Fred Couples still relevant at Riviera

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 12, 2014

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 05: Fred Couples hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during the second round of the Northern Trust Open at Riveria Country Club on February 5, 2010 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Fred Couples doesn't talk in circles, but that's generally the path of his conversation. He can talk about Justin Bieber and Blake Griffin one minute, switch over to the redo of the fifth green at Riviera the next minute, and then wonder why the Champions Tour gets to play Pebble Beach during the prime part of the season. The 54-year-old Couples went silent when talking about his 32nd appearance at the Northern Trust Open, where he will play the opening two rounds with Webb Simpson and Jordan Spieth, his two captain's picks for the Presidents Cup. Did he realize that Spieth was born a year after Couples won the Masters? ''No,'' he finally replied. ''Wow.'' Couples was equally amazed to learn that Spieth, who won't turn 21 until the end of July, was born two month before Tom Watson was Ryder Cup captain the first time around, in 1993 at The Belfry, where the Americans last won on European soil. The clinching putt came from Davis Love III, a Ryder Cup rookie, who turns 50 in April. Back to Spieth. ''He's 20. I'm 54. This is going to be a blast,'' Couples said. ''He's one of my favorites. He walked into that Presidents Cup and he owned the place. He loves Steve Stricker. He played great. There were very few missed shots in that slop.'' And then Couples is off on another tangent. He received a sponsor's exemption to the Northern Trust Open, which he first played in 1982, so long ago that Watson beat Johnny Miller in a playoff. Tom Weiskopf finished third. Couples tied for 13th with a group that included Gene Littler. This is one of the few appearances on the PGA Tour that Couples will make, because it's one of the few courses he still feels like he can play reasonably well. The other is Augusta National, and Couples had a chance to win both of them since turning 50. Why does he love Riviera? Results help. Couples won twice in the early 1990s. He has 14 finishes in the top 10. He said the greens are small, much like the courses he played as a kid in Seattle. But the course reminds him of Royal Melbourne. It's hard to make the connection from Seattle to Royal Melbourne, but he quickly adds, ''Basically, it's just fun to be here.'' There is a charm about Couples that makes him so popular, and he is regarded by players half his age as the coolest guy in golf. ''I hope I'm that cool when I'm 52,'' Rory McIlroy said a few years ago at the Masters. Couples was on the practice range an hour before his pro-am time, and he probably hit no more than a dozen or so balls before he teed off. He was too busy talking - pick a subject - and kibitzing with players that most guys from the 50-and-older circuit wouldn't even know. He showed defending champion John Merrick a photo on his phone of a table named in honor of Merrick, who played at UCLA. ''You're the first Los Angelone to win, Angelonian, Angelean, whatever,'' Couples said. Then it was time to go, but not before walking over to Kevin Stadler to congratulate him on the Phoenix Open win. First, he had to say something to Keegan Bradley. Couples knows everybody. Everybody knows Couples. And if they don't, they want to. Nicolas Colsaerts was walking out of the equipment truck when he walked out of his way to greet Couples. They talked like old friends. ''A funny thing,'' Couples said. ''The most disappointed I've ever been was when I played with the Belgium - what is it, Belgium Basher? Bomber? - OK, the Belgium Bomber, two years ago in Dubai. He had to quit after nine. He wasn't feeling all that good. But I got nine holes out of him. These greens are firm.'' The subject changes that quickly. He really is loving life. He already has won nine times on the Champions Tour, including a U.S. Senior Open. He has been Presidents Cup captain the last three times, all of them U.S. victories, and he still holds out hope a Ryder Cup captaincy is not out of the questions. Players love playing for him. And he's still a big fan. That's why he pays so much attention to players who weren't even born when he was No. 1 in the world. ''I begin the second half of my life and I'm actually in tune, and I really like a lot of golfers I see,'' he said. ''When I played, I didn't dislike anyone, but I didn't pay attention. When you're out there on Saturday and you're with Nick Price and Greg Norman and John Cook and Nick Faldo, you know who they are. But now I have a lot of interest to see how good these guys are.''
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