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Masters 2023: After calling him a ‘nutbag,’ Fred Couples says ‘I would love to be paired with Phil’

April 03, 2023
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Ben Walton

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fred Couples knew the questions about LIV golfers were coming. He has been rather outspoken about the upstart circuit, calling out recruits, several of whom are former Masters winners, including Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. The two are part of an 18-strong LIV contingent at Augusta National this week.

Last month, at a breakfast before the PGA Tour Champions’ Hoag Classic, Couples called Mickelson a “nutbag” and said, “If you’re willing to give Phil Mickelson $200 million [signing bonus] at age 53 to shoot 74 and 75, God bless you.” He also called Garcia “a clown.”

Couples will see Mickelson and Garcia on Tuesday night at the Champions Dinner. On Monday, after a nine-hole practice round at Augusta with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Tom Kim, the 1992 Masters champion was asked by a reporter what he’s expecting during the evening?

“For food?” Couples joked.

The 63-year-old then addressed the remarks he has made about LIV golfers. “I've made comments, but they need to understand if they've looked at anything I've ever said, I call myself the same stuff I'm calling them,” Couples said. “I have no problem with any of them, just please do not bash a tour that I have 43 years invested in. It bothers the hell out of me.”

Couples said he would be happy to talk to any LIV golfer who took umbrage with his comments.

“No, if one wants to stop and ask why I'm picking on them, then I'm all for it,” he said. “But I don't really think I've done anything horrific. They're making comments, and I'm replying to them. That's it.”

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Couples bends Tiger Woods' ear during their practice round at Augusta on Monday.

JD CUBAN

Another player Couples has spoken out against is Cameron Smith, calling out one of the reasons Smith has mentioned for leaving the PGA Tour—which was to attend more weddings of family and friends in his native Australia. “I find that comical, because my favorite to ever play has five kids, 40 grandkids and he has never missed anything—and that was Jack Nicklaus," Couples before the Hoag Classic.

Smith was confused by the swipes, which included a Twitter jab last September, when asked by News Corp Australia at LIV’s Orlando event last week. “Considering I’ve never met him, he’s been very strong on me,” Smith said.

“I respect them all,” Couples said on Monday. “Brooks Koepka, I love, Dustin Johnson, absolutely love. On my [radio] show I've told everyone, Sergio is one of the top 10 players I've ever seen hit a ball, but if he's going to make comments about the tour that I play, I'm going to make a comment back, and if it's offensive I apologize, but they're on another tour. Go play and have a good time.”

As to any tension that might play out at the Champions Dinner, Couples didn’t think there was anything to worry about, even as four other LIV players join Mickelson and Garcia (Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Johnson0.

“Tomorrow night will be a great dinner, [it] will be a lot of fun,” Couples said. “I'm not expecting anything different. I sit in a great spot … down by all the beautiful people that I've sat with … Nicklaus, Tiger Floyd, [and] Sandy Lyle.”

Couples went as far as saying he would welcome a Thursday grouping with three-time Masters winner Mickelson. “People have asked me are you going to get paired … I'm like, I would love to be paired with Phil,” he said. “I mean, he's one of the best players that ever played. He loves this place as much as I do, and if we did, we'd look at each other on the first hole and we'd have a good time.”

And as for LIV golfers competing in the first place? Again, Couples noted he had no problem with the decision Augusta National or any of the other majors made in allowing those who had qualified for the events to continue to be able to play in them.

“Was I in agreement with that? Yeah, I think they deserve to be here, the ones that have won {Masters] and others. Bryson has won a major. Yeah, they should be here.”