"íQuè bueno!" You kept hearing that over and over last week on the East Course at the Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort. íQuè bueno! How good! It wasn't a question but a statement of fact, and it applied to the tremendo golf played by Fred Couples and Davis Love III in the 40th World Cup of Golf.
Last week's World Cup in muggy Puerto Rico signaled the revival of U.S. golf's poster boys. This was the year that wasn't for Couples and Love, and their struggles seemed to mirror the disappointing season turned in worldwide by U.S. golfers. Their sweep by foreigners in the majors; their loss to Canada—Canada?—in the Dunhill Cup; and their fall in the Sony Ranking, which shows the flags of Zimbabwe, Australia, Germany, Great Britain. Spain and South Africa all waving above Old Glory, can be attributed in part to the disappearance of Couples and Love.
The two men spent the better part of 1994 fighting either with injuries or with their golf games, but the tropical island was the perfect setting for them to feed off each other's enormous abilities. Their 14-shot victory over the team of Tony Johnstone and Mark McNulty of Zimbabwe wasn't as close as the score. Couples also put his name on the International Trophy by shooting 23-under-par 265 to win medalist honors by five strokes over Italy's Costantino Rocca. Love was in third place, at 17 under.
The last time the World Cup was played at Dorado Beach was in 1961, when Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret teamed to shoot 16 under for a 12-stroke victory over a pair of British Open champions, Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle, from Australia. The East Course is listed on the scorecard as 7,005 yards, but last week it was set up at 6,800 yards—and played more like 6,300. What wind blew was best described as a breeze, which is what the tournament was for Couples and Love. The most club either had to hit into a par-4 all week was a seven-iron, at the 455-yard 16th.
Couples, 35, and Love, 30, were 40 under for the week, shattering the tournament record of 32-under 544 set by Bruce Devlin and David Graham of Australia in Buenos Aires in 1970. Couples and Love also became the first World Cup team in history to win three straight titles. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer twice won two straight, in 1963-64 and 1966-67. "We came here with a purpose," said Couples.
In addition, Couples and Love were eager to reestablish themselves as among the very best players in the world. At No. 7 in the Sony Ranking, Couples is the lop American, behind Nick Price of Zimbabwe, Greg Norman of Australia, Bern-hard Langer of Germany, Nick Faldo of England, Josè-María Olazàbal of Spain and Ernie Els of South Africa. Love is 22nd and is coming off a year during which he slipped from 12th to 33rd on the PGA Tour's money list. This is the first year in the '90s that Love did not have a victory and the first time in this decade that Couples did not finish in the Top 10 in PGA Tour earnings. He ended up 23rd.
Couples and Love became World Cup partners in 1992, when they each won three Tour events and finished No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the Tour money list. That was the year Couples won the Masters and Player of the Year honors and Love won The Players Championship. It was also the year both players admitted a disdain for the spotlight. "I didn't handle it well, and Fred didn't handle it well at all," Love said at Dorado. "He was going through being the leading money winner and settling a nasty divorce at the same time. It was hard for him. To a certain extent he's like me: When the year's over with, that's when he enjoys playing golf."
Indeed, Couples's happiest and most lucrative times often have come in the off-season, when he doesn't have to cope with heavy pressure to perform, a media entourage requesting interview time and a load of fans seeking autographs. Such intrusions make the moody Couples quite surly. But put him in an informal, uncrowded environment, and he's full of smiles and birdies. He came to Puerto Rico straight from a successful defense of his title in the Kapalua International, where he won $180,000 and, for his first hole in one as a professional, a Lincoln Town Car. On the way from Hawaii to Dorado, he stopped at home in Dallas, where he attended the Monday night football matchup between the Cowboys and the New York Giants.
Couples's yearlong relationship with Tawnya Dodd has had a settling influence in turbulent times. Barely a year ago he was in a West Palm Beach courtroom giving depositions. His 12-year marriage to Deborah ended in October '93 with an out-of-court settlement in the millions, and when he suffered back spasms while warming up for the last round of the Doral-Ryder Open in March, he seemed almost relieved that he had to take an injury timeout from the Tour.
