Watching the Ryder Cup with Fred Couples
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Watching the Ryder Cup with Fred Couples

2016-09-30-09-00-38

CHASKA, Minn. -- Before I flew up to the Ryder Cup, I got an email from someone representing Samsung. They have a marketing deal with the PGA of America, so they have a tent on site at their biggest championships, including the Ryder Cup. The big tent showcases all of their products (Galaxy Note 7 perhaps excluded): 4K ultra high-def TVs, a new sound bar, their virtual reality headwear and more.

So, the PR rep asks if I want to come to the tent and have some time with Fred Couples, who would be at the Ryder Cup anyhow in support of his friends on the American side but is also doing a promotional appearance. Usually these kinds of interview deals don't go well -- for subject or the interviewers. The subject is kind of captive to whoever organizes the interview schedule, and it's almost always done cafeteria style, with each interviewer walking away feeling like they got just enough time to turn on their recorder and walk out the door.


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But it's Fred Couples, so how do you say no? He's cool, honest and somewhat enigmatic. He's bound to be interesting, even in a tantalizingly short burst of time.

So, yes, I would like to have some time with Fred Couples.

I show up a little late -- after all, the Ryder Cup was just getting good Saturday afternoon, and the tent felt miles away from the action. But they're accommodating, and they let me bat in the pitcher's slot. While I'm waiting for the preceding peer to get what they need, I'm watching the matches on this four-by-four wall of curved TVs with the matches stitched together digitally into one big picture.

I get a tap on the shoulder, "Fred's ready. Go on in."

I had been thinking of what I was going to ask him, knowing I basically had time for maybe two questions before one of the handlers of Couples' window called a Zack Morris timeout and ended the interview.

And before we even start, Couples gives me a fist bump and asks my name. I pull up the recording app on my phone, and Couples isn't really paying attention. He's sneaking a glance of the matches, and Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters have won another hole.

"Wow, 2 Up," Couples says. "Well, that's the beauty of this thing. So we're OK. McIlroy and Pieters. Wow, they're unstoppable."

Fred Couples wants to watch the Ryder Cup, and, really, so do I. So I ask him about Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed bungling a 4-up lead to let Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello snag a half-point to end the morning session. He's answering like a worrywart fan, not calm-cool-and-collected Fred Couples.

"I didn't enjoy that," he says, only half-kidding. "A half a point. We're 4 up. That's...a killer."

Turns out, when at the helm for a team competition, Couples was more like your always-concerned grandma that the guy who exudes endearing confidence.

"When you're captain, the magic number is 14-and-a-half," he says. "As the Presidents Cup captain (which he was successfully three consecutive times), it's a little higher. But I would sit there and say, 'How in the world are we going to get to 16-and-a-half points?' On the final day at one point, we had nine matches, and we were ahead in all of them, but you'd look at the board and say, 'Well, this is going to happen, and this is going to happen,' but there's nothing you can do."

And then Couples sneaks a peek of his friend, and seems surprised.

"...Davis looks really relaxed."

And then it's back to pessimism.

"What the Task Force will do is take a little blame out if we lose," he says, thinking several steps ahead, almost in a fatalist way.

And then he worries if Love will get the Hal Sutton treatment...again.

"Whether he did a good job or a bad job, we got killed (in 2004), and he pretty much went into hibernation, and that's not fair," Couples says. Sutton left golf for five years after that 18.5-9.5 pasting, only equaled two years later in Ireland. "If that happened to me in 2004, and we lost like that, and I got treated like that, I'd want to hide for a little bit."

It's clear that Couples buys into what the Task Force has tried to instill in the American side. In truth, his approach, lauded by the players, is somewhat the model on which Love, Woods and Phil Mickelson led the Task Force.

"You win as a team," he says. "You lose as a team. Unless you make some humongous blunder, then you can get picked on. But I got a funny feeling we're going to win this thing. I think Davis and the Task Force are well in line."

However, it's clear that, for all of his successes as American captain in the confidence-building Presidents Cup, Couples downright rejected some of the anxiety-inducing aspects of the job.

"Every time I would have to do something, I was like, oh my God, sick to my stomach, because you don't want to be the captain and lose," he says.

"It was just feeling like, I gotta pick out the clothing. Are they going to like the hats? Will it fit their heads? And I know it sounds silly, picking hats, but I've been on teams where they didn't fit on my head. I've also had golf shirts that fit me so badly that I didn't ever want to wear them. Now I gotta pick their clothing?"

In a sense, having some sense of disdain and dread for the details that didn't ultimately matter helped him prepare and focus his team on the ones that did.

"They would ask me, 'Captain, when's the bus leave?' And my answer would be, 'I don't know, and I don't really care,'" he said.

"My job is to win this thing and get you guys to play well. It's not my job to figure out when the bus leaves tomorrow morning. You figure that out. And they'd look at me like I was a jerk. But the rest of the time, I'd hold them in the palm of my hand, treat 'em well and get them ready to play."

And that's it. That's my time. Well, Couples' time. He has to move on to his next engagement so he can get right back to what we were doing (albeit inside the ropes and not in a glass-walled ideal Samsung living room), and that is watching and talking about the Ryder Cup.

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