PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – On Thursday, they sat around all day and did a whole lot of nothing. On Saturday, this familiar troika played seven holes together. And on Friday, the Fountain of Youth threesome of Fred Couples, Jim Furyk and Davis Love III played 29 holes here at Riviera, a golf course they have been playing, collectively, for over 100 years. Three distinct swings and personalities, each defined by one major championship and a slew of Ryder Cup teams. Brings to mind the old Steven Wright line:
How about those Stones—still doing it after all these years.
Fred—we’re on a first-name basis with this whole gang, right?—is 59. Davis is 54. Furyk (you have to think even his mother calls him that) is a child of 48. The latter two were Ryder Cup captains. Fred’s been passed over for that august position, but Tiger Woods is bringing him Down Under come December as an assistant captain for the 2019 American Presidents Cup team. The other two assistants are Steve Sticker and Zach Johnson. Stricker will be in charge of any putting woes that might suddenly emerge. Johnson will be in charge of the distribution of towels and orange slices. All Fred has to do is be Fred. That’s why Tiger is drawn to him so. Fred is the king of good hang. Tiger was never a locker room guy.
Fred got into this L.A. Open—that is, the Genesis—on a sponsor’s invitation. This is a Tiger event. You do the rest of the math. Tiger played the back nine here with Fred in a celebrity thing on Monday afternoon and the front nine on Tuesday afternoon. They played together before Thanksgiving at the Madison Club in the California desert. Tiger made an ace, witnessed by Tiger’s son, Charlie, Fred and Joe LaCava, who caddied for years for Fred and now works for Tiger. As a caddie, he’s looking for his second major.
It was a brilliant act, to group Fred and Davis and Furyk. There was Fred, ambling along, kicking rain with every step. Davis, feet splayed, with his old familiar bounce step. Furyk, with that forward lean that brings to grandma, or Whistler’s Mother. Fred can tell you all about Whistler’s mother. His specialties are the NFL draft, gardening and mid-century watches and cars, but he’s pretty good on 19th-century American art, too.
Oh, let’s not forget Fluff. That is, Mike Cowan, Furyk’s longtime caddie. When he came on Tour, Sam Snead was still playing, every once in a while, anyway.
Snead has the Tour record for oldest winner on Tour. He won at Greensboro in 1965 at age 52, two months shy of 53. Davis, a World Golf Hall of Famer, won at age 51 (also at Greensboro), and the highest thing on his golf bucket list is to replace Snead on that list. Well, he’d give that up on a New York minute to see his son, Dru, become a card-carrying member of the Tour. But in the end, of course, the boy has to do that on his own.
All of us who like this game are drawn to certain players and their swings, for reasons that may or may not be rooted in anything explicable. This reporter loves watching Rickie Fowler make a swing, in part because he’s ready to play and there’s just (to steal the famous Strunk & White title) an element of style to his whole move. Fred—everybody loves watching Fred, because he makes what is hard look easy. Tiger on a course—there’s a certain majesty to it. But right at the top of the list, for this correspondent, is Davis. For 30 or more years now, it has not changed. It’s close to perfection.
Al Geiberger’s move was, too, back then. Steve Elkington, the same. But Davis is the whole Tour-pro package. You should have seen the effort he made to find Furyk’s fore-right second shot on the second hole Friday night, in the fading light. By the way, and nobody is talking much about this rule-change, three minutes goes fast. Guys are still taking what they’ve always taken, six or seven minutes or eight minutes. (Five minutes used to be the max. The USGA and the R&A chopped off two, in the new-and-improved rules for 2019.)
Friday afternoon, they were playing with virtually no gallery and through a driving, cold rain. It was fun! Here was Trip, his caddie Jeff Weber, holding an umbrella over him, while Davis put his yardage book in his mouth while putting on his tartan rain pants. Fred, taking off his windbreaker to make a swing and putting it back on. Furyk, towel hanging from the spokes of his umbrella, an old-timey move if ever there was one.
Poor guy had a senior moment when he played 18 in the second round. Drove it in the middle of fairway. Put a tee in the soggy turf to lift, clean and place his ball. Except they weren’t playing left, clean and place in Round 2. That’s a shot. (John Mutch, rules official, came on in.) Plus another two for the lost ball two holes later. They say every shot makes somebody happy. Still, he’s going to make the cut here, at two under, when they finally got 36 holes in by Saturday morning.
Davis, on the same score, will, too. Fred, at three over, will not. Does any of this matter? Yes and no, but more yes. All three of them are still playing meaningful golf, the game of their boyhoods, all these years later. People talk about turning back the hands of time. Can’t be done. But holding on, even on a partial basis, to what you have, what you’re good at, and what you love, that’s a pretty neat trick. There’s your fountain of youth.
Michael Bamberger can be reached at [email protected]