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Not the Ending We Hoped For
Editor's Note: Tony Dear was there all four days of the U.S. Senior Open. Tony, like other Seattleites and ex-pats who've taken a shine to Washington State and now live here, was shocked that after two holes of the championship's final round local hero Fred Couples was essentially out of it.
This realization came after a "snowman" put Couples in catch-up mode with Langer, a surgeon who should go down as one of the best closers in golf history. Here's Tony's final dispatch from Sahalee.
I headed out to the course wanting to see Seattle sport's history being made. Upon catching Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer up at the fourth hole I was shocked to see Couples had triple-bogeyed the par-5 second and was now playing catch up.
On a hole as tough as Sahalee's 18th, a two-shot swing is always possible - one guy makes a safe bogey, the other an ugly snowman.
But Bernhard Langer doing anything to jeopardize his lead and open a door for Fred Couples just wasn't going to happen.
Langer is, of course, the man who overcame the yips four times, won the week after missing an 8-foot putt that would have tied the 1991 Ryder Cup match at Kiawah Island, and has 74 professional victories in a 38-year professional career.
He doesn't throw tournaments away, and if he did, he wouldn't do it lightly.
So What Happened at the 2nd?
Good question, I didn't actually see it. After watching FC birdie the 1st on TV, I headed out to the course wanting to see Seattle sport's history being made. Upon catching him and Langer up at the 4th hole I was somewhat shocked to see Couples had triple-bogeyed the 2nd and was now playing catch up. Bernhard Langer is never a good man to play catch up with and, sure enough, Couples never caught up.
So, do I have this right . . . He laid up of all things; on the easiest hole on the course, chunked his third from 69 yards into the pond, dropped 10 yards further back, hit another dodgy pitch shot this time over the green, flopped on and missed the putt?
All the way round, a pesky little prop plane was buzzing over the course pulling a large banner advertising a well-known beer. One wonders if Couples ever looked up, saw it and thought that eight or nine bottles of that stuff would feel good right now.
In his interview afterwards, Couples mentioned that as he was walking up the 3rd fairway, he and caddie Joe LaCava were wondering what had been the last occasion they had laid up. After such a disastrous result this time, I doubt they'll be laying up again any time soon.
Lot of Love for Sahalee
Sahalee should figure quite prominently in discussions the USGA (and perhaps the PGA of America) has on the subject of future championship venues. So popular was it among the players that many suggested the event should return to Sammamish sooner rather than later.
"The course is very well thought-out," said Olin Browne, who closed with a 5-under 65 to finish tied for third alongside John Cook. "The strategic bunkers defend it along with the tricky greens and tough pin positions. It definitely stands out."
Corey Pavin who had a 68 to tie for 20th said, simply. "I thought it was a great course." And Larry Mize, who finished tied for eighth after a 68 of his own, obviously approved. "I'll leave here with good impressions," he said. "The people of Seattle, the crowds were great. It was just a really good week overall."
Of course, other venues can accommodate more people and apparently Seattle is a little remote (haven't the people who say this ever heard of planes, software, e-tailing, coffee, music and biotech industries?), which may preclude the U.S. Open and, since Fred Couples won't be turning 50 again any time soon, future U.S. Senior Opens might not have quite the same appeal. But rest assured the USGA will leave here very satisfied with their choice of venue.
Couples for Ryder Cup?
In his champion's press conference, Bernhard Langer was asked if he thought Fred Couples should be part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He didn't consider his response for very long.
"Absolutely, I think Freddie has a very good chance of being picked for the Ryder Cup," he said immediately. "If I was the American captain, he would definitely be on my short list."
Langer cited the improvement in Couples' putting, and said he's one of the best ball-strikers in the country. "He hits it very far and very controlled," Langer added. "He can shape it left to right and right to left, and he's a seasoned competitor. He's been in all these situations before so I think he would be a definite asset to the American team."
With so many young and inexperienced players hovering around the top dozen or so on the current U.S. Ryder Cup team list, you have to think that captain Corey Pavin is seriously considering someone with Freddie's experience.
Couples hasn't played in the biennial encounter for 13 years and his record isn't brilliant (7-9-4), but you know he'd be a great source of inspiration and encouragement for his young teammates.
Note to mention for the folks back home in Seattle.
Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it increasingly difficult for him to focus on Politics (his chosen major) and, after dropping out, he ended up teaching golf at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a "player." He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. In 2009, Tony won first place for Editorial/Opinion in the ING Media Awards for Cybergolf. The article (http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_newsa_euros_take_on_the_2008_ryder_cup_matches) that impressed the judges was the one about Europe's Ryder Cup team and Captain Nick Faldo's decision to pick Paul Casey and Ian Poulter rather than Darren Clarke.