Stadium Stories: Boom Boom

THE PLAYERS 1996: Fred Couples

A fascinating game, this golf. So gut-wrenching for some, so nonchalant for others. At times, we can even see this contrast on the same stage.

To wit: THE PLAYERS Championship 1996 when Tommy Tolles in crunch time was devoid of everything that Fred Couples possessed, be it deft skill or good fortune. That the disparity produced a wild swing — Couples going from four behind Tolles through 54 holes to four clear to win THE PLAYERS for a second time with a scintillating closing 64 — was the latest example of what experience can do for a player.

Tolles, still trying to establish himself, was without that experience and conceded, “I’m not going to lie, I was nervous.”

Nervous? Not Couples, then 36 and very much a study in cool and casual. Out in 32 strokes Sunday to get within one of Tolles and Colin Montgomerie, Couples electrified the huge gallery down at one of golf’s grandest parcels of real estate: The par-5 16th and island-green 17th.

His 2-iron second shot at 16 barely carried onto dry land (“I figured it was wet,” Couples said) and got a splendid bounce to set up a 25-foot eagle. Next, a 30-foot birdie at 17. Couples’ fans let loose with back-to-back eruptions.

Tolles heard the roars and said it added to his difficult day.

As for Couples, who finished at 18-under 270 to join select company with two wins in THE PLAYERS, this was life at the other end of the golf spectrum: “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Ah, the inexplicable glory of golf.

“It was a pretty easy 64.” - Fred Couples