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Fred Couples is not enamored by LIV Golf.
If you were to compile a list of the most popular golfers of the last 40 years, Fred Couples would be somewhere near the top. Fans lap up his silky swing, movie-star good looks and smooth, what-me-worry demeanor. His proclivity for playing well during the most watched tournament of the year, the Masters, hasn’t hurt his appeal, either. Then there’s the name, Freddie. It just works.
But though Couples has slipped on a green jacket, signed his share of visors and helped bring eyeballs to the PGA Tour, he has no inflated illusions about his impact on the professional game beyond that.
“I’ve done a lot of great things in golf, maybe got people to watch the game, but I’m not changing the game,” he said the other day from the PGA Tour Champions event in Calgary.
Couples was responding to a question about the rise of LIV Golf, which with its nightclub vibe, “Golf, but louder” tagline and 54-hole, shotgun-start events has positioned itself as what Uber has been to the taxi industry: a bold-faced disruptor. Couples doesn’t see it. In fact, he sees little merit at all in the Saudi-backed league. A few weeks ago, the Hall of Famer shared his feelings about the new tour with GOLF.com, but last week, in remarks to reporters at the Shaw Charity Classic, he added even more color.
“All these guys think they’re changing the game and to me it’s comical, it’s really comical,” Couples said. “To have music on every tee and have people drinking beers and think that’s cool.” He added, “I never thought the cast and crew that would do that would be the guys doing it.”
Among that group are players with whom Couples has grown close over the years through not only schmooze sessions on the range but also his many captaincies and assistant captaincies of U.S. Ryder Cup and President Cup teams. Guys like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka. “One of my all-time favorite players,” Couples said of DJ, who one could argue is the Freddie of his generation: an uber-talented bomber who never seems to get too flustered.
“And now they’re suing us,” Couples said.
Well, Johnson and Koepka aren’t. But 11 other former PGA Tour players are, as revealed last week in a 105-page complaint in which the plaintiffs laid out a case, in painstaking detail, for their right to play on the PGA Tour, from which they are currently suspended.
“If they win or lose, I don’t really care,” Couples said. “I’m 62, I play the Champions Tour, but it’s a little heartbreaking. Go do what you’re doing. Suing the Tour, 11 guys when there’s probably 200 guys on the Tour, I just find it really, really weird.
“And I have a funny feeling I know where it’s coming and it’s coming from their leader, who no one’s liked for 25 years. And that’s not being mean, that’s just — that’s the truth. He’s not a friend of mine, but he never would be because we don’t get along. But he’s running a tour that he thinks is incredible.”
Different times: Fred Couples and Greg Norman at the 2011 Presidents Cup.
Couples was referring to LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman. Twenty-five years ago takes you roughly to the period when Norman first tried to defy the PGA Tour by launching a breakaway global league. Tour loyalists like Couples weren’t impressed by Norman’s vision then, and they’re still not all these years later. The suit, filed last week in a Northern California court, has only added fuel to the fire. The PGA Tour is a member-based organization, which means the LIV players, as Justin Thomas pointed out recently, are, in effect, suing their former colleagues.
“I’ve listened to everybody, Davis Love and Justin Thomas,” Couples went on. “We text every night. They’re really suing us, you know, and J.T.’s finally got that picture. … Now he gets it, that they’re suing him, and it’s offensive.”
When Couples vents about LIV, you can hear the disdain in his voice, but it’s also clear that he reserves most of his resentment for the LIV players who are out there shouting about their cause and airing grievances about the PGA Tour. He has more tolerance for the players who simply took the money and ran.
“I love that Charl Schwartzel won, I love that [Branden] Grace won,” Couples said of two of the first three LIV winners, “because they’re very quiet guys over there. Brooks is the same.” Couples added of the more vocal Tour critics: “I’m glad they’re gone, but stop trashing the PGA Tour. If you don’t want to be a part of it, you’re suing it? Just go away and make your millions and play golf just like I’m going to do this week.”
When Couples spoke to GOLF.com, some of his most pointed comments were aimed at LIV signee Pat Perez, who has not been shy about lobbying criticisms at the PGA Tour.
Perez said in June: “It’s upsetting that the players didn’t even get a chance to have Jay [Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner] take a meeting and at least have something to come to the players with and say this has been offered. Why is it only up to him to make the decision? I think that’s why a lot of players are mad.”
Of Perez’s agitation, Couples told GOLF.com: “He’s a grain of sand in this Tour. He should be soft and kind, but he’s, like, raising his voice. I’m done with it.”
Last week, Couples said Perez did not take kindly to his dig.
“What I don’t have respect for is I’ve texted Pat Perez for 20 years on his golf game,” Couples said. “I don’t know Pat that well, but I’ve always tried to help him, and in a comment I said Pat shouldn’t be one of the guys, he’s like a grain of sand on that tour, and the text he wrote back me, you would think I had put him in jail. So, it’s offensive, that’s offensive. Doesn’t bother me. I still like Pat Perez a lot. I’m glad he’s winning money out there, because that’s what he chose to do and that makes him happy. But for me personally, I appreciate the guys more that stand up for the PGA Tour because I’ve got 42 years invested.”
Couples isn’t the only player who feels that way. Many Tour loyalists have said that they don’t mind so much that players have taken huge sums to sign with LIV — they just want those players to be honest about why they’ve fled, i.e., for the paydays.
At the very least, Couples and others have added, don’t throw shade on the PGA Tour on the way out the door, as Sergio Garcia did in May.
At the Wells Fargo Championship, Garcia showed his LIV hand when a rules official gave Garcia what the Spaniard interpreted to be an unfavorable ruling during a lost-ball search. “I can’t wait to leave this tour,” Garcia could be heard saying on the Tour’s live stream. “Can’t wait to get out of here. Just a couple more weeks until I don’t have to deal with you anymore.”
That episode didn’t sit well with Couples. “Don’t sit there on TV because he hits a ball out of bounds, I can’t wait to leave this,” Couples said. “It’s cheesy, it’s, like, childish.”
Bouncing from stop to stop on the low-key senior circuit, Couples has been somewhat shielded from the LIV drama, other than what he reads and hears, or sees in texts from his younger Tour pals. It’s a nice life out there. A few days in Western Canada last week followed by a home game this week at the Boeing Classic, about 30 miles west of Seattle. Couples’ earnings this season: $219,851. Life-changing money it is not, but it’s nothing to sniff at, either.
“I’m glad I’m here in Calgary,” Couples said. “I will say this, that there’s no Saudi money on the Champions Tour. We won’t take it, we won’t accept it.”
As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.
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