PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—Fred Couples was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, a journey that began with what he called "the dumbest decision I ever made." It was one that, like so many other things in his life, turned out just fine.
Couples lost to eventual winner Hal Sutton in the 1980 U.S. Amateur and was headed to Houston for his final year of college.
For reasons he can’t explain or remember, Couples instead went to Los Angeles and spent a week with friends of his parents. He became bored after a few days and asked if there was a golf course nearby. So he went down the street to El Dorado.
"We drive into the parking lot, and I knew something was going on because there was a big banner that said, ‘Queen Mary Open,"’ he said.
Couples couldn’t play or even hit balls because the course was booked, but a man he met in the pro shop, Larry Benson, invited him to play that afternoon. When they finished, Couples asked if he could enter the Queen Mary Open as an amateur before going back to school.
"Jokingly he said, ‘No, but if you turn pro we have a spot for you,"’ Couples said. "I went back, had dinner with these people, the next morning drove back to the course and turned pro. Why? I have no idea. I didn’t have a manager or an agent or a lawyer or a chef or a masseuse or a trainer or a cellphone or anyone to call. I made what was probably at the time the dumbest decision I ever made. Turned out to be the greatest decision."
Couples tied for eighth with a former U.S. Amateur champion named Mark O’Meara, earning $1,800.
The hard part was calling home.
Couples said his mother kept calling Houston, and his then-roommate, CBS announcer Jim Nantz, kept telling her, "He’s not in right now." Couples finally called her and she was OK with the decision. Then she handed the phone to his father.
"I said, ‘Hey, dad, I just made $1,800.’ And he hung up on me," Couples said.
That’s not the end of the story.
Couples at first thought he could play as a pro for the Queen Mary Open and then go back to school. Good thing he ran into Tom Lamore, a buddy from Houston, who shed some light on the situation.
"He says, ‘You realize tour school applications have to be postmarked on Friday,"’ Couples said. "I didn’t know what ‘postmarked’ meant, and I had already borrowed $200 to enter the Queen Mary Open. I borrowed $500 from Tom Lamore’s uncle. They got it in, I went to the regional, qualified. I went to Fresno and qualified. And then two months later, I was on the PGA Tour."