GOLF / THOMAS BONK : Lure of the Green Brings Couples Back Out

It’s that time of year again, when the numbers that Fred Couples watches advise him not about yardage to the front of the green, but about the status of his bank account.

Only a year ago, whenever Couples walked onto a golf course, he felt as if he was strolling through a bank lobby.

November and December are valuable months to pro golfers, even though the PGA Tour schedule has been completed. The pros can now concentrate on a series of high-paying, low-pressure special events. The cash prizes don’t count on the official money list, but they sure look nice everyplace else.

Last November, Couples earned $750,000 playing the so-called special events, which is the unofficial 30-day record for the official off-season.


In fact, Freddie had such a good time, he’s going to try it again.

“Sure, why not?” Couples said. “I think it would be a little shocking, though. Last year, I was playing good. This time, I haven’t even really thought about playing golf in weeks.”

Couples took a month off after the Ryder Cup, then found his clubs again and signed up to try to make a few hundred thou.

This weekend, he is in Kapalua, Hawaii, for a $1-million tournament. Then he flies to China for the $1.5-million World Cup of Golf, comes to Sherwood Country Club for the $1.1-million Franklin Funds Shark Shootout, then goes to Bighorn in Palm Desert for the $540,000 Skins Game.

That’s in consecutive weeks, mind you, but if you can put up with the Hawaii-China- California travel, it’s worthwhile.

Couples thinks he can, as long as his back holds up. Because of muscle problems in his back, he played only 15 PGA Tour events this year and won $299,259, finishing 63rd on the money list. It’s the least Couples has made in nine years.

After the Ryder Cup, Couples thought about playing the Texas Open, but didn’t see the point, since he would not have made enough to qualify for the Tour Championship even if he had won.

So instead, he relaxed. He didn’t start playing again until he teed it up for three days last week at Preston Trail in Dallas.

“I think he’s ready for a real good stretch,” said Houston Country Club pro Paul Marchand, who teaches Couples. “I’m prejudiced, but I think he’s looking awfully good. It’s all health-related.”

Part of the reason Couples avoided practice was to protect his back. He said it is fine now, he just doesn’t trust it’s going to stay that way.

“I don’t feel good after I hit balls for two or three hours,” he said. “I’m so scared to do that. If I do that long enough, I feel like something bad is going to happen.

“I certainly don’t want to blow my back out and be gone for three or four months.”


Ryder Cupgate: On the criticism of Curtis Strange for his part in the U.S. Ryder Cup defeat, Couples said he thinks it’s about time to get over it.

“It’s been written [about] enough,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to swallow it every time you read it. Curtis will tell you he should have won [but] it’s going to take a little bit of stress and strain to get through it.

“It wasn’t Curtis’ fault. If Curtis had beaten [Nick] Faldo and we would have won, I don’t think the articles would have all been written about Curtis winning the Ryder Cup. I think that’s kind of unfair. I also think it’ll all blow over.”


Faldogate: As it turns out, Faldo has his own problems. He reportedly has offered his wife, Gill, an $11.5-million divorce settlement.

At the same time, the British tabloids are going pretty nutty--even by their standards--trying to get to Faldo’s new friend, Arizona golfer Brenna Cepelak.

Reporters have been chasing Cepelak in their cars, hiding out in her garage and bursting into classrooms with cameras, which led to the police being called.

Six tabloids and four TV stations have set up bases in Tucson, where Cepelak used to be the No. 1 player on the women’s team. With all the attention now, she has trouble breaking 80.

“Princess Di doesn’t get this kind of attention,” said Butch Henry, Arizona associate athletic director, who is no fan of the British tabloid press.

“These people are swine,” Henry told Golf World.


Money news: Greg Norman, with $1.65 million, topped the list of a record nine players who won at least $1 million on the PGA Tour.

He also won his first PGA player-of-the-year award, which is based on victories, money standings and scoring average. Steve Elkington was second.


Golf Notes

Nick Price finished last in the 30-player Tour Championship field at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., and did not win a PGA Tour event. He still earned $611,700, but it was his lowest total since 1990, which was also his last winless year. . . . Some of those who failed to keep their tour cards because they didn’t finish in the top 130 on the money list are Russ Cochran, Donnie Hammond, Howard Twitty, Bob Gilder, Emlyn Aubrey, Tommy Armour III, Tom Purtzer, Dave Barr, Joel Edwards and Chris Perry.

The LPGA junior golf program’s fourth pro-am will be held Nov. 13 at Woodland Hills Country Club. The event benefits the program, which introduces inner-city youth to golf. Details: (818) 996-3906. . . . The Campanella Celebrity Golf Classic will be played Nov. 13 at Riviera Country Club. The event is presented by the Roy and Roxie Campanella Physical Therapy Scholarship Foundation to raise money for students studying health care. Details: (818) 716-0206.

The 13th Academy of Country Music Bill Boyd Golf Classic at De Bell Golf course in Burbank raised $40,000 for the T.J. Martell foundation for cancer, AIDs and leukemia research for children and the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children. . . . Judy Bell has been nominated to serve as president of the USGA, her two-year term beginning in January. Bell, who was the first woman to be named to the USGA Executive Committee in 1987, succeeds Reg Murphy.