Right now, you won’t see Fred Couples tee it up at Chambers Bay next week in the U.S. Open, but the USGA could change that by issuing a rare special exemption.
This paradise that we call home will be on full display next week when the world comes to Chambers Bay for the U.S. Open.
Each round will be like a postcard to the masses, with the televised visuals of the Puget Sound sure to sparkle through the screen.
But, as of now, one of our area’s natural golf wonders will be nowhere to be seen. This is Fred Couples’ town, yet Couples at the moment is shut out of the 156-man field.
Here’s hoping the USGA does the right thing and gives Couples a special exemption into the field.
That’s not likely — these last-resort exemptions are treated as if they were the Hope Diamond, something to be speculated about but very rarely seen. One person familiar with the process told me Tuesday, “Absent some unbelievable circumstances, they really don’t do it.”
As far as I can tell, the most recent one was bestowed in 2010 on Tom Watson to allow him into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. That was Watson’s fifth special exemption, but the first one issued by the USGA since giving one to Nick Price in 2005.
It seems to me that Couples, as a native son of Seattle and a lifelong ambassador of the sport, is the perfect candidate to break that drought. One can’t overestimate how popular he remains among the golfing public here, and how rapturous would be his reception from the gallery all week long.
It would be the final, heartwarming piece of a painstaking process that has been under way since Chambers Bay was awarded the U.S. Open way back in 2008. The work done by the organizers has been, by all accounts, exemplary. Now they can add a little burst of joy to the mix.
Couples is 55 now and encumbered by a balky back that has limited his playing opportunities. In fact, his final route to play himself into the field was eliminated Monday when he had to withdraw from the 36-hole sectional qualifier in Newport Beach, Calif.
But I’d bet that Couples, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and the 1992 Masters champion, would find a way in the next week to get himself physically ready to play one round a day, not two. He’s already scheduled to come to town that weekend for a First Tee Gala at the downtown Sheraton, where he and Steve Ballmer are the featured speakers.
Let’s put golf at Chambers Bay on Couples’ agenda, too. Everyone knows the story of how Couples grew up on Beacon Hill, attended O’Dea High School and developed his swing on the Jefferson Park course, where legend has it he would sneak in through a hole in the fence on the fourth hole.
Couples hasn’t actually lived in Seattle since he went off to college at the University of Houston. But he remains an avid follower of our sports teams and is still regarded as the greatest, and most popular, golfer to emerge from this region.
There’s always been something endearing about Couples. It goes beyond the sheer power that earned him the nickname “Boom Boom.” It goes beyond, even, his glittering resume, which includes 15 PGA Tour victories and 11 on the Champions Tour, including the Senior Players Championship in 2011 and the Senior British Open in 2012.
Rick Reilly once wrote of Couples in Sports Illustrated, likening his appeal to that of chocolate: “Nearly everybody likes him, and most people like him a lot.”
There is an every-man quality to Couples. He exudes cool but does so in an unforced manner. I’ve heard him compared with The Fonz in his appeal to both men and women.
Craig Strand of Puyallup is one of Couples’ admirers. About a month ago, he started a Facebook page devoted to getting Couples a special exemption into Chambers Bay.
“Fred has always been kind of the poster child for golf to me,’’ Strand said. “He’s such a likable figure for the game, like the golden boy for golf. Gosh, if the USGA just offered one exemption, he’d be the one out of anybody to deserve it.”
At age 32, Strand admires local contemporaries such as Ryan Moore and Michael Putnam, against whom he played junior golf. But Couples is the one who resonates the most powerfully for him.
“If Freddie were to play, there would be more of an excitement and roar around the area,’’ he said. “To continue hosting majors, we have to have that one golfer every generation can relate to. From my father’s age on down, that has always been Freddie.”
Six openings remain in the U.S. Open field, some of which are reserved for any golfer who moves into the top 60 in the world rankings as of next Monday who weren’t there May 25 and aren’t already in the field.
It’s not expected that all those six spots will be filled in that manner, however. That would leave a few berths for alternates from Monday’s various sectional qualifiers. Or just maybe, for the USGA to pull a special exemption out of its vault.
In what sets up as a feel-good week for Northwest golf, nothing would make this region feel better than to bring Fred Couples into the U.S. Open field.