The New Best Hope
Fred Couples brings his magical swing to the Champions Tour and fires up the over-50 competition and its spectators
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, July/August 2010
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Trevino's presence alone could drive up attendance by 100 percent. When he played the old Northville Long Island Classic for the first time in 1990, the tournament was overwhelmed by the crowds. Thousands show up just to see him, and all aspects of the tournament from the shuttle system to the marshalling to the concessions were suddenly overburdened, though the chaotic situation was also tremendously exciting. A usual tournament crowd of 7,000 became 14,000. Then Nicklaus showed up at the Northville in 1994 and now the crowds were more than 25,000. Trevino and Nicklaus had sent the senior tour into overdrive.
"They were waiting for us to come out," says Trevino. "Once we got there, it was the Super Bowl. Hell, we were the best damn show in golf."
The best damn show in golf couldn't last forever. Age had to take its toll. And when the supernova named Tiger Woods came along, the senior tour began its fade to gray. As the economy started to slide, as companies looked for bigger bangs for their bucks, or to save them altogether, the renamed Champions Tour lost its investment luster. Crowds dwindled, ratings plummeted and eventually some tournaments folded. Gone was the Transamerica Championship in Napa, California. Gone was the Long Island Classic, the remaining event of what had been a three-tournament swing through the well-heeled suburbs of New York City. Gone was the AT&T Champions Classic near Los Angeles. A schedule of around 35 tournaments per year was whittled down to the mid 20s.
"Nobody has made that kind of impact since," says Trevino of the tour's glory years. "Maybe Freddie can do it. This tour needs somebody to make an impact. We've got tons of good players, but somebody has to make an impact."
That impact has come from a player with a swing that makes an impact. It's not only fans who watch Couples hit balls on the range. When he shows up, the other players know it, just from the sound of his club striking the ball. They will look over their shoulders, just to verify what they know so well-Freddie's pounding it, and effortlessly.
Longtime friend John Cook, a successful Champions Tour player, has been waiting for Couples to come along. "It's great to have Fred out here," says Cook. "You know that when Fred is in the field, he is the guy, the guy to beat. He brings a lot to our tour. Our tour was doing well, now it's going to do even better. I think he brings a lot of exposure and gets his following out to [watch]. We would like to have him out here as much as he feels he wants to play."
Cook sees the attraction of Couples' style. "Fred is what you get," he says. "Exactly what you see is exactly how he is. He just moves along with a long, flowing swing and he kills it. It looks like he doesn't care, and he doesn't care. There's no real mystery to Fred Couples. He is very, very good and always has been."
If you ask Couples to explain where he is at with his game, what position he occupies within it, or just about any other question, you get rambling answers, the substance of which is scattered around like so many dangling participles. There is an answer there, you just have to cull the herd of clauses and asides to get to it. It seems pretty clear, however, that Couples knows where he belongs now.
"I'm a Champions Tour player now," he says with little equivocation though he will still play a few events on the PGA Tour. "I have no problem with that. I've been waiting since 10 years ago. I didn't think I would want to play the Champions Tour. When I got to be 46, I started thinking they should lower the age on the Champions Tour. And I was able to play pretty well a handful of times [on the regular tour] to kind of keep me interested. Now with that in mind, I think I fit pretty well out here, and I think I will help the tour just like Corey Pavin and Tom Lehman."
The competitive side of the Champions Tour is important and it's important that a player of Couples' stature has done so well right out of the box. But the meat of the Champions Tour success lies in its ability to connect business to players and players to business. A regular Champions Tour event has two pro-ams on Wednesday and Thursday and it is these amateur players, willing to shell out thousands of dollars, who are the underpinning of a tournament's charitable endeavors. If more of them are attracted to the Champions Tour because of Couples, all the better.
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