Classic Couples

Here he comes again. The fan favorite, bad back and all

Who’s name has become just as synonymous with “silky, smooth swing” as it has with “bad back?”

It’s Fred Couples, of course.

He can still drive a golf ball with the best of them. But, amazingly, it’s when he gets in closer that his back starts to ache. A bad back for Couples, it’s been that way for a long time.

But the 51-year-old has been bringing his own fair share of pain on opponents while on the Champions Tour, for golfers 50 and older.

For his part, Couples is not one to complain too much about the pain in his back.

“You know, I have dealt with it a long time,” Couples said. “Never have I really ever thought it was a bad deal. But the last month … I’m not getting any comfort at night. I’m not sleeping very much.”

Last year at this time, the back felt a bit better for Couples. He was practicing and playing much more than he did this year.

Will that hinder his chance to become the first repeat champion at the 17th annual Toshiba Classic? From the looks of what he’s been able to accomplish thus far, don’t count Couples out at the tournament that starts Friday at Newport Beach Country Club. Events leading up to the tournament begin Monday.

He had the look of becoming the third-oldest player in PGA Tour history to win a tournament when he was in contention to win the Northern Trust Open last month.

He birdied his first three holes in the final round and was overwhelmingly the crowd favorite at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.

Couples was trying to become just the player older than 50 to win on the PGA Tour in the past 35 years. But on the back nine Couples faded and finished tied for seventh, five shots behind the winner Aaron Baddeley of Australia.

Couples got to 15 PGA Tour victories not only for his calm, laid-back demeanor, but also because of his competitive spirit. He wasn’t pleased with his finish.

“You know, I’m a golfer so I’m disappointed,” said Couples, the 1992 Masters champion.

Gaining respect from other golfers is nice, but Couples would also take the victory. It hardly matters to him that he’s 51.

His powerful ball striking is impressive.

“He still hits it great,” Baddeley said. “The flight on the ball is just fantastic. I enjoy playing with Freddie. He’s really a great bloke … I think he’ll keep playing great golf for quite a few years to come yet because like I said, the quality of his strike is impressive.”

Couples’ power and his putting led him to a standout year on the Champions Tour in 2010. He was named Rookie of the Year.

He opened with a runner-up finish in his debut, then reeled off three consecutive wins, including his victory at Newport Beach Country Club.

He ended up winning four events. He also set the Champions Tour’s new scoring average record (67.96), finishing second on the Champions Tour’s 2010 money list and Charles Schwab Cup points standings.

The Charles Schwab Cup is for the top player on the Champions Tour. Couples appeared to be No. 1 in the hearts of many, as he attracted many fans.

While at one of his favorite spots at Riviera last month, Couples certainly was the center of attention.

Another course close to Couples’ heart is Augusta National. Last year, he again captured attention on his way to finishing sixth at the Masters.

Much of his success on the Champions Tour actually helped him. Even though, he’s not practicing or playing as much as last year, Couples wants to recapture some of that winning he acquired last year.

Before 2010, he had not won since the Shell Houston Open in 2003.

“If I won three times in a row and said, ‘hey I want to go play the L.A. Open,’ I would guarantee that I believe I would play well at L.A. That doesn’t mean I’m going to finish fifth place, but I know I would have confidence, and I could go in there and play with these guys.

But the idea of beating up on Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh – those guys are three different ages. As a 51-year-old I don’t feel bad, but I have to play absolute best to compete.”

Couples will definitely attempt to be at his best at the Toshiba Classic.

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