AUGUSTA — Growing up, the name Fred Couples was a common one in my house.
For reasons not entirely related to his golf game, “Freddy Boom Boom” has long been my mother’s favorite golfer. Translation: She thinks he’s cute, and my dad knows it’s harmless as long as he keeps an eye on her when they attend the occasional practice round.
Therefore, we always kept track of Couples’ progress, particularly when the Masters came around each year. Turns out we’re not the only ones.
For a 53-year-old former champion, the following around the 1992 Masters winner is always a large one, whether it’s a practice round or a competitive round. Friday was no different, as even the patrons that were casually passing the hole Couples’ group was on stopped to cheer him on as he strolled down the fairway with Dustin Johnson and Branden Grace.
One of the main reasons, as overheard from a patron on Friday, is Couples’ “swagger.”
When asked about his perception as a “cool” golfer, Couples tried to deflect the designation.
“You know, I’m cool, but I can be a jerk, too,” he said with a laugh. “So I’m a cool jerk. And I don’t really get mad.”
Even though he ended up rewarding his fans on Friday with a 71 to move into a tie for second place at 5-under, Couples had reason to get mad on Friday. On the par-4 seventh hole, Couples’ second shot sailed over the green, and his third crossed the green the other direction and into the gallery.
He chipped on to makeable distance but missed the put and carded a double bogey to drop from 4-under to 2-under.
How did the cool guy respond? He birdied the par-5 eighth hole, made par on the ninth and played the back nine at 2-under par to move within one stroke of the lead, and Couples even held a share of the lead for a good bit of Friday’s round until leader Jason Day birdied No. 16 in the last group.
“I’m just having fun watching the boards,” he said. “And for me, I butchered the seventh hole, and I actually thought I hit a pretty good second shot. ... But then I made a huge two-putt from the front edge of No. 8 from about a 100 feet, and that, you know, was kind of like a sigh of relief. From then on, I played really, really well.”
Competing at the Masters is becoming a trend of late for Couples. Since he turned 50 in 2009, his worst finish was a tie for 15th place in 2011. In 2010, he started the week with a 66 to hold the lead after one round and finished in sixth place. Last year, he was in a tie for the lead with Jason Dufner after two rounds, making this two years in a row that he’s been in the final group on Saturday.
The pairing responded with matching 75s and fell off the pace a bit last year, something Couples hopes not to repeat.
“I would like to, you know, have another run,” he said. “As I said last year, both (Dufner) and I, we struggled right off the bat, and we were a non-factor on Saturday, and that was not really much fun.”
“Boom Boom” not having fun seems impossible. When others seem to feel the pressure of Augusta, he just keeps strolling along, which is fun to watch.
And he’s not afraid to admit that he can still boom the ball out there with the young guys, as I saw him do with Johnson and Grace for much of Friday’s round.
“I think for myself, I hit the ball a long way,” he said, adding that his putting has been good the last couple years. “If I can drive it close to the long hitters ... then I’m still right there and can still do that. But when this course becomes, you know, middle to long irons every hole, you can forget it.”
That time has come or is quickly approaching for other legends like Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw, but I, for one, hope it doesn’t catch Couples for a while. He’s too much fun to watch, and who would I take pictures of during practice rounds to take home to my mother?
Another scenario could also end Couples’ run at the Masters, one I think all of us would accept.
“I’m going to quit when I win this thing, I swear to God,” he said for the second straight year. “I’m going to retire. It’s probably not ever going to happen, but I’m going to retire.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.