SNOQUALMIE — In a career flush with highlights, what happened to Fred Couples at last year’s Boeing Classic golf tournament was frustrating, discouraging, and, more than anything, painful.
It was, Couples recalled Thursday, “about as big a bummer as I’ve ever had.”
On that August day in 2012, and with an enthusiastic crowd cheering him on, the Seattle native made his opening tee shot at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge, bent down to pick up his tee and then tried to straighten. Instead he felt searing back pain — “It was like a bomb went off in my lower back,” Couples said at the time — and it became more severe as he walked down the first fairway.
It was so bad that he was unable to reach down for his ball. His caddy had to pick it up, and then Couples rode a golf cart back to the clubhouse and then to the parking lot. His tournament was over after one swing.
“It was a touch embarrassing,” he said. “You come all the way up here (from his current California home) to play, and people are driving in cars to the course and I was driving away from the course. It was a little weird.”
The injury was so debilitating that Couples spent most of the next week laid up in bed at the home of a Seattle friend. It was another week before he could begin to walk comfortably, and nearly two months before he could swing a golf club.
Adding to the disappointment, it kept Couples from one of the last remaining and certainly most meaningful accomplishments of his career — winning a pro tournament in the Seattle area. He finished back in the field at the 1998 PGA Championship and the 2002 NEC Championship, both at Redmond’s Sahalee Country Club; second at the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, also at Sahalee; third and tied for 16th at the 2010 and 2011 Boeing Classics, and then last year’s withdrawal.
Being 0-for-6 in and around his onetime hometown only has heightened his desire to play well this year. “I would love to win this tournament,” he admitted.
Couples has not played competitively since July, but said he has practiced well in recent weeks “because it’s important to me to come up here and play well.”
Others in the field know how important a good Seattle-area showing is to Couples.
“I think Fred is definitely very motivated to do well in his home tournament,” said Kenny Perry, who leads this year’s Champions Tour in both earnings ($1,610,525) and Charles Schwab Cup points (2,619).
A win by Couples this week would be a nice addition to a year that is already quite special. In May, Couples was one of five inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. He was introduced at the gala event by former University of Houston golf teammate and current TV broadcaster Jim Nantz, and it was, Couples said, “a thrill.”
Couples has yet to win in 2013, and he thinks the drought might have something to do with last year’s injury.
“I played at the end of (last) year, and it felt like I’d lost a little bit of the scoring touch, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’ve had a few chances to win this year, but there’ve been a couple of key shots every single time that have been mediocre at best.
“I’ll know it’s an important shot, but I don’t hit it quite right and I end up losing by a stroke. So I just feel like you have to get back in a winning rhythm.”