(Reuters) - Fred Couples, renowned for being one of the most laid-back figures in the game, was overcome by emotion after being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2013 on Monday.
The American former world number one, a 15-times champion on the PGA Tour, twice choked up with tears during his acceptance speech in St. Augustine, Florida on what he described as “the coolest night of my life”.
Couples was inducted along with eight-times European Tour order of merit winner Colin Montgomerie, former U.S. Open champion and television broadcaster Ken Venturi, former European Tour executive director Ken Schofield and twice former British Open winner Willie Park Jr.
The first American player to reach number one in the official world rankings, Couples broke down when he described how he had gained motivation to pursue a career in golf while attending a golf clinic in his native Seattle at the age of 14.
“An unbelievable PGA Tour player was doing the clinic, and I got up front and I was staring at him,” the 53-year-old Couples recalled.
”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.
“And the gentleman’s name was Lee Trevino, who has been a mentor and someone I love.”
Couples’ golfing journey took him from Seattle to the University of Houston and he went on to become one of the most popular players in the game with a languid swing and prodigious length off the tee which earned him the nickname ‘Boom Boom’.
He won his only major title at the 1992 Masters but also clinched the prestigious Players Championship in 1984 and 1996, an event widely regarded as the unofficial fifth major.
A veteran of five Ryder Cups, Couples captained the triumphant U.S. Presidents Cup teams in 2009 and 2011, and also has eight wins on the Champions Tour for players aged over 50.
“Thanks for taking a kid from Seattle and putting him into the Hall of Fame,” Couples said as he ended his acceptance speech. “This is the coolest night of my life.”
Montgomerie, though he never won a major championship despite several close calls, was delighted to earn his place in the class of 2013 after a career highlighted by 31 victories on the European Tour.
“This has been a humbling experience for me,” said the 49-year-old Scot, who also compiled a stellar record in the biennial Ryder Cup team competition where he never lost in eight singles matches.
“I‘m very proud to be standing here in front of you this evening.”
Known for his natural swing, an aversion to practice and a temperament that could be prickly at times, Montgomerie recorded five runner-up spots in the majors among a total of 10 top-10 finishes.
”I’ve enjoyed thoroughly my exploits in major championships,“ Montgomerie said during a news conference. ”I just haven’t been fortunate or whatever it takes, I’ve never, ever stood up and made a winner’s speech... I never will.
“There’s always a time where a bit of fortune comes your way, whether it be for you or against your opponent at the time, and it just so happens with five runner-ups... that I just haven’t been so-called fortunate to walk through the door.”
Montgomerie twice lost majors in playoffs - the U.S. Open in 1994 and the PGA Championship in 1995 - but his most agonizing near-miss came in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot where he double-bogeyed the final hole to finish a stroke behind winner Geoff Ogilvy of Australia.
”That’s the one that hurts,“ Montgomerie said. ”The four others or five others really, somebody happened to beat me. The 2006 Winged Foot I beat myself, and that’s where it hurts most. So that has taken the most to recover from.
“So at the same time, if you’re talking about regrets of any part of my golfing career, I have none. Absolutely none. I’ve done exactly what I’ve tried to do. I’ve tried 100 percent on every shot, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn‘t.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien