When the tee times were released and I saw Fred Couples and Dustin Johnson playing in the same group, the first word that came to mind was “awkward.” And it was definitely done intentionally. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great group — Nick Watney (who withdrew on Thursday before his round), Freddie and DJ — but given the circumstances, I could understand how it may have been uncomfortable. You see, Joey looped for Freddie for 21 years. The caddie-player relationship is more analogous to a husband-wife relationship than you might think. Let’s put it this way: You and your wife of 21 years get divorced recently, but it was an amicable separation. Then you have a dinner engagement a few weeks later and you’re seated at the same table with your now-ex and her new partner. Even though you’re both happy for the other, it’s still a tad awkward to spend all that time with your ex for five hours.
During Freddie’s pre-tournament presser on Wednesday, he mentioned the pairing. “I have a great pairing with Dustin Johnson and my old caddie who is caddying for him and then Nick Watney,” said Fred. “So it’ll be a fun couple of days.”
I sensed a bit of sarcasm in Freddie’s tone when he said “great pairing.” (But perhaps I was reading too much into it and the change in tone was unintentional.)
Following the first round of the Memorial at Muirfield Village, Freddie, Joey and DJ all insist things went smoothly. And I’m sure they did. Freddie wants the best for Joe, but for years has asked Joe to find another bag because Freddie’s schedule is limited due to his chronic back problems. I don’t doubt Freddie encouraged Joe to take the job with DJ. But come on, it’s still weird to play in the same group right away.
“It was fine,” said DJ on Thursday when asked if things were awkward. “I mean, Freddie is a great guy. There’s no hard feelings there. You know, we talked about it the other day. But everything is good, and I’m happy to have Joe working on the bag for me.”
Apparently there were no awkward moments between Joe and Freddie, either, according to Dustin, who isn’t known for his keen perception.
“No, it was good,” said DJ. “Freddie is a great guy. There’s no bad blood or anything like that. They were together for 21 years and are really close friends. Yeah, it was nice. We had a great time out there today.”
Fred shot a seven-over 79 in the first round, but improved on Friday, carding a 72. Meanwhile, Dustin shot scores of 68-73.
During Freddie’s presser, he voiced concern over Joe being able to club Dustin. “One thing that’s going to be hard is him clubbing Dustin with irons quickly,” said Couples. “But the other part he may help him off the tee clubbing Dustin where he doesn’t have to hit driver every time.”
Dustin said on Thursday Joe didn’t encounter any problems.
“He’s got it dialed in already,” said DJ. “I don’t think it — especially with good guys (caddies), it doesn’t take very long to club people.”
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)