A true original comes through
Fred Couples saves geezer golf in Houston area with Sunday 63
The Houston area's Senior Tour event — and it doesn't matter how many marketing wizards teamed up to rebrand it as the Champions Tour years ago, it will forever be senior golf — did just about everything right.
It put the tournament out in The Woodlands, where the older guys who follow these 50-and-over former stars actually play golf themselves. It offered free admission, free parking, free shuttle rides ... it did just about everything but pay folks to attend. The organizers brought in the biggest guest star they could find — none other than Arnold Palmer.
And still, nobody really cared.
When the 81-year-old Palmer — one of the greatest golfers of all time — hit the opening shot in the Thursday afternoon pro-am for the Administaff Small Business Classic about 100 people who'd gotten in for free milled around the hole. Just two days earlier, more than 800 who paid big money turned out to hear Jack Nicklaus talk about football and a little golf in a big ballroom at the Hilton Americas-Houston.
Now, Nicklaus is Nicklaus, The Woodlands is not downtown Houston and Jack was talking for University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the No. 1-rated cancer hospital in the United States. Yet, even allowing for all that, the difference couldn't have been more striking.
People just weren't into seeing the old guys try and relive their days of athletic relevancy.
Until Fred Couples went crazy on Sunday afternoon.
The 50-year-old Couples — who only became eligible for pro senior golf this year, who's still good enough to be in contention in the Masters on Sunday — dropped a 63 on his stunned contemporaries at Woodlands Country Club. OK, they're not really his contemporaries. Fred Couples playing the Champions Tour would be like Barry Bonds deciding to hit in his local Senior Softball league. It's Man against really old boys.
But a 63 is a 63. A 63 would be impressive in a Sunday Social at the country club. Couples went 7-under over the final eight holes to win his fourth geezer golf tourney of the season and a $255,000 check. His number on the back nine? A 29.
That's just silly good.
Suddenly, you started hearing about The Woodlands' Administaff Small Business Classic on national sports shows. All because of Freddie. Even at 50, Couples carries more charisma than a fleet of the PGA Tour's flawlessly-programmed, golf-academy-produced twentysomethings. When Freddie shoots a 63, it reverberates.
Couples chose to play in The Woodlands rather than the more prestigious AT&T Championship in San Antonio next weekend because of his ties to the area where he went to school (Couples' notoriously creaky back still isn't to the point where he's going to tax it with back-to-back tournaments). Couples, the former Cougar, still loves Houston and he embraces any chance to play near where many of his buddies still live.
And on Sunday, he gave Houston's senior golf event the one thing it desperately needed all along — a real star.
With that eagle and every birdie in that colossal close, Freddie became a one-man marketing plan. If the Small Business Classic decides to charge for admission next year — after two straight years of letting everyone in for free — you can credit (or blame) Freddie.
The tournament that's done everything right still needed the right champion.