DUBLIN, Ohio – Seems Fred Couples and longtime caddie Joe LaCava haven’t parted company, after all.
At least not for the first two days of the Memorial Tournament.
Having finally convinced LaCava to return to the PGA Tour and a profitable gig, Couples took a peek at the pairings sheet for Rounds 1 and 2 and found reason to smile. He’s paired with LaCava’s new boss, Dustin Johnson.
“It’ll be a fun first couple days and hopefully I can just get it around and maybe make the cut,” Couples said.
His lack of optimism is understandable. He is, after all, 51, a Champions Tour guy trying to hang with the young guys, and playing for just the ninth time this year. His eight starts have been split 50-50 between the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, and while he’s yet to miss a cut and has had reasonable success, there’s the little matter of a recent health scare that has kept him sidelined.
Couples accompanied a girlfriend when she visited her dermatologist and next thing he knew, his skin was being examined. First, a few moles were removed. No big deal. “Then we went to the hands,” Couples said, “and the hands became pretty much a lot more serious.”
It involved 13 spots that were frozen off and while at first his hands had bubbles and blisters all over, “they’re looking much better,” Couples said. “I just have to keep a close eye on them.”
Couples accepted an invitation from Jack Nicklaus to play in what will be his 20th Memorial, but first since 2008. He won here in 1999, placed second in 2004 and 2005, and concedes “it’s one of my favorite tournaments.”
He’s been able to mix in a few meetings with potential members of his Presidents Cup team later in the year, but clearly the chance to playing along Johnson – and LaCava – is something he relishes.
For good reason, too. For more than 20 years, Couples and LaCava were virtually inseparable. If Fred was playing, Joe was carrying, and their relationship went far beyond most player-caddie deals. Couples’ respect for LaCava is unending.
“He’s never been late one time. He’s been a great caddie,” Couples said.
Thinking he was going to scale back on his playing time a few years ago, Couples said he encouraged LaCava to find another bag, one that could guarantee him more starts and, hopefully, more money.
“(But) he waited, stuck with me in my late 40s and (we) had a good year last year,” Couples said. “I didn’t push him to go work for Dustin, but I tried to go push him to work for someone else and then Dustin’s bag came open and that’s a pretty tough one to not go to.”
Ranked 14th in the world, Johnson has won four times and last year put himself in position to win two majors – the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. He squandered both those chances, but plenty of people have suggested that a veteran caddie such as LaCava could make a difference.
Couples agrees, but warns that the dynamics are a bit different than what LaCava is used to.
“One thing that’s going to be hard is him clubbing Dustin with irons quickly,” Couples said. “The other part, he may help him off the tee clubbing Dustin where he doesn’t have to hit driver every time.”
It has been said that the driver is Johnson’s best club in the bag, that he not only hits it from one zip code to another, he hits it straight.
“It will be interesting, because this is a course – even though it’s long – there are a lot of holes out there where you want to work the ball in the fairway and just get it in the fairway,” Couples said. “And I know Dustin likes to bomb drivers because he drives it so well.”
Their camaraderie was legendary, but Couples and LaCava seemed resigned to life moving on. Certainly, Couples is, because he offered a wide smile and said: “I hope he stays with (Johnson) a while, because I’m not taking him back.”