With the Presidents Cup coming up in only a few months, I think we owe some appreciation to the man who was instrumental in building the excitement of the Presidents Cup to what it is today–Fred Couples. Freddy played a key role in securing U.S. victories in three very memorable Presidents Cup matches. The first came in 1994 when Couples took on the World No. 1 player, Nick Price. That year, Price had just finished racking up two major victories–the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. Many observers felt that Price would make quick work of Couples with his ever-present back trouble–but they were wrong. Price held the lead throughout most of the match, until Freddy turned up his game and got it all square going into the last hole—where he knocked his approach to a foot and tapped in for victory.
The next Presidents Cup in 1996 had Couples taking on Vijay Singh in the final match–and it was another close one. The U.S. and International teams were neck and neck when the Couples-Singh match came to the last hole. Singh played a beautiful approach to about twelve feet, setting himself up for a makeable birdie chance. Couples played a rather mediocre approach, blocking his shot to the right and leaving a forty-footer for birdie. With Couples and Singh measuring their birdie opportunities, both teams looked on expectantly–a birdie by either of them would result in a one-point victory for their team. With Couples looking at such a long putt, the Americans knew their chances were slim, but Freddy delivered once again. Pandemonium ensued as the Americans rejoiced in celebration. With the pressure applied by Couples, Singh missed his birdie and the Americans won their second Cup in a row.
Nine years later, Couples would face Singh again in another key match at the Presidents Cup. At the time, Singh was No. 1 in the world and had just finished racking up four victories for the 2005 season. Conversely, the aging Couples with his best years behind him and saddled with a back brace, had to rely on a Captain’s pick to make the team. However, Jack Nicklaus, the Captain for the Americans had faith in him and that was enough to spur Couples on. After facing skepticism from the media on why he did not pick one of his “top guns” like Woods or Mickelson to go up against the World No. 1 player, Nicklaus staunchly defended Couples saying, “I did go with one of my guns, that’s who asked for him.” After some puzzlement, one reporter asked, “Fred asked for Vijay?” Nicklaus nodded saying, “He told me if you can get me Vijay, I’d like to have him.” Singh was rather cheerful at the prospect of facing Couples and said, “You’re going to need a golf cart!” “What do you mean?” Couples asked and Singh replied, “Bro, that’s because it’s going to be over at the ninth.” The event itself was close, with the Americans trailing the Internationals by a few points. Freddy vs. Vijay was one of the early matches, with seven more to follow; and the American squad was hopeful when Couples took an early lead on Singh—thinking perhaps the gray-haired underdog could pull another rabbit out of his hat. Suddenly it seemed that all hope was lost when Couples dunked his approach on the twelfth hole into the water. Freddy and Vijay were now back to even going into the last hole, much like their memorable match-up in ‘96. After good approach shots, both were looking at birdie putts. But Singh narrowly missed his putt; and once again, Couples calmly knocked in his twenty-footer to win the match and propel the American team toward an amazing comeback victory. When asked about his win over Vijay that ignited the American charge, the always humble Couples replied, “Is he going to beat me eight out of ten times? I think so. But in a one-day match, I had just as good a shot as anyone.” Couples then proceeded to Captain three winning Presidents Cup teams, etching his name forever in Presidents Cup history.