Standing on the slightly elevated platform next to the clubhouse at Sahalee on Saturday evening, Fred Couples started to answer our questions. A few minutes into it, he looked over the group of about ten reporters and called on a surprise visitor who had popped in.
“Is it true Jay Haas beat you like 3&2 on Wednesday — or was it Tuesday?”
I turned around and when I saw it was Haas himself, I laughed — so did the others. Couples said with a smile, “Yes, it is true.”
While Haas won bragging rights and perhaps some cash, Freddie is in position to walk away with something priceless for him and tens of thousands of Seattle fans.
“Where would it rank [among my victories]? I would say as far as excitement, probably No. 1, but as far as, you know, feel to it would be behind Augusta,” said Freddie.
“If I don’t win, it will be disappointing but it’s going to be a great week either way,” he continued. “I just want to go out and play well and, you know, see what happens. It’s all you can do. I mean, I’m in a great position to win in my hometown, that’s probably not going to happen again, so I don’t think that’s going to make me more nervous than trying to win the U.S. Senior Open than I think it is, but I’ll let you know on the first tee tomorrow.”
Known for his laid-back attitude and cool stroll, Freddie admits he’s taking tomorrow seriously.
“I used to have a tournament here in Seattle and players would come up and we would play and have a good time but this is a big deal and this is a big event and I’m going to go out tomorrow and see how I play and give it one more day.”
My eyes lit up when he mentioned the late Fred Couples Invitational. Oh, the memories! I went to it one summer of ’96 or ’97 at Inglewood Country Club — it was during my first season playing competitively in the junior golf circuit. I remember watching Davis Love play the 10th hole while his daughter walked next to him up the fairway. I recall an ever-friendly Phil Mickelson signing autographs for kids (myself included) in between holes and thinking he was the greatest person on the planet.
You probably don’t know this, but the first post I ever wrote on this site included a clip of Freddie’s ace at TPC Sawgrass in ’97. It was a fitting way to start because he helped inspire my passion for the game and competition. I took my first golf lessons circa ’93 at Jefferson Park in Seattle, where Freddie learned the game. I grew up hearing the tales of his hopping the fence to play the course. I recall being shown a plaque honoring him in the hallway of the clubhouse. As a 10-or-11-year-old girl, I wanted to be like him.
Similar to how Freddie wanted to be like Lee Trevino when he saw him at Sahalee in 1975, only he fulfilled — and surpassed his goal.
“When I saw this guy, I figured that’s absolutely what I want to do. It was kind of a pipe dream,” said Fred. “I was 16 years old, but that’s the day I really felt like I wanted to be a golfer, watching Lee Trevino hit balls and do a clinic.”
Thirty-five years later, Freddie is in position to win his first USGA championship at the same place.
I couldn’t have scripted the story better. When I learned the Senior Open would be held at Sahalee (last spring) and it would also be Freddie’s first year playing with the 50+ guys, my first thought was him winning in front of his hometown crowd.
In a perfect world, I envisioned Freddie putting out (with a tap-in, preferably) for the win and the gallery rushing the green and his caddie, Joe LaCava, hoisting him onto his shoulders while Freddie high-fives adoring fans that are chanting his name. You know, something out of a cheesy feel-good sports movie that is totally predictable, but you still watch for that warm and fuzzy feeling. That scenario doesn’t actually happen, though. At any rate, the forecast calls for a dusty Sunday afternoon in the Greater Seattle area.
Between Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, I’ve already witnessed several amazing moments in golfing history this summer, but to watch my childhood hero win at Sahalee would probably surge to the top of the list. It would also be the closest thing to a major Seattle sports victory in years.
We’ve endured countless years of heartbreak from the Sonics, Mariners and/or the Seahawks — the overarching theme has been great expectations met by even greater underachievement. Every time a team was in fantastic position to capture a big title, there was a knack for failing to deliver the coup de grace. If history teaches us anything, it’s that the outcome at Sahalee will be disappointing. Right? I hope that I’m wrong.
Either way, welcome home, Freddie.
[Photo by John Mummert/USGA]