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Couples & Love
Rick Reilly
May 25, 1992
The aptly named Fred Couples and Davis Love III are the hottest match in golf today
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May 25, 1992

Couples & Love

The aptly named Fred Couples and Davis Love III are the hottest match in golf today

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It would be hard picturing Nicklaus saying that of Palmer. Or Hogan of Snead. Or Jones of Hagen. Palmer doesn't go to Nicklaus's Memorial tournament, and Nicklaus doesn't go to Palmer's Bay Hill. So there. Snead and Hogan wouldn't have been on each other's MCI Friends & Family lists, either. Once, Hogan was about to drive to the airport from a hotel when a bellhop came running out. "Mr. Hogan, Mr. Snead doesn't have a ride," the bellhop screamed. "Wouldn't you like to give him one?" Hogan paused for a second. "No," he said and drove off.

And yet Couples and Love are as different as ham and eggs. Couples is a man to whom all things come easily. He is one of these guys who wakes up with his hair perfect and who almost always finds a $20 bill in his pants on the way to the dry cleaners. Clothes hang right on him, smiles come easy, and troubles go fast.

Love, though, has a tightness to his face and eyes, a wince that makes it look as if he were undergoing a tax audit. Though likable and warm in private, it would take a court order to unpurse his lips. His walk is stiff and steady, straight and purposeful, like that of a commuter who knows exactly when his train will leave. He wears his cardigans fastened all the way up and his hair straight. And he has the face of a 10-year-old. It all makes him appear to be a boy marching to church.

"I laugh on the course," Love insists, "it's just that I do it between the tee and the green. The camera never shows it." Indeed, Love is an easier read during a tournament than Couples and every bit as friendly in interviews as Couples (Love is also known as an easy touch for baby-sitting on the Tour). But Love's televised face of stone has made him the villain in the Couples-Love rivalry, just as Fat Jack came off as the bad guy in his early wars with the heroic Arnie. The L.A. playoff between Couples and Love was truly a Love-hate affair. Fans even hollered, "Miss it!" over one of his putts. "Freddy's the most popular player on the Tour now," says Love. "I'm used to it."

Couples is like chocolate: Nearly everybody likes him, and most people like him a lot. He resembles a man with an hour to get to an appointment 10 minutes away. He strolls the fairways like a five-year-old, ambling along, poking at things. If there is one thing about Couples that Love doesn't like—and he likes nearly everything—it's Couples's slow pace of play. "I don't mind his speed over shots," says Love. "I just think he could speed up in between shots."

For instance most players put a club back in the bag after hitting. Couples keeps his, the better to swat at the ground as he goes. In fact, the swat he makes at a grasshopper is hardly different from the swat he makes at his Maxfli. He sets up over the ball with a casual grace (no glaring at it like Nicklaus), takes the club back easily, sets it lazily at the top, brings it back inside and through and lets it carry to a collapsible finish at his shoulders. It is a Vermont-syrup swing—slow and sweet. "I've never seen a more wonderful tempo in all my years," says the estimable golf writer Herbert Warren Wind.

And Couples's drives leave the immediate area in a dreadful hurry. Watch him in person, and you'll see the incongruity of it all. How can this lackadaisical pass at the ball produce such violent results? Couples's swing is ridiculously relaxed. Golf World recently ran a picture in which his right hand had actually come off the club just past impact. Couples is so good, he's beating folks one-handed.

Love's swing is classically flawless—it's just not as much fun to watch as Couples's. Love's father was the Tour player and eminent teacher Davis Love Jr., and he taught his son well at the Atlanta Country Club, near the family's home. Name a famous golf teacher, and "Trip," as Love was known to his father, was most likely schooled under him: Jim Flick. Bob Toski, Peter Kostis, Paul Runyan. Love, in fact, may know too much about the golf swing. "I used to get out there and have a hundred swing thoughts," he says. "Now I try not to have any." That's not a problem Couples has. He didn't take a serious lesson until he was in his late 20's.

Love is two-iron thin, 6'3" and 175 pounds. Couples is sturdy, 5'11" and 185, with the haunches of a catcher and the upper body of a halfback. Both Couples's brother, Tom, and his father, Tom, played minor league baseball, but Love seems to be the one born into athletic greatness. He grew up having his cheeks pinched by the likes of Snead and Palmer, Hale Irwin and Nicklaus. Love's father, who died in a plane crash in 1988, was one of the reasons the Tour went to Atlanta. Every night after tournaments there, the Loves' backyard was peopled with legends.

Couples comes from nowhere. He grew up in middle-class Seattle, the son of a parks-and-recreation worker and an administrator for an aeromechanics union. He was a boy scooping up range balls by day, hitting them by night, sometimes as late as 1 a.m., quite often in the rain. Rain like that would ruin a glove, and gloves were expensive, so Couples played without one. Still does—the first Masters champion to do so since Hogan. Love had the run of his father's courses as a teenager, but Couples's father would drop him off at the 4th hole of the local public course so that the eager kid could sneak on and play long after anybody who might care to catch him had gone home.

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