Daly, Couples battle through back problems to play

Daly, Couples battle through back problems to play

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — I’m writing this while seated on one of those wooden folding chairs you find in press rooms. The seat is tilted back slightly — just enough to drop the base of my spine into an unsupported gap in the seat back. When I’m finished writing, I’ll struggle to stand up. Tomorrow morning, when I try to get into my rental car for the drive to Sherwood Country Club, I’ll probably need a physical therapist, a forklift, and a sling.

So you’ll forgive me if I confine my coverage of the first round of the Target World Challenge to matters chiropractic.

Let’s start with former Masters champ Fred Couples, who shot a 69 for a share of fourth place in the mostly ambulatory 16-man field. Couples, 47, is the dean of the PGA Tour’s bad-back brigade, having battled pain and stiffness for 15 years. “It just keeps getting worse,” he said after Thursday’s round, “and the guy that works on me thinks I’m a freak that I’m still able to play.” Couples added, “But I can still get it around … I’ve been doing it so long that I’m used to it.”

Also at 69 was John Daly, whose sciatic nerve went berserk this past summer. “When I tried to play, it was just awful,” said Daly, who missed seven or eight mid-season tournaments and failed to secure his tour card for 2007. More recently, Daly strained a back muscle lifting a suitcase packed by Sherrie Daly, his on-again, off-again divorce partner. “You know, you break your pinkie in football, they pop it back in, tape you up, and you go hit somebody,” Daly said. “But in golf it’s just not that easy. The smallest injuries to a golfer can cause us not to play.”

The tournament’s host, Tiger Woods, had his own take on the portly Arkansan’s back problems. “Well,” Woods joked, “his back is bothering him because he’s got his front to deal with.”

Why did Woods extend tournament invitations to two guys who get hurt picking up anything heavier than a check? That’s simple. Couples and Daly have more personality in their tender sacroiliacs than most players have in their entire bodies. Couples swans about the golf course like a fashion model, leaving swooning females and Freddie wannabees in his wake. Daly attracts his own swarm of acolytes, most of whom would turn out to watch him hit range balls off the roof of a Hooters. “Anywhere he goes, he brings one of the biggest galleries,” said Woods of Daly. “John being here, bringing all the fans out, brings more awareness of what we’re trying do with our [Tiger Woods] Foundation. So it’s a win-win for everybody.”

It’s certainly a win for those of us who have to sit in bad chairs listening to golfers go over their scorecards. Couples was charmingly clueless about next year’s FedEx Cup, saying, “Where are the four tournaments or five? Where are they, so I can leave and tell my friends?” Informed that the winner’s payoff at the season-ending Tour Championship would be $12 million, he whistled. “Wow, that’s a lot of money. But is it like poker, where it’s all cash laying on the 18th green?”

Daly, too, was in a mood to entertain. Asked if he had dabbled in yoga or other exotic practices to protect his back, Daly recoiled. “No, I don’t eat yogurt or do yoga,” he said to laughter. “Yoga is not in my repertoire.”

I laughed ’til I hurt.