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Fred Couples talks about returning to Warwick Hills to play in the inaugural Ally Challenge Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News

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Grand Blanc — It takes a little something extra for Fred Couples to play these days.

Always one of the most popular players during his prime on the PGA Tour, things hardly have changed since the 58-year-old former Masters winner transitioned to life on the Champions Tour. When Couples is in town, the field immediately gains some star power.

Such is the case this week as Couples is back at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club to play in the inaugural Ally Challenge, which begins Friday

“I love this tournament, yeah,” Couples said. “I wouldn't miss it. And I don't do that for many of them.”

This is the first year for the Ally Challenge on the Champions Tour, so the tournament Couples referred to was, of course, the Buick Open. That event played for the final time in 2009 and it always was a popular stop on Tour.

It sure was for Couples, who played the Buick Open 13 times, winning in 1994 by shooting 18-under, two better than Corey Pavin.

ALLY CHALLENGE TEE TIMES

“This is a really, really good place,” Couples said in between practice shots on the range Thursday. “We're lucky to be here. Ally is certainly a great sponsor, and I think it's a great move for our Tour. This is somewhere where people can say, ‘Oh, I remember watching that tournament a long time ago, I know that hole.’ So a lot of times we go, people don't know where we are or what we're doing, but here, this was one of the best tournaments on Tour for a long time.”

The PGA Tour finally will make its return to Michigan next summer at the Detroit Golf Club, and odds are that field won’t include Couples. Not because he wouldn’t want to play, but now more than ever, his body just doesn’t allow him.

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Throughout his career, Couples has battled chronic back problems, something that has become tougher the older he gets. This season, he’s played just five events on the Champions Tour while making the cut and finishing tied for 38th at The Masters, which he won in 1992.

But his love of Warwick Hills means he’ll push through any physical limitations.

“I feel OK,” Couples said. “To be honest with you, it's the end of the year and I love this tournament, so I'm here, but I'm not playing all that well, nor have I been practicing or playing. But I do have a great pairing with David Toms, who I love playing with, and Jay Haas, so that is really a good thing. To be honest, I know that sounds funny, but two guys I really like to play with, so maybe that will help my game.

“But I need to get through this year, get through the offseason and hopefully come out and play a few more tournaments next year because one every two months is not really good for your game.”

How long Couples continues to tough it out is hard to tell. He loves the game, but he loves playing it well. And when his back is in bad shape, he doesn’t play as well.

It means trying to predict how long Couples will keep playing professionally is impossible to predict.

“I'm hoping to play until I'm 70 and then go in the wheelchair, but it's the traveling that's really hard,” Couples said. “Retiring in golf, there would be really no reason to. Tom Watson is still shooting his age, Tom Kite is still out here. I don't know their exact ages, I think Tom Watson is 68 and he plays unreal.

“So I don't see my body doing that when I'm that age, but I think another couple years of doing this and I'll keep playing. But it's not going to be like to try and win the Schwab Cup.”

Couples isn’t the only one battling a breaking down body this week.

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John Daly talks about returning to play at Warwick Hills in the Ally Challenge Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News

Another fan favorite — John Daly — is toughing out some issues to play at one of his favorite venues. He pushed Vijay Singh for the championship in both 2004 and 2005 at the Buick Open, his runner-up finish in ’04 his best result.

Issues with his sciatic nerve have Daly moving slowly this week, but like Couples, his love of Warwick Hills has him back.

“All the guys on this tour are so excited we're here,” Daly said. “We just love it. It's great fans, great people. And hanging out with Ally guys, we can't thank them enough for sponsorship and what they've done, all the other sponsors involved. Everybody just loves coming out here to watch golf here, it's crazy, I love it.”

It’s a bonus that Daly is able to hang out with his good friend, Kid Rock. They took in the Lions game on Monday night and helped celebrate the year anniversary of the opening of Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit restaurant at Little Caesars Arena.

“Yeah, we’re having fun,” Daly said with a smile.

Notable names at pro-am

The Champions Tour, unlike the PGA Tour, runs two separate pro-ams, typically on Wednesday and Thursday before the tournament begins Friday.

There were some notable names on the course Thursday, including former Lions kicker Jason Hanson, who played with Olin Browne. He was joined by Mojo of "Mojo in the Morning" on 95.5 FM. Radio host Frank Beckmann, of WJR 760, played with Scott McCarron.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

 

 

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