My favorite afternoon on tour, bar none………hope you enjoy it also.

Some guys are just naturally nice guys. They don’t try anything special, they just go about being nice without forcing it down your throat. It’s just the way they are, I guess. Freddie “Boom-Boom” Couples is probably the statistical leader in this category. My first encounter with him was at a little bar in Orlando. I was visiting my brother in the mid-eighties; we were out for the evening; and in walked Freddie. It was just a little local neighborhood place and Fred was by himself. He ordered a Coke; joined us and chatted for awhile. When he left my brother said he’d be one of the next superstars so I began following his career.

My second year on tour, 1989, we were on a charter bus heading to the Houston airport and the Masters. Freddie was sitting across the aisle when someone said the beer was gone. We were stuck in traffic; Fred grabbed my arm, and yelled, “let’s go.” I’m thinking where the hell we going, but if Fred wants me to go I’d be honored. We bolted across a couple lanes of traffic and headed for a Seven Eleven across the highway.

Entering the store Fred pointed toward the coolers and said, “I’m buying, grab all the beer you can carry and meet me at the counter.” I think I managed three or four cases. There was a long line at the register and someone recognized Fred while he was paying for the beer. “Hey Freddie what you gonna do with all that beer,” the patron called out. “My buddies and I are going to drink it all on our way to the Master, what the f*%k you think we’re going to do with it.” No offense was taken to the smart-aleck retort after Fred flashed a smile, threw the clerk a hundy, and said keep the change.

I staggered back to the bus under the heavy load of beer. Fred’s back was bothering him so I had to caddy. I didn’t mind, it was fun. Fred and I somewhat bonded that day and remained casual friends. We’d talk sports, Pink’s chilli cheese dogs, anything but golf. I watched him go through some tough times but his heart was always open to his friends. He was kind of private; enjoyed his clicker on the couch, but he’d join us for an afternoon of college hoops at a sports bar if the timing was right.

He also had a soft spot for kids and we took advantage of that once. A high school buddy of mine, Matt Mays, called about a local kid who had just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Micah Mefford was 12 or 13 and wasn’t expected to live long. One of his last wishes was to play golf with Michael Jordan or Fred Couples. Air Jordan couldn’t so Matt contacted me and Bill Britton, a PGA pro and mutual friend of Matt and Freddie. He laid out the scenario and we approached Fred with the details.

“I’ll do it under one condition, no press. Just me and the kid,” he said. That was easy enough and we knew Fred would keep his word. The outing was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon following the Chicago pro-am. Micah and his parents drove up from Virginia, IL with Matt, and Micah knew nothing about the plans. Fred had to switch his pro-am time to the morning and I met him in the parking lot of a northside Chicago country club about 2 o’clock. We snuck Fred into the locker room while Micah was on the practice tee warming up.

Once I got to the practice tee everyone knew things were in place, and they hustled Micah off to the first tee. It was a beautiful little, old Donald Rossesque track with tight, tree-lined, fairways. Standing on the first tee Micah was looking around enjoying the sights, and the starter announced their tee time. “Now on the first tee from Virginia, Il Micah Mefford. His playing partners are Bill Britton from Red Bank, NJ and the 1991 St. Jude’s Classic Champion, Fred Couples.”

While teeing up his ball Micah spun around and said, “yeh, right. Sure he is,” rather sarcastically. Fred strolled from the behind the lilac bushes left of the tee, waved to the small group, and said, “come on kid, let’s play a quick nine.” Micah’s mouth dropped, everyone’s eyes teared up, and nobody could say a word, except Freddie. He put his arm around Micah’s shoulders and said, “show me the way, I’ve never been around this track.” I don’t know how, but Micah got it airborne and the threesome was off the first tee. I grabbed Fred’s clubs but kept my distance; I didn’t want to intrude on their time.

Fred acted like they were old friends playing their usual Wednesday afternoon game. He chided him on bad shots and gave a quick compliment on the good ones, and they rambled through the first three or four holes while the rest of tried to dry our eyes. Freddie’s easy going nature relaxed Micah and you could tell Fred was naturally enjoying Micah’s company. I’m not sure what they were talking about, they were always off by themselves, lost in their brief relationship.

Thunder clouds rolled in around the fourth hole so we headed for the clubhouse, and what we thought was the end of a nice day. It was only the beginning. Fred could have left then, pleaded traffic or dinner plans, but he didn’t. He took control of the clubhouse staff, ordered lunch for everyone, and spent the next hour or so with Micah and his parents. We weren’t allowed into their booth but you could tell Freddie was having as much fun as they were. It wasn’t forced or contrived; this was how he loved spending his time away from the course. Hanging out with close friends or kids was Fred’s escape from the adoring public who wanted to much of his time.

After the rain subsided Fred grabbed a cart and off they went to finish the round. We tried to keep up but couldn’t, and watched them from the clubhouse porch. The course was empty so they bounced from hole to hole in no particular order. When some of the members tried to follow, Fred politely shooed them away, and found a secluded stretch of holes just for the two of them. They looked liked two kids who had just snuck through the fence and we’re playing as much golf as they could before the head pro chased them off.

They finally finished. Good-byes, hugs, and many thank-yous later, Fred walked Micah to the car and said, “keep in touch kid, I’ll see you next year.”

Micah passed away the next spring just before the Florida swing. I happened to be home and attended the services. Fred couldn’t make it but he was there. Since that day in Chicago Fred kept in touch with Micah. He sent him a set of clubs; Micah saved every note he wrote; they had become good friends. There was a picture of Micah and Fred displayed above his casket and he was buried with the memorabilia Fred had sent him. His high school friends knew this day was eminent, but they refused to accept their good friend was gone.

1992 was a good year for Fred. Shortly after Micah’s passing Fred won Bayhill. Chris and “Chief”, Micah’s parents, drove to Bayhill; they needed to get away and also wanted to thank Fred one more time. I quess, his friendship had helped ease a lot of Micah’s pain, and made the last few months tolerable. They got to spend a little time with Fred, not as much as they would have liked, but it allowed them a bit of closure, I think. Fred assured them, “Micah was a special kid, and even though I only knew him briefly, he’s been an inspiration to me.”

Fred went on to win the Masters two weeks later, led the 1992 PGA money list, and had the best year of his career. During the Masters we all remember Fred’s ball staying out of the hazard on twelve. Nobody can recall a ball coming up short and remaining dry; they always end up in Rae’s Creek. He was asked about that later and while looking skyward said, “someone was looking out for me, I guess.” I’m pretty sure he was referring to Micah, who else could it have been.

We still chat about that day occasionally. It meant as much to Fred as it did to Micah and his family. Good guys are like that; those little things mean a lot to them also.

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