It may not be the end of Fred Couples’ illustrious career, but with his sudden back injury and immediate withdrawal from the Boeing Classic over the weekend, might we be approaching the beginning of the end?
And could the end be within a year or two?
Those are the questions that even Couples can’t answer at this point in his career but he acknowledges that his golfing future might soon be limited.
“I see myself not playing some day. I don’t think I can keep…I really am slowing down fast, I really am,” Couples told the media gathering before the tournament.
It’s not that he can’t be competitive anymore. The former Masters champion, who turns 53 in October, can still drive it more than 300 yards. He has been in contention the past couple years at the Masters, the only tournament on the PGA Tour that he has an exemption. In his limited Champions Tour schedule, he’s also among the top five for earnings and points. He has won twice this season with six top 10s in his 10 tournaments entered.
It’s also not that he’s tired of the game. He loves to play. He loves the competition, especially when he drops down to the PGA Tour events and mixes it up with the 20-somethings.
It’s his back. For anyone who has had back issues in life, you can relate. When your back is painful, your whole body suffers. It’s hard to function. And the back is a key component in a golf swing. Couples has been dealing with back problems his entire career.
When Couples showed up Friday at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge he was pumped to play. He had no problems with his back on the range, nor during warmups, now during practice swings. Then he hit his drive and that was it. It was over. He had to have a cart take him off the course. Folks that have followed him for years say they hadn’t seen him in that much pain.
What if that would have happened while in contention at the Masters? He can’t take a chance on that. These kind of back episodes may be a more common occurrence as he ages. That will just wear him down physically and mentally.
Couples has been undergoing experimental back treatments in Germany for the past year and a half. They have helped him. But how many times does he have to fly to Europe annually to stay competitive? Just flying hurts the back. When will it get to the point when it’s not worth it?
Couples took three weeks off between his victory at the Senior British Open and the Boeing. He was rested when he came to Seattle, motivated to play well in front of his hometown fans. Then one swing and he was done.
During his time off, he traveled around Europe and really enjoyed it. He has certainly made enough money – more than $22 million – to sustain that travel bug and lifestyle so when does that become more of a natural path to follow rather than enduring the difficulties of a golf career?
“What would I do? I just had a great time in Italy and Greece, so I could do that
a couple times a year,” he said. “I mean, I will want to play golf, but you have to really play
golf to be good.”
Yet his back issues prevent excessive play. And when he’s not playing, he’s not staying sharp.
“I try and play my best every week. I really want to play well,” Couples said. “It would be nice for me to leave here and go on a boat on Lake Washington and go around and get back at 6 and eat dinner. (But) I wouldn’t be able to move (Friday). I’ve done all that. I’ve tried it.
“If I want to play here, my best bet is to go have a quick lunch, kick my feet up, watch the Mariners, take a bath, relax, don’t do anything and I’ll be okay.”
Ironically, in a tournament where a few players in their 60s led the Boeing tournament at various times, Couples is breaking down in his early 50s.
“I mean, Tom Watson, he’s 60 whatever (62). To me, he’s unbelievable,” Couples said. “He can win at any time because if he plays a little bit, he gets better quickly. But it’s very hard. He’s got a body that’s in pretty good shape. Mine is not. So for me, I just took three weeks off and I needed to get
“Part of it was because I won and I wanted to relax a little bit. But to get back to play like that will take a month and I’m not going to play much golf after this for the next month. So where do you go? Just what you asked. I’ll play once in a while and hopefully I’ll get a little bit on a roll and do well in that time. For me to play well every week, I have to work at it and work at it and work at it, and it just is killing me.”
Couples already appears to be transitioning to his next life. He is selling his home in Palm Springs and has purchased a home near Los Angeles Country Club. That’s destined to be his post-career hangout but it’s not certain when he’ll pass into that post.
“I haven’t hit that spot yet where I think I don’t play well. I think I still play well all the time and I want to play well and there will be the time I won’t physically be able to turn it around,” Couples said. “The Jay Haas and the Nick Prices, Bernhard Langer’s got an incredible body and never really had many injuries, but people hurt themselves…My body’s been really shot for a while, but I can go play, which also is lucky.”