Don't let his cool reputation fool you. Fred Couples cares more about his job as Presidents Cup captain than people think
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Fred Couples as he prepared for his debut as Presidents Cup captain. The matches were approaching and so was his 50th birthday, but Fred was preoccupied with his cell phone.
It is not true that Fred treats this device with dread. In fact, the days are over when he doesn't pick up the phone because he's afraid somebody might be on the other end.
Granted, Fred doesn't return that many calls, but he's become a 21st century man, perfecting the fine art of text messaging. Head down, fingers typing, Fred was just finishing up when I asked if he was texting Michael Jordan about captain's picks or team uniforms.
"It's actually to the PGA Tour," Fred said. "I've just resigned from the Presidents Cup captaincy. I've had enough."
"I thought I could do this, but I just don't think I can. I got to the 23rd hour and it's too much for me. My little brain ... "
So, I said, you've put your name in the envelope before we get to San Francisco?
"I have Jay Haas and Michael Jordan as co-captains. They would be great as captains," he said, before adding, "No, I'm really looking forward to it."
So are Tiger Woods and everybody on down the roster. This team that Couples brings to Harding Park, with Jordan in the locker room (along with a team magician), should be worth plenty of laughs.
Woods addressed as much this past Monday during a teleconference to promote his Chevron World Challenge. "As far as Freddie, I'm looking forward to it," Woods said, unable to suppress his famous smile. "I'm looking forward to seeing how Freddie speaks in front of all of us, because as you all know, Freddie starts in one direction and ends in another. That will be interesting to see what kind of tangents he goes on, because it's never straight and narrow with him. He goes off in all different directions. So that part will be fun."
Fun, it should be -- as long as the team performs. There's not much fun in the team room after a dreadful foursomes or four-ball session, but that's where Jordan comes in. Knowing Couples, I'd say that Haas will be in charge of the pairings and Jordan the motivation. Tiger sees it that way ... kind of.
"As far as what Michael will bring, a lot of BS, absolutely," Woods said, drawing laughter before continuing. "It'll be fun. I've been a part of several Ryder Cup teams where Michael has come in and hung out with us a couple nights here and there. But he's never been instrumental in being a part of the team. So this will be different. I think this will be a lot of fun. A lot of the guys are looking forward to getting to know him. Jeez, he's one of the probably -- him and Muhammad Ali are two of the greatest athletes that have ever lived, so it'll be fun for our entire team to hang out with him."
The hang is what Couples is all about. Usually it's on a couch with a remote control, but this time he will be punching a new set of buttons. There's speculation that all the heavy lifting will be assigned to Haas, Jordan and caddie Joe La Cava, but Couples has done his homework. Freddie has talked team management with Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, and recently played golf with Doc Rivers, picking all their brains on how to get a group of individuals to come together as a team.
Couples sees himself as a players' coach surrounded by two strong assistants and a team that has been there before. Woods, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink and Kenny Perry have been doing this for over 10 years. Anthony Kim and captain's picks Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan aren't new to the dance. The only true Cup freshman on his lineup card is Sean O'Hair, who calls Couples one of his heroes in the latest Bob Verdi Grill Room. "I think I can handle these guys," he said. "I'm trying to get them pumped up. I think it'll be the most fun I've had in a long, long time."
There will be fun for Couples even before he arrives in San Francisco. Saturday, Oct. 3, is his 50th birthday. After the Presidents Cup, there's the Champions Tour and more golf on the PGA Tour. I asked Couples if this meant more gray hairs. He pulled off his visor, made an adjustment, smiled, and kept his momentum.
"I'm actually looking forward to turning 50," he said. "When I was in my late 30s, early 40s, I never looked at the senior tour. Then I got into my late 40s I didn't really look at the senior tour. Then I got in my late 40s I started thinking, 'I cannot wait for it.'"
The specifics of the party were to be determined, but either way, Couples didn't expect it to be a time of great reflection.
"It'll be a couple days before I get to San Francisco," Couples said. "There won't be any drinking involved because I want to have a clear head. I want to support them but I want a clear head. If my mind's not there I'll be in a cloud. So what will I do? Probably nothing. It's a big birthday, but when you travel like we do on the golf tour a lot of birthdays get pushed aside. Fiftieth birthday, I think it's going to be another day. I'm looking forward to it because then it will be over and I know the Champions Tour is right around the corner. I'm not a big birthday guy but 50 is a nice number. I'm looking forward to it."