When it comes to Fred Couples and caddies, Joe LaCava is the man. They had more than 20 years together, including Fred's win at the 1992 Masters. I was there in Fred's Wonder Bread years, in the early- and mid-'80s. I was on his bag for his first Tour victory, the '83 Kemper Open. I was there for his first big win, the '84 Players Championship. I don't know about now, but then it was the fifth-most-important tournament in the world. Why? Because the winner got a 10-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
Fred won it at 24. In those days, 24 was young. You're 24, you're healthy and talented, and you have job security? You're gonna make some money. In our four years together I might have pulled some good clubs for him, but Fred did more for me than I ever did for him. You work for Fred Couples, your life changes. For the better. I was there at the start of a Hall of Fame career, and I'm damn proud of it.
Fred has the gift of simplicity. See ball, hit ball. Par-4? Driver. Par-5? Driver. All the time? No. But most of the time.
He sees courses like nobody else. At Augusta in '84, playing his second shot into 7 one day, he tells me he's going to hit a cut shot at "the guy in the white visor." I see a hundred guys with white visors. Fred sees one.
Three months later, Fred was playing at the Old Course in the British Open. This was the year Tom Watson didn't win and Seve Ballesteros did. A well-seasoned St. Andrews caddie is watching Fred in a practice round and says to him, "You nae play the Old Course from the left!" And Fred says, "You nae see somebody hit eight-iron from 165."
He plays his own way and swings his own way. One of his things is that the backswing is overrated. He can hit beautiful shots with every kind of backswing you could imagine—and some you can't.
It's easy to say now, but I knew he'd win at Augusta someday. What's surprising to me is that he hasn't won an Open on the Old Course. Maybe he still will. Age doesn't matter much in that tournament, and the Open is back at St. Andrews in 2015. I was caddying for Greg Norman at Royal Birkdale in 2008 when he made a run at the Open title at age 53. Nothing Fred does surprises me. He shows every year at Augusta how good his golf still is, especially on the best courses in the world. What he needs is four good rounds.
He's always been inspired by classic courses. He had good taste in clubs too. During my time with him he had the most beautiful Toney Penna driver, black-painted persimmon with a red epoxy insert. That club belongs in the Hall of Fame. He had a Wilson Staff sand wedge with the red dot on the sole of the club. And he had two beautiful putters, a Ping Anser and a Bulls Eye. He also had about the purest stroke you ever saw. It was so short nothing could go wrong with it.
A Tour player needs a driver he loves, a sand wedge he won't wear out and a putter he wants to take to bed. That was especially true 30 years ago, when clubs varied more. Fred had the Big Three. He was as good with those three clubs as anybody in the game.
You know about Fred and good courses. He won last year's Senior British Open at Turnberry, one of the best courses in the world. He loves Augusta National and the Old Course and Riviera. Congressional, where he won the Kemper, is an old-school gem. As for the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, where he's won twice: It's the best layout money can buy. It had one major thing going for it, back in our day. It was tough. The purer you hit it, the harder you want the course to be, and Fred was pure.