REDMOND _ With a touch of class, golf great Fred Couples reached out to Seattle-area pro Ryan Benzel and invited him to share the spotlight Tuesday at Sahalee Country Club.
The 50-year-old Couples, a Seattle native, is the headliner at this year’s United States Senior Open. He is, in fact, the tournament’s honorary chairman, and on Tuesday he hosted a junior golf clinic at Sahalee CC’s driving range.
Joining him was the 31-year-old Benzel, who lives in Bothell and is a teaching pro at Marysville’s Battle Creek Golf Course. He is a former Ritzville resident and University of Idaho golf standout.
Couples and Benzel met during the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Couples, a longtime star on the PGA Tour, graciously reached out to Benzel, who had qualified for the tournament at the PGA of America’s Professional National Championship for club pros.
They played a practice round together that day, and again the next year before the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
Earlier this week, Benzel sent Couples a text message, asking for the chance to stop by and say hello. He ended up with an invitation to join Couples at the Tuesday clinic.
Needless to say, Benzel said with a smile, “I jumped at the opportunity.”
Benzel grew up in eastern Washington, and as a young player it was natural that he would follow the career of Couples, a golf star with Northwest roots. The two also share another notable link _ both won the Washington Junior Golf Association championship, with Couples getting his trophy in 1977 and Benzel in 1996.
And like a lot of folks who follow golf _ fellow pros and duffers alike _ Benzel is awed by Couples’ ability to hit a golf ball.
“I’ve played two or three rounds of golf with him and it’s just impressive,” Benzel said. “It’s just the fluid motion that he makes. He doesn’t look like he’s swinging (hard) and yet the ball goes a mile.
“It’s not something you’d necessarily teach because it’s unique to him,” he said. “But every golf swing is unique to someone. And his swing is just gorgeous to watch.”
On Tuesday, Couples and Benzel gave tips to some young players, took questions from the gallery and closed the session by hitting balls side by side on the tee, drawing appreciative murmurs from the crowd.
As afternoons go, Benzel said, “it was perfect.”
Injuries sideline Price, Azinger
Two familiar names have dropped out of this week’s tournament because of injuries. Nick Price, the 1992 and 1994 PGA champion, and the 1994 British Open champ, will miss with a toe injury. Also out is Paul Azinger, the 1993 PGA winner, with a foot injury.
By the numbers
The field of 156 includes 34 players who competed in the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee CC, including Couples, who tied for 13th. Thirty amateurs are here, with 26 advancing through open qualifying.