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The Time I Beat Fred Couples

by Paul Michelson

Paul Michelson lives and writes in Davis, California. In addition to Clever Magazine, his pieces have appeared in Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; Itchy Feet; On a Junket;
and Hackwriters.



I saw in the paper awhile back that Fred Couples won another tournament on the Seniors Tour. I was glad to see it. I’ve followed his career ever since he joined the PGA tour decades ago. I admit, of course, it might mean more to me than to the average fan.  After all, as my wife never fails to remind me, I once beat Fred Couples.

It happens pretty much the same way every time. I’ll be watching some tournament on TV, and my wife will walk past, glance at the screen, and say, “Is that Fred? Is he winning?”

“He’s doing okay,” I’ll say. “He has a chance.”

“Well,” she’ll say cheerfully, “I guess I’ll be hearing about the time you beat Fred Couples.” 

I don’t protest, but it’s a low blow. I never said I beat him. I just said I played with him once.

It happened back when Fred and his playing partner were 14, and my friend Henry and I were 28. The starter at Seattle’s Jefferson Park golf course sent us off together. We probably all introduced ourselves, but the names wouldn’t have meant anything to me at the time. I just remember the boys mentioned something about Cleveland High, a school not far from Jefferson Park. Henry and I were graduate students, he at the University of Washington, I at Washington State University.

Henry and I weren’t bad, but our games had slipped some since we’d played on our high school teams. That day at Jefferson, I shot an 84 or 85 and Henry about the same. We didn’t play well, but Fred and his friend must have played even worse, by their standards. They shot 73 and 74, 2 and 3 over par. As we neared the end of the round, their frustration boiled over in strings of expletives as colorful as any I’d ever heard. It wasn’t the words themselves; I’d heard them all a million times before, even used them freely myself when the mood hit. It was the inventive combinations that were remarkable. I actually admired the boys’ creativity.

I learned later that Fred lived near Jefferson and played the course a lot, so he might have had high expectations. It was only sometime after that, once Fred had made a name for himself as one of Seattle’s top young golfers, that Henry reminded me who it was we’d played with that day.

Years later, when I’d watch him on TV, I couldn’t help being struck by the change. Couples was the easiest-going guy on tour, laid back, carefree, a huge fan favorite.

It probably shouldn’t have been all that mystifying; after all, I’d been 14 once myself.

My wife, on the other hand, hasn’t changed much at all. I’ll mention something about meeting a guy who knew Tiger Woods’ father and she’ll say, “Did you tell him about the time you beat Fred Couples?”

I’m beginning to think, though, it might all turn out to be a blessing. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve noticed a regrettable inclination to brag about myself, not to mention an unfortunate tendency to distort the past. It must have something to do with age. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that fantasy will someday supplant reality, but I can say it’s not hard these days to imagine a time when, with utter sincerity, I’ll announce to anyone who’ll listen, “That reminds of the time I beat Fred Couples.”


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