Fred Couples Elected to World Golf Hall of Fame

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Freddie's In the Hall, but Should He Be?

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Fred Couples has been elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, having met the minimum criteria for enshrinement — at least 40 years old, PGA Tour member for at least 10 years, 10 PGA Tour wins and/or two majors or Players Championship wins. A debate has since erupted on Twitter and elsewhere over Couples' Hall worthiness. It's a complicated case.

In my mind, one word describes Couples' approach to the game better than any other: effortless. Couples' relaxed, looping swing is a picture of effortless grace, generating maximum clubhead speed with mimimum exertion. Couples was hitting 300-yard drives long before juiced balls and spring-loaded drivers made that stat far less meaningful, and his swing is such an efficient and reliable motion that he's still a competitive player in his golden years. Since turning 50, Couples has finished 6th, T15 and T12 at The Masters, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him contend at Augusta into his 60s.

But you could also argue that a lack of effort prevented Couples from ascending to the golf pantheon. He's never seemed to put enough work into his game to get the requisite results for a player of his skill, relying instead on pure talent. That talent carried him to 15 PGA Tour wins and the 1992 Masters, but there's this nagging feeling that a less lackadaisical approach to the game might have yielded a truly historic career. Part of Freddie's seeming reluctance to put in the necessary work can be blamed on his body; a balky back has plagued him for much of his career. But it's undeniable that he's been something of an underachiever.

Even his election requires something of an asterisk. Couples received only 51 percent of the vote, and the minimum is normally 65 percent. But when no one reaches that threshhold, the leading vote-getter is elected provided he has at least 50 percent of the vote. In what some would say is typical Couples fashion, he limps over the finish line having done the minimum.

So Freddie is in. But does he deserve to be? Let's look at the case for and against:

The Case for Couples
• 15 PGA Tour wins, 8 Champions Tour wins.

• 1992 Masters Champion.

• Two-time winner of the Players Championship.

• Two-time major winner on the Champions Tour.

• PGA Tour Player of the Year and Vardon Trophy winner in 1991, 1992.

• 5-time Ryder Cup team member (record: 7-9-4).

• 5-time Presidents Cup team member; captain of the winning 2009 U.S. Presidents Cup team.

• Spent 16 weeks as the No. 1 player in the World Golf Ranking.

• 8 top-3 finishes in majors; 26 top-10 finishes.

• He has a better career record than some players who have already been enshrined — guys like Chi Chi Rodriguez, who won only eight PGA Tour events, but like Freddie, was a pied piper for the game's casual fans.

The Case Against Couples
• He has a lesser record than other players who remain unenshrined: Mark O'Meara (16 wins, two majors), Davis Love III (20 wins, 1 major), Tom Weiskopf (16 wins, 1 major).

• His results at times have veered beyond underachievement and into outright choking. Even his 1992 Masters win required an amazing stroke of good luck — his ball hanging on the bank at No. 12 on Sunday instead of trickling into Rae's Creek.

• He's only really harnessed his talent for short bursts — five of his 15 wins came in a 10-month period in 1992-93. Essentially, he's done less with more than many of his Hall of Fame peers. Nicklaus and Palmer, Ballesteros and Trevino — those guys were grinders. Couples has coasted.

My Take
Couples is on golf's Mount Rushmore of talent, and his personal charisma has made him one of the most popular players in the game's history. He's been relevant for more than three decades, with plenty more in the tank. Unlike other Halls of Fame, the World Golf Hall of Fame retains some latitude in its selection process, making concepts like "fame" and "popularity" relevant criteria, and on those counts, Couples has few peers.

Yes, he's underachieved, but it's impossible to tell the story of the game in the modern era without mentioning his name. Freddie belongs in the Hall.

— by Rob Doster
Follow on Twitter @AthlonDoster

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