Fred Couples tees off on LIV Golf and ‘nutbag’ Phil Mickelson

NEWPORT BEACH — To put it mildly, World Golf Hall of Famer Fred Couples is not a fan of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series and never has been.

But if LIV wants to hand out hundreds of millions of dollars just to show up, and millions more for mediocrity on the golf course, Couples says he doesn’t begrudge players for taking the money and running away from the PGA Tour.

“If you’re giving Phil Mickelson $200 million at age 52 to shoot 74 and 75, God bless you,” Couples said Tuesday, eliciting laughter in a packed hotel ballroom as the guest speaker during a PGA Tour Champions breakfast kicking off Hoag Classic week in Newport Beach.

Couples made it clear, however, that he is bothered by defectors to the rival tour who insisted their decision wasn’t about the money or those who maligned the PGA Tour on the way out.

“I don’t have a problem with LIV,” said Couples, a Newport Beach resident and two-time Hoag Classic champion. “What my problem has been when I tweet every now and then, is what these guys say when they go to the LIV Tour.”

Without mentioning Cameron Smith’s name, but identifying him as “the guy who won The Players Championship and British Open last year,” Couples mocked Smith for saying, “Now I can have birthdays and go to the weddings of my mates.”

“I find that comical, because my favorite to ever play has five kids, 40 grandkids, and he has never missed anything – and that was Jack Nicklaus,” Couples said, adding that he was annoyed by “all these other clowns, like Sergio (Garcia),” who ripped a PGA Tour rules official before jumping to LIV Golf.

Couples also referred to Mickelson as a “nutbag,” though conceding he is “probably one of the 10 best players that ever played” and insisting he “still” likes Phil.

“Just go to the LIV Tour, but stop blasting something I’ve been a part of for 42 years,” said Couples, a 15-time PGA Tour winner (including the 1992 Masters), 14-time Champions Tour winner and three-time Presidents’ Cup captain. “That’s my problem (with LIV players). They’re all bashing the PGA Tour, and that affects me a little bit.”

Couples said he tuned into LIV’s most recent event in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, the first of 14 events that will be telecast by The CW Network in 2023.

“It was on the CW a couple weeks ago, or whatever that channel everybody is laughing about,” he said derisively. “I turned it on three times. It was so bad, I couldn’t even watch anyone that I liked. They don’t show ’em. … Who won the last one? I don’t even know.”

For the record, it was Charles Howell III, who shot 15-under and pocketed $4 million, during the same event in which Smith won $887,000 for a fifth-place tie while Mickelson and Brooks Koepka earned $157,000 for shooting 1-over to tie for 28th.

“I don’t know anything about the LIV Tour, except they overpay all of them,” Couples said. He also mentioned that Will Zalatoris, who has the same agent as he does, initially was offered $35 million to defect and later $130 million – both offers he rejected.

“Money is zero object (for LIV),” Couples said. “I give Will a lot of credit; he wants (to stay with) the PGA Tour.”

Does Couples think LIV will survive?

“I’m being flippy now; I don’t really care if it survives,” he said.

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Purser stepping down

Jeff Purser, the executive director of the Hoag Classic (previously the Toshiba Classic) for the past 25 years, is stepping down after this weekend’s event at Newport Beach Country Club.

“It’s time,” Purser told Southern California News Group. “It’s been awesome, but it’s time for something different. I’m getting out of tournament golf.”

Purser plans to return to the Youngstown, Ohio, area where he grew up and where he still has family.

Under his leadership, the Hoag Classic developed into one of the top events on the Champions Tour, annually drawing the best fields and biggest crowds while raising more than $1 million a year for charity.

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