In his 28th Masters, Fred Couples is as relevant as ever

At 52, Fred Couples has shown he still has serious game this week.
Fred Vuich / SI

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fred.

Of all the mono-named golfers in the game right now, who has more staying power than Fred? Twenty years ago he won his Masters. Thirty years ago he didn’t hit it any better than he does now. Ten years from now he’ll still be making cuts at Augusta. This week he’s doing everything he needs to do right now. He played in the last group on Saturday, with the guy who lost the PGA Championship in a playoff last year. Fred’s way relevant. Of course he is.
He lives, famously, from day-to-day, moving with the wind, boarding private planes to take him here and there, maybe to courtside seats at a basketball game, maybe to a threeball with M.J. and Tiger, maybe to a car show. But here’s a guess as to how he spends his next three years: This year, he’ll be an assistant captain to Davis Love at the Ryder Cup at Medinah. Next year, he’ll captain the Presidents Cup team at Muirfield Village. In 2014, when the Ryder Cup is played in Scotland, he’ll captain that team. Here and there, he’ll win one of the three senior majors.
Not many Hall of Fame voters will tell you Fred has done enough to get in the Hall based on what he has done so far. But if he uses the next decade well, he’ll get in. He’ll be the first person in golf history who made his resume Hall-worthy based on what he did after turning 50.
He remains as entertaining to watch as anybody. He stood on the right side of the fairway on 13 on Saturday, a 5-wood in his hands, a red 4 next to his name, a new caddie by his side, the tournament still within grasp. When you’re four under standing in the 13th fairway, waiting to play, you can’t help but think you can finish the day at seven under. And seven under through 54 holes gets you thinking about winning.
That’s what his fans were thinking, anyhow, as he made one practice swing after another, tapping the head of his club on the fairway again and again and again. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.

But he shoved that approach shot and made par, knocked his second in the water on 15 and made bogey, bogeyed 16 as well, and the dream of seven under and a second green jacket went poof. Still, he’s in the game. He’s 52 and Rory McIlroy calls him “cool.”
His rounds this week are 72, 67 and 75. He crouches behind the ball to line up putts like he’s 26. The swing has never changed, and his short putting looks way better than it did even a year ago, when he played well.
This is his 28th Masters. He has a home here. Not an actual home. Fred’s had a whole bunch of them over the years. He has a home here in the sense that he knows the course, he knows his way around the clubhouse, he knows the rhythms of the tournament. He has said, more than once, “I feel young when I get here.”
He’s made concessions to age, as every player does. He putts from off the green in places where he used to pitch and chip. When his drives finish in the first-cut of rough on the par 5s, he’s actually happy: he can hit cut shots off those fluffy lies all day long.
Fred — and he’s famous for this, too — has traveled the world seeking relief for his chronically aching back. He’s taking something that’s working well now. One hopes, for his sake, it will keep on working. In any event, he’ll always have Augusta. He says, “I just really, really enjoy playing here.”
It’s amazing how good you can be at something when you enjoy it. If Fred’s offering you a life lesson, that’s probably it.