Couples became the first American to reach No. 1 in the world and won the Masters by a blade of grass that kept his ball from trickling into Rae’s Creek. Montgomerie found fame on the European Tour, where he won the Order of Merit a record seven times in a row, though he never won a major, a glaring hole in his credentials.
Couples sauntered down the fairways, the essence of cool. Montgomerie walked with his head down, so intense he never looked like he was having much fun.
They shared the stage Monday night when both were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, along with three others in the Class of 2013. The others were former U.S. Open champion and broadcaster Ken Venturi, former European Tour executive director Ken Schofield and two-time British Open champion and architect Willie Park Jr.
That brings the Hall of Fame to 146 members.
Couples talked about his childhood in Seattle, when his mother gave him $5 a day in the summer to play at Jefferson Park. He couldn’t afford to buy a glove, and Couples still plays without one. He got choked up when he mentioned watching a PGA Tour player to put on a clinic in town when Couples was 14.
“I wasn’t really the person who said, `That’s what I want to do, I’m going to be a PGA Tour player.’ But I knew I wanted to really, really get involved in golf,” Couples said. “And the gentleman’s name was Lee Trevino, who has been a mentor and someone I love.”
Couples didn’t look at his notes or used the teleprompter in the back of the room. He rambled at times, as he always does, talking about his journey from Seattle to the University of Houston, where he first met CBS announcer Jim Nantz, turned pro and won 15 times, including that 1992 Masters and the green jacket ceremony in Butler Cabin with Nantz. They had rehearsed that moment in college.
He was overcome with emotion at the end of the night, reading two sentences from a piece of paper.
“Thanks for taking a kid from Seattle and putting him in the Hall of Fame,” Couples said as his chin buckled. “This is the coolest night of my life.”
He walked off the stage in tears, thrusting both arms in the air.
The election of this year’s class was not without some debate.
Couples was elected on the PGA Tour ballot ahead of Mark O’Meara and Davis Love III, both of whom either won more tournaments or more majors. Couples received only 51 percent of the vote, a record low for the PGA Tour ballot. It takes 65 percent to get elected, though there is a loophole that if no one gets 65 percent, one player is elected provided he receives at least 50 percent.
Montgomerie won 31 times on the European Tour, the most of any British player, and he was a stalwart in the Ryder Cup. The Scot played in eight of them and never lost in singles (6-0-2) while competing on six winning teams. He also was the winning captain in Wales in 2010.
He never won on the biggest stage, however. Montgomerie lost the 1994 U.S. Open and the 1995 PGA Championship in a playoff. He was second to Ernie Els again in the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional. And the most painful of all came in 2006 at Winged Foot, when he made double bogey from the middle of the 18th fairway and finished one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy.