Fred Couples: Unlikely Leader of Men

'93: "Get lost!" '09 & '11: "Get win!"

Now that Fred Couples is a two-time Presidents Cup-winning captain, let’s look back at a time when it seemed unlikely that he would have the kind of attitude it would take to be a team leader.

The oft-told story about Couples that illustrates his aversion to interpersonal communication is that he used to say he never answered his phone “because someone may be on the other end”.  But perhaps a better example of what made Couples future as an inspirational captain even more questionable is from John Feinstein’s excellent 1995 book, A Good Walk Spoiled.  Early in the book, Feinstein tells the story of the 1993 Ryder Cup played at The Belfry in England.  Couples was having an especially bad Cup that year, going 0-3-1 before Sunday’s single matches, including an embarrassing 6 & 5 loss with partner Paul Azinger to Ian Woosnam and Peter Baker in Saturday’s Four-ball.  As Feinstein tells it, USA Captain Tom Watson tried to give Couples a few words of encouragement but Fred was having none of it.  When Watson said “everything’s alright, don’t worry about a thing”, Couples snapped back, “Just leave me alone, Tom.  I don’t need any pep talks right now.”

It would be 16 years later that Fred Couples would be delivering the pep talks, instead of deflecting them, as a first-time Presidents Cup captain in 2009.

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Presidents Cup 2011: Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts on the 2011 Presidents Cup:

His Presidents Cup captaincy reflected well on winning skipper Fred Couples.

You could cut the irony with a knife.  The least-qualified American player (at least based on points over the last two years), the one whose choice as a Captain’s pick created the most controversy, was the one to win the Cup-clinching singles match.  Tiger Woods dispatched home-country favorite Aaron Baddeley 4&3 to officially capture the Presidents Cup for the visiting Americans at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.  However, until his final day heroics, Tiger was having the kind of Presidents Cup that reminded people why he was a controversial pick by second-time captain, Fred Couples.  A record-tying loss in Foursomes with partner Steve Stricker to Adam Scott and K.J. Choi, 7&6.  Then two more 1-Up losses in Four Ball with new partner Dustin Johnson, to Baddeley & Jason Day on Friday and Y.E. Yang and KT Kim on Saturday.  Woods’ only team win was a 3&2 victory with Johnson over Scott and Choi in Saturday Foursomes.  I’m not sure Tiger’s 2-3 record was exactly a rousing vindication for his selection to the team.  But at least there was some indication (mainly his final day putting) that his game is coming around and that he may once again be a contender in 2012.  That would be good for the game.

*  *  *

It's not a handshake, it's a hand-crushing contest.

I’ll admit I’ve never really been clear on how the individual opponents are determined in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup matches.  I think we’ve been given the impression that it’s a fairly random selection by the captains the day before, or even the day of, the specific matches.  The captains don’t necessarily know who the other captain is going to put up in a particular match.  (Correct me if I’m wrong).  If that’s the case, I’m even more suspicious of the fact that Tiger Woods met Adam Scott in two of their first three matches, including Day 1.  Obviously, the subplot of Tiger getting paired with the new boss (Adam Scott) of his old caddie (Steve Williams) made for an intriguing story.  Especially in light of Williams’ recent racially-tinged comments about Tiger.  Did Golf Channel conspire with Captains Couples and Norman for a made-for-tv confrontation?  Did Couples and Norman conspire with each other to create the drama?  Was it completely random?  Whatever it was, the result was probably not as scintillating as everyone had hoped.  No fireworks.  Just a quick, businesslike handshake between Tiger and Stevie on the first tee and 1-1 head-to-head record for Woods and Scott.

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Golf in Indiana 2012: The Year of the Pros

The 18th at Crooked Stick, Carmel, IN

As the falling leaves make it increasingly more difficult to find your ball in the middle of the fairway and the PGA Tour approaches its “Silly Season” with its made-for-TV events, now is a good time to look ahead to 2012 and what it holds in store for golf in Indiana.  The headline is professional golf.  The Nationwide Tour adds a new event to be held in the Hoosier state and the PGA Tour returns to Indiana for the first time in more than 20 years.

The last time Indiana hosted a PGA Tour event was the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, famously won by the 9th alternate, John Daly.  Now 21 years (and three Daly wives) later, Crooked Stick will once again host the PGA Tour with the 2012 BMW Championship, September 3-9.  The BMW Championship is one of four tournaments that comprise the FedEx Cup playoffs.  Tickets are on sale now and available at www.BMWTickets.com/2012 or by calling 847-724-4600.

Victoria National Golf Club, Evansville, IN

The Nationwide Tour has announced that it will add an event to its schedule starting in 2012 to be played at Victoria National Golf Club in Evansville June 28-July 1.  A three-year agreement has been signed for the United Leasing Championship, which will feature 156 players and a total purse of $550,000.  Victoria National is a Tom Fazio design and ranks 35th on Golf Digest’s latest list of America’s 100 Best Golf Courses, the highest ranked course in Indiana.  To see the other Indiana golf courses that made that list, go to the News Page at IndianaGolfOnline.com.

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America’s Back!

American golf’s oh-for-6 streak in Majors has finally been snapped at the 2011 PGA Championship.  But who would have thought the streak would end in a playoff between a PGA Tour rookie playing in his first major championship and a Tour journeyman who had missed the cut in his last four starts?  Thus was the drama that played out among the lengthening shadows at the Atlanta Athletic Club between Keegan Bradley (rookie) and Jason Dufner (cut misser).  Ultimately, it was the rookie Bradley who prevailed in the three-hole aggregate playoff format favored by the PGA.  It was looking like Dufner would win a snoozer when he had a commanding lead with five holes to play.  But then he played the last three holes in three over par, opening the door for Bradley, who played the last three holes in minus 2.

No one is going to assume Keegan Bradley is the new face of American golf a la Fowler, Watson or Johnson.  But at least Americans can go into the winter knowing they’re off the schneid.

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Meeting Pete Dye

Pete Dye and Mitch Daniels

Gov. Daniels looks on as Pete Dye speaks

By now you’ve most likely heard about the Pete Dye Golf Trail, seven golf courses designed by Hall of Fame course designer Pete Dye stretched across Indiana that the Dept. of Tourism has created to encourage more golf visitors to the state.  The announcement of the trail was made by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels in a public news conference at Brickyard Crossing, one of the courses included on the trail.  I knew there’d be an opportunity for some Q&A with Dye after the announcement.  But I wasn’t expecting the casual encounter my wife, Ann, and I had with Pete in the parking lot on the way in.

As we made our way from the car toward the clubhouse, I spotted an older man walking across the lot with another man carrying two sets of golf clubs.  The man carrying the clubs was Dave Harner, Director of Golf at the French Lick Resort.  An the older gentleman was the 85-year-old guest of honor.  (The two sets of clubs were those of Pete Dye and his wife/design partner, Alice).  With no one else around, this was a perfect opportunity to meet the legendary designer.  I approached Mr. Dye and introduced myself, followed closely by my wife.  Pete was polite and genial and when my wife introduced herself, he jokingly said to me, “I’d rather meet her than you.”  At 85, still sharp as a tack… with impeccable taste.  We continued the conversation as we walked, pointing out that we actually live in a house on his very first design, “El Dorado” (now a private club kown as Dye’s Walk).  His first reaction was to ask, “When are they gonna get a light down there?”, a reference to the club entrance on State Road 135 in Greenwood that can be a bit of a bear getting out of when traffic is heavy.

Over the course of the rest of the event, when Pete happened to see Ann in the crowd, he would refer to her as his “El Dorado girl”.  I also ran into Alice Dye in the clubhouse as she was shopping for a new golf hat.  I said hello and mentioned to her our home on her (and Pete’s) first design.  She smiled and said, “They didn’t have us back to do the second nine.”  She was good-natured about it, but something tells me it still kind of rubs them the wrong way that they weren’t asked to “finish the job”, as it were.

One of the surprise moments of the day’s event was supplied by Gov. Daniels.  In addition to the creation of the golf trail, the governor decided to take the opportunity to honor both Dyes with a Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest honor an Indiana governor can bestow.  A nice touch and well-deserved for the long-time residents of the state (Alice, a native… Pete, a transplant from Ohio).

Speaking of the governor, I had a chance to spend a couple of minutes chatting with him and ask about his golf game.  Daniels served as George W. Bush’s first budget director from Jan. 2001 to June 2003.  I asked the governor if he had ever golfed with the Bush family.  After a short pause, he said, “The short answer is no.”  He then went on to explain that during his time in Washington, he almost always came back to Indiana for the weekends.  The one time he decided to stay in the D.C. area, he was going to play golf with friends and was actually at TPC Avenel when he got a call from the president.  “Hey Mitch,” said the governor, doing his best W impression.  “We’re gonna tee off here at Army/Navy in a half hour.  You wanna play?” Daniels knew the Army/Navy course was at least 30 minutes away from Avenel.  That, and he’d already agreed to play with his friends.  So he turned down the president’s offer.  He said he had only minor regrets, but was happy that his friends now have a great story, “He turned down golf with the president to play with us,” Daniels said, quoting his buddy.

Pete Dye tees off

The Hall of Fame architect tees off from the very teebox he designed.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels

Alice Dye

Champion golfer Alice Dye still splits the fairway in her 80's.

The final piece of the day’s event was a round of golf for the Dyes, the governor and about 10 foursomes of their closest friends.  First on the tee was the course designer, followed by governor Daniels and finally Alice ( a nine-time winner of the Indiana Women’s Golf Association Amateur Championship).  Ever the gentleman, after her tee shot, Pete came over and lent Alice a shoulder as she stepped gingerly down the steps from the tee… steps made of Pete’s ubiquitous golf course feature, railroad ties.

Pete and Alice Dye

Pete Dye helps his wife Alice navigate the railroad tie steps at the first tee.

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Tiger “Balm”?

"Does this stuff work on a bruised ego?"

So this is what it’s come to for Tiger Woods.  The man who once commanded nearly $100 million a year in endorsements from the likes of AT&T, Accenture and Gatorade is now going to hawk a heat rub in Japan.  (Actually, wasn’t it his penchant for “heat rubs” that got Tiger in trouble in the first place?  But I digress…)  Specifically, the product is Antiphlogistic Analgetic Vantelin Kowa.  The Wall Street Journal reported the story yesterday, but terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

“Antiphlogistic Analgetic Vantelin Kowa”.  I think that’s more words than Tiger speaks in a typical post-round interview.  But perhaps the saddest part of this story is where Tiger Woods finds himself among the long list of celebrity endorsers.  A company called Marketing Arm measures the relative influence celebrities have with consumers.  Before the Escalade-meets-fire-hydrant incident, Tiger’s influence was on par with Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athlete/pitchmen of all time.  Now, according to Marketing Arm, Tiger is closer on that scale to Steven Seagal.  Steven Seagal!

Unless things pick up and Tiger gets to 18 or 19 majors, we can look for him to be on late-night cable 20 years from now selling reverse mortgages.

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Rory’s U.S. Open: Low Score, Low Ratings

Trophy High, Ratings Low

About halfway through the final round of Rory McIlroy’s multi-record-setting performance at the U.S.Open, my wife, Ann, said, “I’ll bet the ratings for this will be huge.”  Ann is not a golfer.  But through osmosis from me and a healthy dose of the “Tiger Phenomenon” over the last decade or so, she has come to appreciate the game.  To the point where not only does she not bolt from the room when she sees I’m watching golf on TV, but might even spend some time watching herself.  Such was the case during the weekend of the McIlroy Miracle.  Even as a casual golf fan, she knew she was witnessing history.  Therefore, she assumed that most other golf fans were witnessing it, too.  I hoped that was the case.  But I also know that the casual golf fan can be fickle, so I was going to withhold my opinion on the ratings until I saw the finals numbers in black and white.

Well, they’re in and they’re not good.  Compared to the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (also won by an Irishman, Graeme McDowell), viewership for this year’s final round was down more than 25%.  But why?  The short answer: it wasn’t Tiger.  Or Phil.  Or Bubba for that matter.  As compelling as the storyline was – boyish 22-year-old, recent Masters meltdown, a major tournament, countless U.S. Open records being made or broken – ultimately, it seems the casual golf fan was not interested in a relatively unknown foreigner winning our national championship.  Especially when the outcome was a fait accompli as of Saturday night.  It’s impossible to know exactly what intangibles get people to watch or not watch.  Perhaps the better ratings last year had to do with the breathtaking landscape that is the Monterrey Peninsula.  Perhaps the lower ratings this year had to do with a Sunday leaderboard populated by names like Day, Chappell, Garrigus, Yang, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen.  Household names they’re not.

If it’s going to take having an American golfer in a position to win to get the ratings up for a golf major, it’s hard to tell how long we’ll have to wait.  America’s best are on an 0-for-5 streak.

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