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Fred Couples fires LIV Golf and Phil Mickelson

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Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson were joint United States alternate captains at the 2021 Ryder Cup.

Images: getty

JERSEY CITY, NJ – Fred Couples, who led three U.S. Presidents Cup teams to victory, leads a different kind of team this week at Liberty National, hard against the Hudson River across from the Lower Manhattan. Its manager this time: Team USA at the Icons Series, a new match-play event that pits 12 golf-loving American athletes against their counterparts from around the world.

Couples have strategies to strategize before games start in earnest on Thursday morning: Should it involve former NFL running backs Reggie Bush and Marshall Faulk, for example, or would it be better to cross paths with athletes from different sports , matching, say, former MLB pitcher John Smoltz with golfer-turned-hoopster JR Smith. Ah, making decisions…

Alas, as Couples surveyed the property with a reporter on Wednesday, the former Masters champion was pondering another one decision, which has dominated the golf news cycle in recent weeks: the choice many of his fellow PGA Tour players have made to sever ties with the PGA Tour and sign lucrative deals with the new LIV Golf series funded by Saudi Arabia.

As Couples strolled towards the shooting range under sunny skies, one of his Icon players caught up with him: Michael Phelps, 28-time Olympic medalist and avid golfer.

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“Let me ask you a question,” Couples told the swimming legend. “You win the LA Open or a LIV [event] — LA, you get a million-nine, LIV you get four [million]. Which trophy would you rather have at home? »

“For me,” Phelps said, “I want to go out there and be part of history and try to recreate history. That’s who I was.

“You know what,” Couples said, “here’s a guy who made a million [swimming] events and he just said it on the button.

Couples, as you’ve probably already deduced, is a PGA Tour loyalist, a legacy guy. He’s not opposed to change or improvement, but he’s “disappointed,” he says, that players jumped ship for LIV. He made that clear in a few tweets he posted over the past couple of months – “Great to see some real and exciting golf being played in Canada this weekend”, he tweeted following the Canadian Open last month a cheeky jab at this week’s LIV Golf event in London – but on Wednesday Couples laid out in no uncertain terms his feelings about the rival tour and PGA Tour stars who signed a contract with her, at least a few of whom Couples has captained, or captained against, at past team events.

First and foremost, Couples said, he is uncomfortable with LIV’s backers: the Saudi government, which has been accused of various human rights atrocities.

“I think it’s a family affair for me,” Couples said. “I’m a small peon from Seattle, but I know where the money is coming from, and I think my family would disown me if I went. Of course, it’s easy for me to say that because I’m not going, so I can actually tell you whatever I want to tell you.

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The same cannot be said for players who have signed with LIV, Couples said. They were basically muzzled, he said, which came out in press conferences.

“These guys – you’ve seen their interviews, haven’t you?” Couples said. “Have you ever seen Phil look so stupid in his life?” They know it’s a joke.

Couples was referring to Phil Mickelson’s last two press conferences – one at the first LIV event in London, the other at the US Open – during which Mickelson, in the eyes of many observers, provided a series of answers inadequate in trying to explain or rationalize his LIV allegiance.

On Tuesday this week, at the second LIV event near Portland, Oregon, more LIV signers faced the press, including a trio of the newest high-profile commits: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Pat Perez. Sitting together on a podium during a joint press conference, the players faced a predictable series of questions from the assembled journalists, including questions about Saudi human rights issues, which convinced players to join LIV and whether the PGA Tour could have done anything to stop players from leaving. As the questions poured in, the atmosphere in the room became more and more tense.

“I heard from all the people that Perez was a bit confrontational,” Couples said of the three-time PGA Tour winner. “It’s a grain of sand in this Tour. He should be sweet and kind, but he raises his voice. I’m done with it.”

The couples also questioned the long-term viability of LIV. He said he understood the tour organizers weren’t looking for a quick buck but he was still baffled by the huge sums they were offering players.

“I can not believe they can pay a guy 150 million dollars to thissaid Couples; LIV players are forced to play just eight 54-hole events in 2022 with plans to expand the schedule to 23 and beyond. “What, Phil wouldn’t have gone for 100 and Dustin [Johnson] for 70? So what does that tell you here?

The reasons given by players for signing with LIV also ring hollow for Couples. Many players said the lighter schedule was a draw. some admitted the life-changing payday was too tempting to resist; others said they were just trying to help “grow the game”.

Couples and Mickelson at the 2016 Masters.

Images: getty

“They all say they want to change golf, they’re doing it for the better of golf,” Couples said. “No one said, ‘Hey, when I think back 50 years…we will have done this tour [what it is].’ Nobody said that. You know why? Because they won’t be here in three years.

For his part, Mickelson said he’s been engaged with LIV for at least two years. By then he will be almost 54 years old and will likely remain a big attraction. If his largely positive reception at the US Open last month was any indication, Mickelson is still in the good graces of golf fans. What’s less clear is whether Mickelson’s Tour peer group feels the same way.

The pairings are 10 years older than Mickelson, but they have faced each other in hundreds of tournaments while establishing themselves as two of the most beloved players of their generation. In 2006, they played together in the final duet at the Masters; when Mickelson won his second green jacket that Sunday, he and Couples kissed on the 18th green. Last year, Couples and Mickelson were vice-captains of Steve Stricker’s Ryder Cup-winning American team at Whistling Straits. They had some good times together.

Had.

“I don’t think I will talk to him again,” Couples said. “Why? I’m not in the same boat as him anymore and I’ll probably never play golf with him again. I’m not saying that to be mean. We’re just in different orbits.

alan bastable

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As Editor-in-Chief of GOLF.com, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of gaming’s most respected and trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats – editing, writing, ideation, development, daydreaming breaking 80 – and feeling privileged to work with such an incredibly talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before taking the reins of GOLF.com, he was editor of GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.

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