Despite stumble, Couples still a Seattle star

Fred Couples lines up a putt during the final round of the U.S. Senior Open.

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SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Fred Couples joked that most of his fans probably left after he took a triple-bogey eight on the second hole Sunday.

They stuck around, giving the Seattle native a rousing ovation at every hole during Sunday’s final round of the U.S. Senior Open, even though he finished as a disappointed runner up.

“It was a lot of fun to be here, I can tell you that much. It was great,” Couples said. “I’m kind of an emotional guy. I’m not really an emotional player, I don’t get out there and go crazy. But I can hear them, and it was fun.”

Couples served as the honorary chairman for the event, lending his name to just the second major championship contended in the region in his generation. He thrilled organizers by surging into contention with a 65 on Saturday, entering the final round as the co-leader with eventual champion Bernhard Langer.

But his quest for victory at the U.S. Senior Open came down to a wrong decision at the second hole.

Couples hit a solid drive but it rolled into the first cut of rough on the right side. He had 200 yards to the front of the green and 225 to the pin. He pulled his hybrid to go for the green, then put it back.

“I had never hit it (hybrid) in a spot like that,” Couples said. “I thought if it’s a cut shot, if I don’t cut it, I’m going to rip it over the green. And as it turned out, where the pin was, it might not have been that bad.”

His layup shot was fine, but his third shot was chunked into the greenside pond, leaving everyone in a bit of shock.

“You know I’ve done it,” Langer said. “It happens to most of us. They’re pretty tight fairways out there, certain areas there’s not a whole lot of grass there and it doesn’t take much to when you only have five yards to work with and that’s about what he had, and it’s easily done.”

Couples said it took him a while to get that hole out of his head. He concern was not so much over his chunk but his decision to lay up.

“If I could walk out there tomorrow, I would go for the green, no matter where I hit it,” Couples said. “I think I would beat 8, that’s for sure.”

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PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF: Javier Sanchez says he’s just persistent.

Sanchez, who finished in a tie for 32nd at 11-over-par in Sunday’s final round of the U.S. Senior Open, is originally from Taistan, Mexico. He lived in a one-room farm house with his parents and nine siblings. There was no electricity and no running water. Whatever critter they could shoot or catch, that was dinner.

He saw the opportunity to leave in the early 1980s when relatives in Redwood City, Calif., told him he could get a job there and send money back to help his parents. He did it, obtaining a fake green card and crossing the border at Tijuana.

“I didn’t speak a word of English. I was illegal,” Sanchez said. “Every time the immigration came, everyone just scattered. I got caught a couple times. Each time I came back and tried again. I am persistent. That’s why I’m here.”

He didn’t take up golf until his mid-20s, while working as a dishwasher on a golf course. The game came naturally to him as he went on win local tournaments, play for a junior college team then on several mini tours. Five times, he qualified to play in the U.S. Open. He made the cut once, in 1996, and finished 90th.

Eventually, he married an American woman. After three years together, he was allowed to take a test to gain his citizenship. The couple moved to Georgia, where there were more golf tour opportunities.

He was never in the mix to win this tournament but he can cash check for $15,892 to continue to live the dream.

“You get this tournament once a year. It’s so hard to qualify,” he said. “Anytime you do something like this, it’s special. It brings chills to your skin.”

• • • 

QUIET MOVE: With most of the attention on the final pairing, Olin Browne quietly put together the best round of the day. Browne made five birdies on his front nine and shot 65. The 30 on the front was the best nine-hole score of the week and vaulted Browne into a tie for third. He was one of four golfers to finish under par.

“I wanted to make as many birdies as I could, and when I turned in 30, I thought ‘here we go,’” Browne said. “And then I just couldn’t get any putts to go in on the last nine. I hit a lot of really good putts, obviously. I made a couple of great saves on 16 and 18. But once I looked up in the middle of the round and saw that Bernhard was at 8-under, there’s no hope.”

If not for his first round, Browne likely would have been contending on Sunday. He put together even-par rounds of 70 on Friday and Saturday, but wasn’t able to overcome a 73 on the first day.

“I’m glad I strung together three nice rounds. I wish I would have played better the first day, so I could have been more relevant today, but it’s definitely positive for me.”

• • • 

CHIP SHOTS: Tom Kite had a chance to finish in the top five until the 16th, where he made a quadruple bogey 9. Kite finished at 3 over and in a tie for eighth. ... Sunday’s crowd was 31,444, the largest of the week. ... Tim Jackson was the low amateur for the second straight year. He finished at 11 over.

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