PALM HARBOR, FLORIDA — It’s been well over five years since Chris Couch played on the PGA Tour. That’s until this week at the Valspar Championship.
Couch, once a prodigious talent out of the University of Florida and winner of the 2006 Zurich Classic, has been sidelined by severe back pain. It’s been so intense that Couch hasn’t played 18 holes of golf on any level since 2012, until just recently.
Back in October, PGA Tour officials notified Couch that if he didn’t play sometime soon, his major medical exemption would be taken away. So he started practicing to see if his body would allow him to comeback. The 44-year-old has four starts to earn $311,662 and retain status.
Starting at 6:50 a.m. Thursday morning, Couch made birdie on his opening hole and finished with an even-par 71.
“If you had told me that he shot 3-over, I would have thought that was incredible,” said his former college teammate Paul Tesori. “But now he probably is going to tell me to go fly a kite, because he’s obviously still got it.”
And then came today. Couch quickly reach 2-under and flirted with the first page of the leaderboard before making a bogey on the par-3 15th. He made pars the rest of the way until a bladed bunker shot on the par-3 8th gave him a double bogey.
Still, Couch finished at 1-over and comfortably made the cut.
“I’ve been injured for five and a half years and I’m still injured,” Couch said. “I didn’t even know if I could make it 36 holes. This is a tough course to walk. It’s only by God’s glory that I’m able to do what I am doing. It’s a miracle, really.”
For those who remember Couch’s dramatic chip-in to win the Zurich Classic 12 years ago, you may not recognize him now. He is built like a linebacker and has a difficult time moving around. He struggles to mark his ball on the green. One thing that hasn’t changed is his cross-handed chipping, and that includes bunker shots.
Due to the layoff, Couch doesn’t have a regular caddie. His petite wife Julia caddied, for the first time ever nonetheless, toting a bag you would see college kids use.
“I forgot how tough this course is to walk,” Couch said. “I give my wife a lot of credit. We’re doing this as a team event and she’s lasted 36 holes on a course like this.”
Couch isn’t sure when his next start will come. The Orlando resident was hoping for a call to play next week at Bay Hill, but that hasn’t happened. For now, he will see how his body holds up and go from there.
“My back could go at any time,” Couch said.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that he could perform the way he has at the highest level.