The Week

May 04, 2003

It Ain't Over Yet
Fred Couples revived his career with a victory in Houston

Fred Couples has movie-star cool and plays an outsized brand of
golf that earned him the nickname Boom Boom, but what makes him
so endearing are his Yogi-isms. Couples is the unwitting
philosopher king of golf, and he made a profound statement at
last week's Houston Open, despite his zany press conferences.
Couples won for the 15th time on Tour, with a personal-best
21-under-par performance, and along the way he became the first
University of Houston player to win in his old college town.
Asked how life has changed since he was a Cougar, Couples said,
"Well, we're a lot older than we were in the late '70s." Who can
argue with that? But with age comes wisdom, of sorts, and
Couples, 43, has finally refound his focus and is intent on
finishing an up-and-down career with a flourish.

Even a decade ago, when he was the biggest star in the game, he
was never accused of caring too much. But over the last two
seasons Couples did little more than go through the motions,
finishing 131st on the money list in 2001 and 103rd in '02. After
the turbulence of the mid-'90s--during which Couples went through
a divorce and then a busted engagement and lost both his parents
to cancer--he was more than content to hang out with his wife of
4 1/2 years, Thais, at their spread in Santa Barbara, Calif.,
where he could prune roses, tool around in one of his vintage
Mustangs, and play Mr. Mom with his stepchildren GiGi and Oliver.

Those closest to Couples--Thais and his longtime caddie, Joe
LaCava--have been nagging Couples for years to try to live up to
his potential, but at the start of this season he was as sluggish
as ever. A particularly passion-free 38th at Pebble Beach left
LaCava steaming. Driving down the coast to Santa Barbara with his
boss, "I was so mad I don't think I said two words the entire
trip," says LaCava. "I knew with just a little effort on his part
we could beat the guys out here." It took the silent treatment
for Couples to finally get the message.

Shortly thereafter he began working on his swing with Butch
Harmon, and his explosive game began to come back. Last week, at
the new 7,508-yard Redstone Golf Club, he opened 65-68 to tie
Mark Calcavecchia and Hank Kuehne for the lead. Asked last Friday
if he still remembered how to win, five years after his last W,
Couples responded in vintage fashion, "Anyone who tells you it's
like riding a bike--it's not like riding a bike."

That was obvious on Saturday, when he dumped his approach to the
7th green into a hazard and made double bogey. But Couples
responded with a newfound fight. Like the Boom Boom of old, he
birdied all four par-5s, and a closing rush of four birds in the
final six holes gave him a one-stroke lead heading into the final
round. "It's going to be a slugfest or a puttfest, however you
want to say it," he said.

Indeed, Couples struck the ball with authority, but he won with
his putter. (He led the tournament with only 106 putts, the first
time he has topped that category at a Tour event since 1997.)
Couples coolly birdied four of the last five holes to ice the
victory, but when it was over he dissolved into a sobbing mess on
national TV when he tried to acknowledge Thais, who was back in
Santa Barbara. Moments later he shared a sloppy hug with his
college roommate, CBS's Jim Nantz. "I think today belies all the
stereotypes," said Nantz. "Fred does care, and he does get
emotional."

A big part of Couples's appeal has always been that everything
seems to come so easily to him, but it was the struggle that
preceded this win that made it so compelling. Something he said
earlier in the week resonated, however unintentionally. Asked
what he was working on, Couples said, "The path, you know.
Getting the path better."

He was talking about his swing, but he could have meant so much
more.

TRUST ME

Karrie Webb's Sunday meltdown is another sign that her days as a
dominant player are over. Webb admits she's too lazy to chase
Annika, and the rest of the LPGA has caught up with her power.

THE NEW MATH
Hank Kuehne ties for second in Houston

JOHN DALY - HILLBILLY + PREMATURE BALDNESS - EX-GIRLFRIENDS +
TOUR CARD = [HANK KUEHNE SWINGING CLUB]

O. B.
A New Bag for Sir Charles

Charles Barkley committed a major breach in caddie etiquette when
he parked his Bentley on the clubhouse lawn, but the hoops legend
was otherwise on his best behavior during a cameo on Kris
Tschetter's bag at the Chick-fil--A Charity Championship outside
Atlanta. Barkley, who has has been buddies with Tschetter since
they played together in a shootout 10 years ago, "did a great
job," according to his boss, who finished 57th. "I was surprised,
but he got the greens right pretty much every time." Barkley,
however, was stumped by the intricacies of the yardage book. "I
knew skipping all those classes was going to come back to haunt
me someday," he said.

The other star of the week was Michelle Wie, who played on a
sponsor's exemption. The 13-year-old bombed her drives so far
past her playing partners' that by Saturday's 18th hole, Barb
Mucha had seen enough. After Wie flew a drive 301 yards, Mucha
handed her driver to Wie and said, "I can't watch this anymore.
Here, you hit it for me."

David Lundstrom didn't get off to the best start at the Houston
Open. Lundstrom, 56, who teaches at Hackberry Golf Club and
qualified for the Open as the local PGA sectional champion, was
minutes away from teeing off on Thursday when he had to rush to
the locker room to answer nature's call. He sprinted back to the
1st tee--only to discover that he was scheduled to begin on
number 10. By the time he had covered the 300 yards between tees,
his partners were already in mid-fairway. Lundstrom was assessed
a two-stroke penalty, and he shot a 76 en route to a missed cut.

THE POLL
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM

THIS WEEK: If it were the only golf on TV, would you watch the
Champions tour, the LPGA or neither?

LAST POLL: Who is the player of the year so far in 2003?

Mike Weir...64%
Davis Love III...19%
Tiger Woods...17%

--Based on 5,987 responses to our informal survey

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM GUND [INSIDE COVER] Paint the Town Fred! Couple's Comeback Win Is a Big Hit In Houston G21 OLD SCHOOL Couples is the first Houston Cougar to win the city'sTour stop COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND (COUPLES) SOB STORY Couples was all smiles during his first win in fiveyears but choked up at the end. COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF CBS (COUPLES INSET) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (DALY) COLOR PHOTO: EVERETT COLLECTION/TIMEPIX (JED CLAMPETT) COLOR PHOTO: RALPH CRAVE/TIMEPIX (KOJAK) COLOR PHOTO: JEFFREY MAYER/WIREIMAGE.COM (ABDUL) COLOR PHOTO COLOR PHOTO: GUND (KUEHNE)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)