"Couples & Love" is not the latest self-help book from Leo Buscaglia. It isn't a new game show for lonely hearts, either. No, Couples & Love was the reason PGA Tour pro Fred Funk was on his way to a course-record 62 at the Houston Open a couple weeks ago and couldn't draw enough fans for a decent bridge game. Couples & Love was why nearly everyone blew past Funk in search of the two best things to happen to American golf since waterproof Foot-Joys: Fred Couples and Davis Love III.
Sorry, Mr. Funk, but American golf does not get reborn every day, and The Freddy and Davis Tour, as Tour veteran Tony Sills calls it, docs not come around every week. Going into Houston, Couples and Love had staged a yearlong scorched-fairway exhibition the likes of which the PGA hadn't seen since the early '80s, when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson were the dueling darlings of American golf. Between them Couples and Love had won six of the last nine Tour stops, had finished at least second in eight of the nine and had stirred golf fans from their usual Sunday-with-Steve-Melnyk stupor. Couples, a late bloomer at 32, beat Love in a playoff in Los Angeles in February, stomped the field at Bay Hill in March and conquered the Masters in April. Meanwhile, Love, 28, went on a tear himself, taking home huge checks by comfortable margins in three of four tries, including the winner's share he collected in March at the TPC (by four shots), in April at the Heritage (by four) and at his Greensboro III-peat (by six).
Couples was No. 1 in scoring average; Love was No. 2. Couples was No. 2 in birdies; Love was No. 3. Couples was No. 1 in all-around Tour stats; Love was No. 3. Couples was No. 1 in the Sony world rankings; Love was No. 8, with a bullet. Couples was No. 1 on the money list, with $1,010,874 in prize money. Love was on his heels at No. 2, with $1,001,932 on the books. In 1991 no player won more than $1 million.
"In years past it was [Arnold] Palmer and Nicklaus," says South African pro Fulton Allem. "Then it was Watson and [Seve] Ballesteros. Now the new pace is being set by Couples and Love." And the golf world is particularly punchy with delight. It's like going to the airport and trying to decide which long-lost son to hug first. Since Watson last dominated, in 1980 with six Tour wins, American fans have pined for even one great U.S. player to come along. Suddenly there are two, neither of whom speaks Welsh or Spanish or puts shrimps on barbies.
They're on their own level," says 16-year touring pro Jay Haas. "Davis hits shots only Fred can hit, and Fred hits shots only Davis can hit. It's like, O.K., somebody just hit a one-iron off a dirt lie, over some trees, and sucked it hack on the green short of the bunker. It's got to be either Freddy or Davis."
O.K., O.K., so the raves are ridiculously premature, and both players could be back in HalSuttonville by September. But, hey, let's let American golf fans wallow in this wealth for a while.
In some ways Couples and Love are like twins. Says Watson, "They're both very, very long, and that's the biggest advantage you can have in this game." But not only are they very, very long (over the past 10 years Love is first and Couples third in driving distance), they also deploy wicked irons (Couples is No. 3 this season in greens hit, Love is 12th) and are almost clairvoyant with putters (Couples is fifth this season, Love is 12th). Altogether, it's an unheard-of combination, like that belonging to a guy who can move the piano and play Tchaikovsky on it, too. For crying out loud, even Nicklaus couldn't chip.
Couples and Love can also shape a tee shot to fit any hole. They are magicians with L wedges in their mitts. They turn par 5s into Tinker Toys. At Augusta this year both were hitting mid-to-short-iron second shots on the par-5 13th and 15th holes, unthinkable 20 years ago.
They are both so long, in fact, that they have recently had to leash their drivers. Couples has shortened his swing. Love abridged his swing too and now hits a low-trajectory ball.
They are both Tour good fellas and, no joke, good friends. At the '92 Masters, Couples came into the interview room just as the public-address announcer misannounced: "We have Davis Love in the interview room." To which Couples said, "I wish." As Couples conducted a press conference at Greensboro, some pest was throwing ice at him from behind. It was Love. After Couples won the Masters, Love said, "I'm as happy he won the Masters as if I'd won it myself."