose regular partner, Joey Sindelar, is sidelined by injury. Cook and Sindelar finished second twice, in 2010 and 2012.

Frost and Allen already have a victory each this year - Frost at the Toshiba Classic and Allen at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic.

“This year, (Frost) got off to a good start – he’s playing great,” Allen said. “I was off to a terrible start … We joke around. I think we’re joking around.”

The Legends of Golf still know how to have fun.

David Eger and Mark McNulty won the Legends of Golf title in 2011 when both were coming off injury concerns. Eger was recovering from a broken ankle. McNulty was returning after knee replacement surgery.

“We’ve enjoyed relative success,” Eger said. “More importantly, we’ve had good fun.

“We had played so many practice rounds that when it came to choosing a partner, I immediately thought of Mark.”

McNulty is straight and steady. Eger is longer and, given McNulty’s consistency, is freed up.

“Mark plays first off every tee – he’s in play 98 percent of the time,” Eger said. “I don’t have any pressure. And Mark is a wonderful putter – one of the best putters in the world.”

Give Eger high grades for choosing a partner with a magic wand.

Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman won the Legends of Golf title in 2009. They are good friends, on and off the course.

“You just want to be with somebody you enjoy,” Langer said. “I don’t want to be out for five hours with someone I don’t like.”

Langer approached his future partner even before Lehman arrived on the Champions Tour. Langer is known for his preparations and it was demonstrated again with his recruitment of Lehman.

“Bernhard talked to me at Hilton Head the year before I turned 50 and asked if I’d like to play with him,” Lehman said. “I said, ‘Bernhard, that’s a year away. But, yes, I’d love to play with you.’ Bernhard is a strategic thinker. He thinks ahead.”

Mediate is a Champions Tour rookie who is off to a blazing start.

“I’m playing with some dude named Elkington,” Mediate said. “I’ve known Steve for a hundred years.”

It is another natural connection. Mediate and Elkington are joining together as leading rookies.

“Everybody says we might be the favorite,” Elkington said. “But we’re just a couple of rookies.
“It’s fair to say we have a good chance. (Rocco) came out of the gate hot, won the first event.

Maybe I can cruise a little bit. Rocco likes to talk a lot, he talks when he’s hitting half the time. When you look at him on the range you think he’s one of the amateurs. But he has a tremendous gift of knowing how to play the game and the course.”