Stephen Deane with Fred Couples at the Dubai Desert Classic
Stephen Deane with Fred Couples at the Dubai Desert Classic Image Credit: Supplied

Ever wondered what it’s like to go on the bag for a Masters Tournament champion? Stephen Deane, Head of Academies at Dubai Golf, recalls the time he caddied for 15-time PGA Tour winner Fred Couples, at the 25th anniversary of the Dubai Desert Classic in 2014.

Aside from the late, great Seve Ballesteros, every former champion of the Dubai Desert Classic was present at the 25th staging of the ‘Major of the Middle East,’ including 1995 winner Couples.

The American heavyweight arrived at the Majlis with a problem, though — he didn’t have a caddie.

“It was the 25th anniversary of the Dubai Desert Classic and something had happened between Freddie and his caddie so he turned up to the tournament without anyone on his bag,” recalled Deane. “He asked the organisers if there was anybody who could caddie for him and because I had played in the event before they put my name forward. I met Freddie at 9am on the range on Monday, he showed me his bag and all of his woods were sparkling despite using them for the last three years.

“He told me: ‘Do not get a scratch on the woods as I won’t be able to hit them. You can do whatever you want with the irons but do not scratch the woods or touch my grips,’ because he doesn’t wear a glove. That’s why Freddie gives everyone a fist bump and has done for the last 30-plus years, he hates touching people’s hands or getting sun cream on them.

“We then went to the course to do a nine-hole trial to see if I was any good. He handed me a yardage book and told me: ‘I don’t do yardages, I’ve never done yardages so you’ll have to do all my yardages this week. Once you get to my ball I want the yardage to the front, the pin and the back instantly and then I’ll decide what club and what shot I’m going to hit.’ He was pretty stern at the start but after nine holes we were having a few laughs and cracking a few jokes.”

Deane passed the nine-hole trial with flying colours and would carry the bag for the three-time US Presidents Cup-winning captain over all four rounds at Emirates Golf Club, but it could have only been two if it hadn’t been for the Northern Irishman’s intervention late in the second round.

“Freddie had tickets for the Super Bowl, which was being played on the Saturday or Sunday night of the tournament, so if he hadn’t of got through to the weekend he could have attended,” he said.

“We were on 16 and he looked at me and said: ‘Should we try make the cut’ which was at -2 and he was at level par — I told him: ‘Absolutely, let’s do it.’

“He made par at 16 and birdie at 17 before playing a big, high draw over the corner on the last which left a five-iron into the green. As we were walking up to his ball he said: ‘Well, I’ll have to give my Super Bowl tickets away,’ because he knew he was going to get the ball on to the green and two-putt for birdie. It was a pretty cool finish to the end of the second round.”

Most 55-year-olds would head back to the hotel after a gruelling 18 holes on the Majlis in the searing heat, but not Fred Couples.

“After finishing our lunch, we went back out on the course as Freddie wanted to catch Tiger’s last few holes because he was kind of struggling a little bit,” said Deane, who had spent time in the VIP room with Tiger, Mark O’Meara and Couples during tournament week.

“Although he was in poor form, Tiger actually made the cut so we waited for him on the range. Freddie watched him hitting some balls before saying: ‘Steve, go and grab my golf bag. I don’t want people to think I’m giving Tiger a lesson here.’

“For the next hour or so, Freddie proceeded to give Tiger tips to get him back to swinging naturally rather than thinking too much into swing mechanics. He would be naming famous holes from across the world and asked Tiger to hit the shot that he would require.”

Couples finished the week in a share of 54th, above the likes of Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton despite heading towards the twilight of his career.

“Freddie played solid over the weekend and finished in a decent position for someone of his age,” said Deane. “We played with former champion Alvaro Quiros, who is known for his big-hitting, in the last round and Freddie really stepped on it to outdrive him. Alvaro was laughing because he couldn’t believe Freddie was hitting it 20 yards past him. He could turn it on when he wanted to.”

“He’s a really cool person, who is very relaxed on the outside, but when it comes to his golf, he gives it everything he’s got to go as low as he can.”