Fred Couples comes to next week’s Principal Charity Classic trying to keep a streak alive.
The last time we saw him here, as a PGA TOUR Champions rookie in 2010, Couples birdied his last four holes at Glen Oaks to shoot a final-round 66 and tie for 11th in his one and only Principal Charity Classic appearance.
“I was mediocre at best, then I birdied the final four holes to move up the list,” Couples said after the round.
Couples has never played Wakonda Club, so it will be interesting to see how he navigates his way around this old-school beauty. When he steps to the No. 1 tee on Friday, June 9, he’ll be looking for a fifth-straight birdie. And a lot of eyes will be watching.
Couples’ presence gives this event another fan-favorite player. He also adds to a strong field. Fifteen of the Top 20 money winners this season are coming to Wakonda, and 19 of the Top 25.
At the top of that list is the unquestioned hottest player on the senior planet, Bernhard Langer. He’s won $1,664,651 this season. That’s more than double the No. 2 wager earner, defending Principal Charity Classic champion Scott McCarron ($784,351).
Langer comes to Wakonda riding the wave of two straight victories, both in majors. He won the Regions Tradition and the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, making some history along the way.
Langer has now won nine senior majors, passing Jack Nicklaus (eight) for the most ever. Langer’s victory last week at the Senior PGA Championship at Trump National Golf Club in Washington, D.C., also made him the first player in PGA TOUR Champions history to win all five majors during his career.
“It’s been an awesome ride,” Langer said. “The last two weeks were pretty special. To win back-to-back majors is very unlikely and very unusual.”
Breaking a record held by Nicklaus adds luster to Langer’s nine senior triumphs.
“It means a great deal to win two majors at age 59,” Langer said. “I’m not sure many people have done that. And to surpass Jack’s record of eight majors out here is pretty neat. I’m a good friend of Jack’s and I think very highly of him, and whenever you can do something just similar or close to what he’s achieved, you’ve done something pretty special. So I’m excited where my game is at this point and looking forward to hopefully a couple of more good years on the PGA Tour Champions and then we’ll see where it takes me.”
Langer first career victory in the Senior PGA Championship was preceded by two Regions Tradition victories, two Senior Open Championships, three Constellation Energy Senior Players Championships and a U.S. Senior Open crown.
This is the third time in the last four seasons, and the fourth time overall, that Langer has won multiple major championships. Also worth noting is the fact that Langer also has eight other top three finishes in majors and has finished in the Top 10 in 36 of the 45 majors he’s competed in. That’s a headshaking 80 percent.
Langer’s three victories this season gives him 32 for his career, and he’s marching towards the PGA TOUR Champions all-time record of 45 held by Hale Irwin.
Couples is fourth in the PGA TOUR Champions money list, and won the Chubb Classic earlier this season.
Just last month, the 57-year-old Couples made another run at the Masters. He ended up in a tie for 18th. That was his seventh Top 10 finish at Augusta since 2010, the year he made his Principal debut. Since winning the 1992 Masters, Couples had finished in the Top 10 seven times and in the Top 20 on 15 occasions.
Couples is one of 14 major champions in the field. That includes a pair of newcomers in Lee Janzen, the 1993 and 1998 U.S. Open champion, and David Toms, the 2001 PGA champion. They join Mark Brooks, 2016 Principal Charity Classic champion Mark Calcavecchia, John Daly, Todd Hamilton, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Larry Mize, Larry Nelson, Jeff Sluman, Bob Tway and Fuzzy Zoeller.
There are also 15 winners of senior majors in the field. After Langer’s nine are Loren Roberts with four; three-time Principal Charity Classic champion Jay Haas, Tom Lehman and Fred Funk with three apiece; Couples with two; and Michael Allen, Olin Browne, 2015 Principal Charity Classic champion Russ Cochran, Marco Dawson, David Frost, Rocco Mediate, Gene Sauers, D.A. Weibring and Fuzzy Zoeller with one each.
Langer, Couples and Larry Nelson give this year’s field three members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Twenty members of the distinguished group have teed it at the Principal Charity Classic.
Add it all up, and the table has been set for a special week in Des Moines.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter