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Newport Beach resident Fred Couples ready to tee it up again in Hoag Classic

Fred Couples, left, speaks with moderator Alan Beyer, during the Hoag Classic Hall of Fame Community Breakfast on Tuesday.
Fred Couples, left, speaks with moderator Alan Beyer, during the Hoag Classic Hall of Fame Community Breakfast on Tuesday in Newport Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)
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Fred Couples isn’t sure how much golf he has left to give, but with the game in town, he will happily play and the people will watch.

The 63-year-old Newport Beach resident had the eyes and ears of a few hundred in attendance Tuesday morning as he regaled a lively audience with stories from throughout his career.

“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to play,” said Couples, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013. “I keep saying I want to keep playing. If every tournament was in Newport, I’d play 20.”

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The Hoag Classic has returned to Newport Beach, with the PGA Tour Champions tournament running Friday through Sunday at Newport Beach Country Club. Couples, a two-time winner of the event in 2010 and 2014, entertained questions from moderator Alan Beyer during the tournament’s Hall of Fame Community Breakfast on Tuesday.

Fred Couples, left, speaks with moderator Alan Beyer, during the Hoag Classic Hall of Fame Community Breakfast on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I’m not a member here, but I love this course because you’ve got to be a really good iron player to play at Newport Country Club,” Couples said. “I feel like I’m still an above-average iron player, and I’m looking forward to Friday.”

A tale that he has no doubt been asked to retell many times, Couples shared with the attendees the story of the tee shot that stayed dry. With a slim lead in the final round at Augusta National, Couples’ first shot on the 165-yard hole No. 12 landed short of the green, but it stayed out of Rae’s Creek by about a foot. Couples saved par, a defining moment in his win at the Masters Tournament in 1992.

“It just wasn’t enough club to go over there, and so it stuck on the bank,” Couples said. “It hit so far down the bank that it didn’t have any momentum to pick up speed to roll into the water. Then I got up there, and I chipped it up to about a foot and made par. … That’s the luck of a lifetime, and it’s one of my favorite holes.”

A native of Seattle, Couples competed at the University of Houston, where he roomed with PGA Tour golfer Blaine McCallister and sports broadcaster Jim Nantz.

A packed room listens to Fred Couples and moderator Alan Beyer during the Hoag Classic Hall of Fame Community Breakfast.
A packed room listens to Fred Couples and moderator Alan Beyer during the Hoag Classic Hall of Fame Community Breakfast on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Couples went on to enjoy 15 wins on the PGA Tour and he was twice named the Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992. Since joining the PGA Tour Champions in 2010, Couples has won 14 more titles.

At the start of the proceedings, Brian Horn and Beyer were inducted into the Hoag Classic Hall of Fame for their contributions. Beyer, an orthopedic surgeon and a founding physician of Hoag Orthopedic Institute, marveled at Couples’ ability to avoid back surgery despite persistent issues.

“You have a swing that you keep your left foot pretty flat, you have a big shoulder turn,” Beyer told Couples. “That’s asking one’s back to do lots of things that it wasn’t designed to do, to repetitively go out there and just bang golf balls for 40-something years. … I’m very comfortable in saying you probably would have had twice the number of wins that you had on the two tours if it wasn’t for your back. You missed a lot of tournaments, you had to withdraw from tournaments because of back issues. You missed this tournament, I remember, a couple of times because of back issues, but you’ve not succumbed to the menace of back surgery.

“... It took time away from the course, it took time away from practice, it took time away from your vocation, but you were resolute in your desire not to have surgery on your back, which quite frankly, I commend. … I always say that the indication for the second back surgery is the first back surgery.”

A packed room listens to Fred Couples and moderator Alan Beyer during the Hoag Classic Hall of Fame Community Breakfast.
A packed room listens to Fred Couples and moderator Alan Beyer during the Hoag Classic Hall of Fame Community Breakfast on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

A back injury played the culprit in Couples missing the last Hoag Classic, but the fan favorite feels ready to go to take on a redesigned Newport Beach course that was lengthened by 203 yards and added several sand bunkers and trees.

“As we knock on wood today, it’s been a year,” Couples said. “I’ve been doing really well. I did win at the end of last year, and I feel like I’m playing well enough.”

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