Couples to attract plenty of attention at Shaw Charity Classic


CALGARY — These guys get it. They understand that whenever Fred Couples tees it up on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, the popularity contest is, quite frankly, no contest.

He is their marquee attraction.

He’s their gallery-magnet.

He’s their King of Cool.

If you’re hoping to spot the 57-year-old Couples this week at the Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary, just look for the biggest crowd. He’ll be smack-dab in the middle. Always is. “The girls like him. The guys like him. The guys wish they could hit it like him,” said Fred Funk, the second-coolest Fred — no offence, Mr. Funk — on the tee-sheet for the three-round showdown at Canyon Meadows. “So he’s kind of the envy of a lot of people.

“He’s our rock-star.”

Make no mistake, the 2017 Shaw Charity Classic is oozing star-power, arguably the finest field in the five-year history of the event. There’s Nick Faldo, there’s Colin Montgomerie, there’s Jose Maria Olazabal — three European Ryder Cup legends who are grouped together for Friday’s first round. Fans should be standing several-deep when that trio cranks their opening tee-shots at 10:45 a.m.

Folks will oooh. They’ll ahhh.

And then most of them will stick around, not wanting to surrender their spots before Freddy arrives for his 11:05 a.m. blast-off with Jerry Kelly and Mark O’Meara.

“This is a phenomenal tournament. Huge crowds,” Couples said after Thursday’s pro-am round of the 7,158-yard layout at Canyon Meadows. “I enjoy playing golf, and I enjoy playing in front of people. And when you come to Calgary, you’re going to get a lot of people.

“I have a great pairing (Friday), and if I don’t play that well, then the gallery will dwindle a little bit Saturday.”

We’re not so sure about that.

First, worst or somewhere in the middle, fans will follow.

Couples’ credentials are impressive, no doubt.

He’s a World Golf Hall-of-Famer, one of the six inductees in Calgary for the latest edition of the Shaw Charity Classic. (Faldo, Montgomerie, Olazabal, O’Meara and Vijay Singh are the others.)

Couples has enjoyed the view from the top of the world golf rankings. He collected 15 trophies during his PGA Tour heyday, highlighted by his triumph at the Masters in 1992. He’s also a 13-time winner on the senior loop, including his jaw-dropper in Calgary in 2014, when he fired a course-record 61 in Sunday’s final round, capped by a chip-in eagle, and secured the Shaw Charity Classic crown in a playoff.

Still, other guys won more tournaments, more majors.

How did Boom Boom become so adored?

“You should ask the fans,” said Faldo, a six-time major champion, with three Green Jackets in his closet and three Claret Jug replicas on his mantle. “Because he’s cute and cuddly, is that what it is?

“Freddy is actually dangerous to play with because he’s like, he comes at the 10th, ‘What are we doing out here? Why are we bothering?’ All this sort of thing. Then he gets to the 15th hole and, ‘Oh, I’ve had enough of this place.’ Then you come down the last three holes and he’s 4-under and you’re 1-under, and he gets you.

“He’s loving it. He’s out there playing.”

Couples wasn’t out there at the 2016 Shaw Charity Classic, forced to withdraw due to a wonky back.

But he’s healthy again, and poised to put on a show this week. Sharing the stage with Faldo and Montgomerie at a Shaw-sponsored corporate dinner on Wednesday, he shared a fascinating tidbit.

“He says he thinks he’s swinging better now than he was 20 odd years ago, which is amazing,” Faldo relayed. “Made me think of some of these rock-stars … The Stones, they believe they’re playing better now after 50 years as a band.

“So I thought, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ ”

This guy is cool.

“The girls love him because they think he’s cute,” offered Mark Calcavecchia, who topped the leaderboard at the 1989 British Open and claimed a dozen other PGA Tour titles. “But still it boils down to his ability to play golf. He’s still a great golfer and still hits it a mile. When his back is feeling good, he’s as good as we have out here. He’s just that kind of player — people want to watch him.”

His looks? Calcavecchia, with a toothy grin, quipped that those are “over-rated.” “And his personality,” Calcavecchia added with a chuckle. “He has the personality of an apple.”

In all seriousness, these guys know that he’s the apple of the eye of the thousands of fans who will show up Friday at Canyon Meadows.

They get it.

“You know he’s special when he’s hitting balls and the guys (on tour) want to watch him hit it,” Funk said. “There are certain guys that everybody stops and watches. He still has that beautiful syrupy swing.”