Fred Couples doesn’t consider himself a “great player,” but he called himself a “good player.” He said it several times in his press conference on Wednesday, following the announcement that Couples got the World Golf Hall of Fame nod. Just barely, though.
The ’92 Masters champ received 51% of the vote in the 2013 PGA Tour ballots (which included 15 names) — the lowest percentage in the WGHOF history — cast by members of the media, historians and other prominent names. The WGHOF requires that a player earn 65% of the vote. When nobody did, the standards are modified, and the player who got the highest percentage of votes, provided that he earned at least 50% of the ballots, clinches a place among the greatest figures in golf.
With 15 PGA Tour wins that included a Masters title and two Players Championship crowns, along with eight Champions Tour victories, Couples’ forthcoming induction (next May) has stirred up a strong reaction and criticism of his worthiness, and most important, the err of the selection process (which Michael Bamberger, one of the voters, argues).
Don’t blame, Fred. He even “jokingly” questioned his merit.
“For everyone who votes for this thing, I’d like to say I fooled you, but it’s been a long career — 31 years of playing,” said Couples on Wednesday. “I don’t know exactly the full criteria of becoming a Hall of Famer, but there are certainly some unbelievable ones.”
Basically, he won a popularity contest, as he said himself in his opening comments.
“I joke and say (I guess I won a popularity contest) because people always ask me about my popularity,” said Couples when asked about the “popularity” remark. And I know I have a few people out there that I annoy, and I have a lot of people that like watching me play golf, and today is a great day for me.
“I hope a lot of people understand that to be in the Hall of Fame you’ve got to be a very, very good player. I don’t consider myself to be a great player, but I’m a good player. For everyone who voted for me, I appreciate it.”
Yes, I’m pretty sure Couples is questioning his own worthiness.
I think he is deserving based on the impact he had on the game. Can you talk about professional golf in the ’90s, along with the last two Presidents Cups, without mentioning his name? No way. He defined an era, and at one point, he was ranked the best player in the world, but given his talent, he’s been dubbed as one of the greatest underachievers in the game. (Let’s remember he struggled with back problems almost his entire career, which no doubt held him back.)
In a special PGA Tour Confidential roundtable on Wednesday (which because of my migraine, my contributions came in late, but I only chimed in because it was Fred Couples — I wouldn’t have garnered the energy required otherwise), I shared my knee-jerk reaction:
Yes, Freddie deserved to get in. Sure, he “only” has one major, and with his talent he could have won more in general, but his impact on golf goes far beyond that. When I was a kid, Freddie was my hero, and I know many golfing children of the 90s would say the same. He made golf look cool. I’m a little biased being from Seattle, but I took my first lessons at Jefferson Park, where Freddie played growing up. I remember the pro showing me the plaques and pictures they had on a wall honoring Freddie, which was very inspiring for my 10-year-old self — and motivated me to take up the game.
It’s true. Fred was my childhood hero and I know the same goes for many of the Tour players around my age. (Sadly, when I started covering golf, I learned more truths to him than I wished, which briefly ruined my high regard for him, but I eventually came to terms with it and let it go.)
Unfortunately, his place in the Hall of Fame will be questioned given the way the ballots turned out. I think he should be a Hall of Famer — at some point — but do I think the timing was ideal? Not so much, but that’s not Fred’s fault.
He won Most Popular and that’s his M.O., so perhaps his induction turned out to be kind of appropriate. At the same time, if I’m — someone who is admittedly biased — questioning the credibility of Freddie’s place in the Hall of Fame, then something must be off.
World Golf Hall of Fame Class of 2013
PGA TOUR Ballot Results
Davis Love III 38
Macdonald Smith 24
Harold (Jug) McSpaden 10
(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, File)