Nobody was happier to hear that Fred Couples got the call from the World Golf Hall of Fame on Wednesday than longtime friend John McClure.
The 53-year-old McClure, who is competing for California at this week’s USGA Men’s State Team Championship at Galloway National Golf Club, has known Couples for more than 30 years.
They first met in 1979 when McClure was competing for the University of Oklahoma and Couples was at perennial power the University of Houston. One of Couples’ suitemates was John Horne, a player McClure had known from his junior golf days in Texas.
Horne and Blaine McCallister, another ex-University of Houston standout who competed in Texas junior golf with McClure, introduced McClure to Couples at a college event, and over the years McClure and Couples kept running into each other, first in California and later in Florida. McClure helped to develop the La Quinta Resort in the Coachella Valley, which sponsored Couples during his early PGA Tour days.
In 1998, Couples asked McClure to caddie for him at the Australian Open and the Presidents Cup Matches at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. Joe Lacava, Couples’ regular caddie at the time, couldn’t travel because his wife was due to give birth to their first child.
"[The United States] got smoked, but Fred played well," said McClure. "We won both matches on Friday. On the second day, we lost on the 18th hole when Craig Parry chipped in. We lost in the afternoon to [Steve] Elkington and [Greg] Norman. We played with Davis [Love III]. And then we tied Vijay Singh in singles [on Sunday]. We went 2-2-1 and he had one of the better records down there [for the U.S.]."
Now that Couples has moved back to Los Angeles, where McClure lives and remains involved in real estate development, the two regularly see each other. A week before the State Team, they had lunch in Los Angeles.
"I think he probably knew then," said McClure of the Hall of Fame announcement.
On Wednesday, McClure texted Couples to offer congratulations, and Couples, in turn, wanted updates on how California was playing.
"I’m excited for him," said McClure, who shot a 5-over 76 in the second round after a first-round 74 on Wednesday helped California earn a share of second place. The team’s 9-over 293 total (T5) is eight strokes behind 36-hole leader New York going into Friday’s final round. "I think he deserves to go in. People talk about that he’s only won one Masters and 15 tournaments. But he won two Players Championships. Those are pretty big wins."
McClure said he plans to be in St. Augustine, Fla., on May 6 for the induction ceremony. He attended the festivities in 2008 when Pete Dye went into the Hall of Fame.
"It’s a neat deal," said McClure. "It will be great to see that with Fred."
Not Much Red
Many of the Men’s State Team participants are discovering what members have known all along – that Galloway National is no pushover. Just four competitors broke par in Wednesday’s first round, and only four golfers – William Mitchell of Georgia Todd Burgan of Tennessee, New York’s Mike Miller and Dennis Bull of Iowa got into red figures on Thursday. The former three had 2-under 69s, with Bull shooting a 70.
Burgan, playing in his third State Team, said the challenging hole locations made it tough to be aggressive.
"They are cut in places that are just hard to get to," said Burgan. "If you just miss by a little bit, the ball goes rolling off in all directions."
After hitting every fairway and shooting a 5-over 76 on Wednesday, Burgan got a tip from teammate and two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson on the practice range. The slight adjustment worked as he made five birdies against three bogeys, two of which came on three-putts at Nos. 1 and 8, his 10th and 17th holes of the round.
"I was at three [under] and with the par-5 ninth, I thought I might get it to four," said Burgan, who finished bogey-par. "[Two years ago] at Mayacama [Golf Club], I shot even par and ended up finishing fifth [individually], and I thought I played pretty well. Even par around here [this year] might win [low individual]."
Better Day For Home Team
Host New Jersey was hoping the success its three participants had at Galloway National earlier this year at the New Jersey Golf Association’s Mid-Amateur would pay off at the Men’s State Team. But on Wednesday, the threesome of Brian Komline, Niall Handley and Michael Stamberger struggled to a 14-over 156.
Things went a little better on Thursday, with Komline carding a 2-over 73 and Stamberger adding a 75 in the 3-count-2 format.
"After the way we played on Wednesday, we just said we have to play solid, hit more greens and make more shots," said Komline, who won the NJSGA Mid-Amateur and lost in the first round of last week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur. "We had to get off to a better start today and we did.
"We showed we’re a lot better than we played on Wednesday. Heck, we’re a lot better than we played [on Thursday]. We’re three guys I would consider national-caliber level players. I wouldn’t say we’re playing at that level. But it’s not an easy golf course. We still want to have a respectable finish out here."
Added non-playing captain Bob Housen, who competed for New Jersey in the inaugural State Team in 1995: "Our players are even better than this. We had an extremely bad start on Wednesday. It was an almost historically bad start. Although they weren’t playing well, they never put their heads down and quit, especially Michael, who got off to a horrific start. I’m very proud of our three guys, especially Michael."
At Monday night’s players’ dinner, guest speaker and former USGA President Fred Ridley talked about how golf is one of the only sports where players do the honorable thing of calling penalties on themselves.
On Thursday, Lucas Boyd of Texas had a situation at the 10th hole where a ball moved while his club was grounded. Already penalized twice on the hole, Boyd called the infraction on himself, although nobody else in his group saw it. Boyd wound up with a 9 on the hole and shot a disappointing 86.
"I felt like I went eight rounds with [Marvin] Hagler." – Rhode Island’s Charlie Blanchard after struggling to an 80.
Odds And Ends
New York’s Max Buckley shot an even-par 71, despite hitting just three fairways and seven greens. I found a way to shoot even, said Buckley, who will graduate in December from Southern Methodist University. I did a lot of good putting today. I wouldn’t have had more than 25 [putts]. … Defending champion Kansas struggled for a second consecutive day, shooting 159 after a first-round 153. None of the three 2012 Kansas team members were on the winning 2010 team…Thanks to Adam Baxter’s even-par 71 on Thursday, Alaska is on pace for its best-ever finish. The team is T-22 heading into the final round. Alaska has not finished better than a tie for 44th in nine previous appearances.
David Shefter is a senior writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.