Let’s address the issue that really matters: who is the coolest golfer on the planet?
Is it Tiger Woods? Too stiff.
Ian Poulter perhaps? Nope – too pink and spiky.
Camillo Villegas? He clearly has real potential.
If there was a poll of golf fans around the world, young and old, male and female, don’t tell me that good ol’ Freddie Couples wouldn’t still be up in the medal places. In the US they still love him unconditionally; he is the main reason British wives endure four straight nights of Masters coverage each April; and here in South Korea, he is the primary motivation for thousands of Koreans to converge through the gates of the 2009 Ballantine’s Championship.
When Golf Monthly asked Couples himself for an explanation for his popularity he said with a grin, all laid back and California-like, “I know. Crazy isn’t it?”
Too modest, Fred. Too modest.
The first reason for this adoration, it transpires, is that a lot of Koreans started to get interested in golf around 20 years ago, around the time the 1992 Masters champion was reaching the top of his game. He was always on the TV coverage beamed over from the US.
He is also one of very few American golfers to have traveled to South Korea in person. “Every time he has come to Korea, Couples has left a great impression,” says June Lee, the Ballantine’s project manager for this year’s 2009 Ballantine’s Championship. “He is always so friendly to the fans and always happy to sign autographs.
“A lot of Koreans have also chosen to copy Couples by not wearing a glove. Couples looks cool not wearing a glove, and me and my friends used to say that if you want to be great at golf, don’t wear a glove, just like Fred Couples.”
Couples cemented his place in Korean hearts when he came over to play in the SK Telecom Korean Open in 2004 and again in 2005, on one occasion taking in the Seoul nightlife with a golfer who was an emerging star at the time, KJ Choi, much to the approval of the Korean masses.
“To the Korean people, if you are a great player but you don’t have very good manners, you would not be popular,” adds Ho Yoon Park, general manager of the Korean PGA. “So more than for his golfing achievements, I think Couples appeals to the Korean people for the way he carries himself.”
Couples had set pulses racing at the Pinx Golf Club when he opened with a 69, three under par on Thursday, but as the weather has deteriorated here on Jeju Island, so have the 49-year-old’s scores. Subsequent rounds of 76 and 81 have taken him out of contention, but Couples will be the main attraction for tomorrow’s final round nonetheless.
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To see highlights of the action so far see GM’s Omni Sport TV player to the right and Visit the official 2009 Ballantine’s Championship website for the latest scores and news from South Korea