Couples's mother died in April, and he didn't play a round of tournament golf until the Buick Classic in Westchester, N.Y., in June. He took another month off after the Western Open, skipping the British Open. When he came back out in August, he responded with a final-round 68 to beat Corey Pavin in the Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Mich. "Maybe the time off was as good for him as anything," Love said. "I know he wasn't sitting at home, missing being out on the Tour. I think it was a sign he needed time off."
Couples agreed. "If I play bad golf, I'm still cranky," he said in Puerto Rico. "But as far as being with Tawnya and being with her family and spending time with my family, it's been a lot of fun. I didn't miss golf at all. It would almost be fun to take a couple of months off every year, but I just can't do that."
Love has been healthy, and his home life is solid—last December his second child, Davis Love IV, was born. His golf game is another matter. His problems started in 1993 when he began experimenting with graphite shafts in his clubs and when the company whose irons he plays came out with a new design. But equipment aside, Love has never been comfortable with the expectations and pressures thrust upon him. Although he won twice in '93, he played horribly in the majors. This year he started out strong, but he didn't have a Top 10 finish after The Players Championship in late March.
"There was one person who told me all the time that I had so much talent, and that was my dad," Love says, talking about his late father and teacher, Davis Love Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1988. "He was the one person I knew wasn't going to lie to me or say something to make me feel good. I knew then and I know now, I have the ability to win every time I play. This year was the first time I was frustrated, knowing I wasn't playing anywhere near as well as I can."
What disturbs Love most is his play in major championships. He missed the cut at this year's Masters and PGA Championship and finished 28th in the U.S. Open and 38th at the British Open. It was at Turnberry, during a victory dinner hosted by Price, that Love realized what he was missing. That celebration left him with mixed emotions. "I was excited for Nick. On the other hand, I wanted to get as far away as I could," Love says. "To see up close what it was like to win, being right there with Nick celebrating, made me want it more."
Love went to the five-round Las Vegas Invitational on Oct. 19 with a lot at stake. If he made the cut he would finish in the top 30 on the money list and qualify for the Tour Championship at the Olympic Club and next year's Masters. But he shot 74 in the third round and missed the cut by 11 strokes. "I got to Kapalua [two weeks later], and somebody said, 'Well, how was Olympic last week?' " Love recalled in Puerto Rico. "I told him, 'Well, I wasn't there, but thanks for assuming.' "
The assumption among family and friends is that the third round at Vegas lit a fire under Love. He played superbly in Puerto Rico. If anything kept him from challenging Couples for the International Trophy, it was his inconsistent putting on Dorado Beach's grainy Bermuda greens. It helped, he said, to have his brother, Mark, caddying. "Davis hasn't been happy with the way he has played this year, but the week at home while everybody was at Olympic really made him want to work harder for next year," Mark said after Saturday's round.
Winning the World Cup solidified the Couples-Love team. They will probably be teammates again next September at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., at the Ryder Cup, but the feeling won't be the same. For these two the World Cup is a much more appealing competition, and not because they dominate it the way Nicklaus and Palmer did three decades ago. "You're still playing for your country, but because they're not waving flags and screaming, 'USA! USA!' it's not difficult to play," Couples said.
At the Ryder Cup there are too many uniformed team functions and formal dinners to attend. After the opening round at Dorado Beach, Couples and Love were guests of honor at an informal home-cooked meal laid out by Tour caddies Joe "Giant" LaCava, "Six-Pack" Jack Keating, "Electric" Ed Bigoss and Jeff "the Shadow" Jones. Wearing shorts and T-shirts, they dined on chicken, rice, red beans and pasta, helped themselves to seconds, then pushed back their plates and spent an hour talking about sports and classic cars. It was a kick-back night.
"Next year we'll do this in China!" said Six-Pack Jack, referring to next year's tournament in Shenzhen, China.
There was some question about whether Couples and Love would make that trek, even for a possible "four-peat." China is a long way to go in November when there's no big appearance money to make the trip worthwhile, but in Wednesday's pro-am, Couples and Love played with Howard L. Clark, chairman of the International Golf Association, which runs the World Cup. Clark promised them free transportation to Shenzhen.
"They might be sick of us," said Love, still uncertain of his plans, "but Chinese is my favorite food."
"If I'm going, he's going," said Couples, pointing to Love. "And I'm going."