Fred Couples: Aches, Pains and Victories

PEABODY, MA - JUNE 30: Fred Couples hits his tee shot on the fourth hole during the second round of the 2017 U.S. Senior Open Championship at Salem Country Club on June 30, 2017 in Peabody, Massachusetts. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
PEABODY, MA - JUNE 30: Fred Couples hits his tee shot on the fourth hole during the second round of the 2017 U.S. Senior Open Championship at Salem Country Club on June 30, 2017 in Peabody, Massachusetts. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images) /

Fred Couples has all the predictable aches and pains of 57 but he’s not ready for retirement. Not yet, anyway.

If you’re over a certain age, you get up in the morning and something maybe hurts.  Next day, that’s gone, but something else is bothering you. After 40, it’s patch, patch, patch.

Guess what, Fred Couples has the same thing.  So, in addition to his long-standing back problems, it’s the aches and pains at his age, 57, that are causing him to say he can see the end of his career, even if it’s not today.

Couples said prior to the U.S. Senior Open, one problem is that his body gets really tight, which you would never guess by looking at his swing.

“I’m able to still swing because of my shoulders and maybe my hips getting through the ball,” he explained, adding that he has always been limber, which helps. In his case, tightening up probably helps shorten a swing that in the earlier days of his career sometimes got too loose.

However, while he has a long-standing back problem, it’s been more than that recently.  After playing at The Masters and at the Insperity Invitational in Houston, he was sore.  A check with one of his back experts revealed that he had two “popped” ribs.

"It took me a while to feel where I could breathe and swing. Then, to be honest with you, I practiced a little bit before I went to Wisconsin, and I was planning on coming here and using that as a good week. Then as I kept practicing, I just felt better and better each day."

So good that he won the American Family Insurance Championship.

That makes his season of – so far – seven tournaments and two victories even more remarkable.

Couples explained:

"What helps me a little bit is I can play well on Champions Tour courses because I still hit the ball a long way, and I can birdie a lot of holes, and that helps me. On the regularTour, you start playing rounds where you don’t birdie any holes, you’re going to finish 70th every time."

The courses on the PGA TOUR Champions circuit are shorter and set up is easier than the PGA TOUR.

"For a long time on the regular Tour, I was a good player. When I got in my mid-40s, I could play, but I couldn’t sustain — I couldn’t go play three out of four tournaments. So, then you go home and you get rusty, and then you come back, and you’re playing much harder courses."

It’s an evil sequence, making it hard to get any momentum.

“You can’t just be a little bit sore and go play Colonial and shoot 68 or 69,” he added.

"It’s a given that we’re not playing PGA Tour type golf courses. So, as I got to be late 40s, I couldn’t really, really compete, but I thought there were times I could."

He cited his friend Davis Love III’s over-50 victory.

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After winning two times in 1998 and having a chance to win The Masters that year, Couples’ results tailed off. His last PGA TOUR victory was the 2003 Shell Houston Open at age 44, and he was so thrilled, he was in tears.

Because of his victory at the 1996 Players, he was exempt for 10 years. He quipped after that win, “I wasn’t really planning on playing ’til I was 46, but at least now I will be exempt if I am.”

In 2006, he finished third at the Masters and fourth at the Nissan LA Open (now the Genesis Open).  He entered 15 events, the required number.  But he didn’t stop playing on the PGA TOUR. He was 47. In 2007, his back acted up so much that he almost didn’t play. In 2008, he entered 18 events. In 2009, 16 tournaments.

In 2010, he joined the PGA TOUR Champions circuit, but kept his hand in a few regular Tour events.  To this day, he usually plays the Genesis Open and The Masters because they are two of his favorite courses and because, for Couples, it’s about the fun.

"I think I was 21 under par in Hawaii my first Champions Tour event, and I thought, wow. And I just kept playing, and I believe I won three in a row. Just my scores were better, and the courses were just maybe a little easier."

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He called the PGA TOUR Champions circuit a boost for him at that stage in his life.

"It was a place for me to play and feel like I could really compete. And that’s my goal. As long as I can keep competing, I’ll play out here no matter what kind of injuries I have."

For his back, he has worked with physical therapist Tom Boers for decades.

He went to Germany where he had Orthokine therapy for his back pain, and that seemed to help for a while.

"I’ve gone three times, and I wouldn’t say it’s anything daring. It just really felt good when I was 50, 51. And the last time I went, probably didn’t get as much out of it as I did the first two times."

He’s tried acupuncture, but not on a regular basis.

Travel is also not much fun for him anymore, even though he’s in a private jet.

"I enjoy the tournaments. Like last week, I played with Stricker two times. It was in his hometown. We had thousands of people following us. It was a lot of fun."

For Couples, enjoying what he’s doing is important, especially if he has to go through pain to do it, and these days he’s playing hurt.

“If I feel good, I feel like I can be in contention,” he said after the second round at the U.S. Senior Open.

"If I have a good round like I did on Sunday and win, yeah, it’s a great feeling. But it doesn’t make my — like right now, after shooting 65, I feel like I’m going to break in half standing here, but it’s like that every day. Then I’ll go rest, and I won’t do anything, and then by 9:00, I’ll feel better, and by tomorrow morning I’ll feel good."

Anyone who watched the first round of the Senior Open will tell you that Couples can still bomb the ball.  He can still make miraculous flop shots.  He still has a great lag putting touch.  In that first round at least, he was able to keep the ball out of the deep stuff. He still makes the game look easy, even though these days, for him, it’s pretty hard.

"I’ve been 37 years on the PGA TOUR and Champions Tour. There’s going to come a time where I’m going to be done with it. And it’s not quite there yet, but it’s getting very close."

Next: 20 golf rules that aren't in the book

Couples said he’s retiring when he’s 60 and that he won’t be in a television booth. That’s two-and-a-half years from now, so if you’ve never had the chance to see Couples play, this is your early warning. His health willing, there’s another 30 months for you to see him bomb a few.