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Veterans still Performing

Fred Couples is putting better and his partner, Langer is steady

Posted Jul 31, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

fred couples

For some time prior to the US Masters of 2006, Fred Couples was seriously suspect over short putts.  That’s when he decided to change to the belly-putter and, remarkably, at the ripe old age of 46, it brought him within touching distance of a second green jacket.  Now, six years on, the extent to which the controversial implement has become an integral part of his wonderfully enduring skills, was evident in a fine, British Senior Open victory at Turnberry last weekend.

In the process, Couples has demonstrated that the belly-putter is not a cure-all in itself.  Just as it took some time for Ernie Els to master it before he scaled the golfing peaks once more in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham.  Perseverance is the key.

Back in April 2006, Couples led a Masters of moderate scoring after a second-round 70 and retained the lead with a third-round 72.  When the pressure came on in earnest, however, over the closing stretch on Sunday, a 71 was sufficient only for third place behind Phil Mickelson.  With remarkable dignity, he talked afterwards of this failure with the blade.  "It's a humbling experience out there because you're trying so hard  ... and I just couldn't make any of them,” he said disconsolately.

“I can practise and practise and practise, and I just, you know ... when you get under the gun, you've got to be able to do it. I just left too many out there…."  His acceptance must have been what Chi Chi Rodriguez had in mind when he said: "I never pray to God to make a putt, but I pray to God to help me react good if I miss a putt."

Cool Freddie was never a great putter.  When he captured the Masters in 1992, he was ranked ninth overall in putting which, ironically, was not as good as he achieved in 2004, 2005 and 2007 when he was ranked seventh on each occasion.  So, it could be concluded that once he became comfortable with the belly-putter, it actually made him more effective with the blade, on a consistent basis.

Meanwhile, there were time-problems for himself and his playing partner, Bernhard Langer, during last Sunday’s final round.  And one could understand the American’s annoyance at being put on the clock, given that Langer is acknowledged as one of the slowest players in captivity.  He is also a charming man, very different to his cold, competitive image.

I remember being at a function a few years ago when the German decided to tell a joke.  It was more gently amusing than the type of gag that was likely to have the room rocking with laughter.  “As I listen to the wind it reminds me of a joke,” Langer began. “This member of a club was a very good, single-figure handicap player, a scratch-golfer as a matter of fact.  Every time he would go out, he’d get off to a good start and play well until the 13th hole, which was a dog-leg left with out of bounds to the right and a water hazard to the left.

“Many times he would get through the 12th in one, two or three under par and become all excited at the prospect of shooting the lowest round of his life. But every time he got to the 13th hole, he either made a double-, triple- or quadruple- bogey.  And he got so upset one day that on arriving home after yet another triple-bogey, he said to his wife: ‘Honey when I pass away, would you do me a favour?’   ‘Whatever you want,’ she replied.  ‘When I pass away I’d like you to distribute my ashes over the 13th hole.  I am so obsessed with this hole I want to get the better of it.’ She assured him she would.

“About a year and a half later, he had a heart-attack and passed away and his wife went to the president of the club and told him of her husband’s last wish.  And the President said there could be a problem, depending on when it was going to happen.  Then, on being told it was three days away, he assured her it would be arranged. ‘We can shut the hole down for 20 minutes and you do your thing and we’ll open the hole again,’ he said.  And she said that would be fine.

“When the time came, a couple of hundred people had gathered around.  And after her husband had been cremated, she opened the urn in her hands to get the ashes out.  Just then, a gust of wind came to blow him out of bounds.  So he never got the better of this hole.”

Though there were times on the back nine last Sunday, when Langer must have felt the golfing gods frowning on him, you would never have known from his demeanour.  Freddie and Bernard: two very different people with sharply contrasting attitudes to life.

- Dermot Gilleece

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