Couples is enjoying new hometown

August 22, 2010 

— Late Friday afternoon, Fred Couples walked out of the scoring trailer behind the 18th green at Sedgefield Country Club having missed the 36-hole cut in the Wyndham Championship.

He put a few things in a pocket of his golf bag, said goodbye to some friends and walked with his girlfriend, Amy O'Keefe, toward the front of the old Tudor-style clubhouse.

With no golf to play on the weekend, Couples was free to head home.

To Charlotte.

Couples, who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of popular golfers, recently bought a house in Charlotte and joined the Quail Hollow Club.

It's where he lives now when he's not playing a tournament someplace, which is one reason why he played in Greensboro this week rather than in Oregon, where a Champions Tour major is being held.

When he's in town, which he is a lot, Couples hits Harris-Teeter, a favorite frozen yogurt place and local lunch spots when he's not accompanying O'Keefe to the gym for her regular workouts.

While she goes at it hard, Couples walks on a treadmill.

He has Bobcats season tickets, knows where SouthPark is and the Dolcetto Wine Room that O'Keefe's family runs. Otherwise, he's still learning his new city.

"Do I know it enough?" Couples said, looking at O'Keefe. "No. Every time I get in a car to go to the same place, I have to ask her, where do I turn?"

He's starting to fit in already.

Couples is a marvel. There has always been an effortless style about him, a coolness that can't be copied. Millions of guys have tried.

They don't have it. He can't lose it.

Couples started wearing a new style of golf shoes earlier this year, shoes that look like a cross between sneakers and slippers, and the company can't make enough of them to keep up with the demand. All because Freddie wears them.

He's 50 now, a senior golfer, but it doesn't matter. He's had a bad back since he was a young man, so we've watched him stretching, twisting his neck and tugging at the sleeve of his shirt before hitting a shot for almost 30 years now.

It's been 18 years since he won the Masters, but he's still got enough game to be a factor on the PGA Tour. He finished sixth at Augusta this year after shooting 66 in the first round.

There have been suggestions that Couples may be a perfect guy for Corey Pavin to add to the United States Ryder Cup team this fall. It's unlikely, but it's not a bad idea.

Couples shot 72-70 at Greensboro this week, a place where he tied for fifth last year. He smiled standing on the 18th green Friday afternoon, putting his arm on the shoulder of Anthony Kim, his playing partner who also missed the cut.

But Couples didn't like getting the weekend off.

"I need to start playing more," he said. "Sitting around hitting a bucket of balls isn't doing much."

It was his third straight missed cut in a regular tour event. He has helped transform the Champions Tour, however. He tied for second in his first event, then reeled off three straight victories. Couples lost the Senior PGA Championship in a playoff to Tom Lehman and finished second at the Senior Open, nearly completing a storybook week in Seattle.

"I'm going this way, but I've got to start going the other way," Couples said, rolling his hand backward.

"If I had won the Senior PGA or the U.S. Open I'd be in a better frame of mind. I played well in those things, but I didn't do very well on a couple of holes. Like the PGA I made two eagles on [Nos.] 16 and 17 to get in the thing. I have a few tournaments left, but I'm not playing like I was."

Couples will return to Seattle next week for the Boeing Classic on the Champions Tour, his second trip in a month to where he grew up.

After that, he'll come back home.

To Charlotte.

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5118

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