May 5, 2008

The Angry Golfer

Fred Couples' sickly stroke from in close is getting tough to look at

Fred Couples can't make a five-footer. According to ShotLink, he converts about 70 percent of his putts from that annoying distance. Yet every time I turn on the TV, Couples is jabbing at one of those babies and missing it on the low side, if there is such a thing from five feet, which is why I'm having a hard time believing the PGA Tour's statistical database.

Never mind that, though. It bothers me to see the world's coolest golfer give away so many strokes -- how can a man look so graceful over the ball one minute, so helpless the next It's like your wife getting to meet Brad Pitt when the guy has a giant zit, like finding out your favorite superhero is really just a schmo in a spandex costume. Zits go away, but the short misses never leave you. They reside in a golfer's soul with all the reluctance of a beggar moving into a five-star hotel.

Perhaps the most agonizing aspect of Couples' shortcoming is that he remains one of the best long-distance putters in the game. Some days, he's more likely to jar one from 60 feet than 60 inches, and if he still wasn't among the 10 best ballstrikers on earth, nobody would notice his problems close to the hole because he wouldn't keep playing.

That 2006 Masters, when Freddie forged a valiant duel with Phil Mickelson before three-putting the 14th from four feet It made me ill. They should have passed out air-sickness bags to Couples lovers that day, and though we'd seen that sickly stroke before and have seen it numerous times since -- last weekend in Charlotte was pretty unsightly -- never was it more painful to watch than on that April afternoon at Augusta National.

All that back-nine drama, then so much wicked trauma. Having endured years of missing putts shorter than a comma, maybe Fred should go see the Dalai Lama.