Winter Garden pro golfer Chris Couch returns to fairway after back injury
After herniating disks in his lower back five-and-one-half years ago, professional golfer Chris Couch thought he might never be able to play again.
And for the next five years, he didn’t. Instead, he took on the role of teaching the sport he loves.
Couch, a Winter Garden resident, was injured in August 2012 and has been in a teaching role since spring 2013.
But he defied the odds in September 2017, when he walked back onto the green and picked up a club for the first time in five years.
Couch went pro in 1995 and has one PGA Tour victory and five web.com victories to his credit. His PGA victory came at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans in 2006, when he shot 269 — one point ahead of runner-up Fred Funk.
He also golfed for Coconut Creek High School in Fort Lauderdale, and at one point was ranked No. 1 nationally. His high-school career led to a full-ride scholarship at the University of Florida.
From 1996 to 2002, he found sponsors for which to play and after that became a journeyman player between web.com and the PGA Tour.
After his injury in 2012, he a gained Major Medical Extension with the PGA Tour and was given four starts to retain his status. If he didn’t start playing soon, his medical status with the tour would be revoked.
Although teaching has been his priority for the last five years and he’s gained both more knowledge of the swing and more students, he decided to try to play the four tournaments he was given.
“Even though I haven’t gotten better, I decided to give it a try to see what I could do,” he said. “That way I can maintain some sort of status on tour. I went literally probably five years without really playing at all.”
THE SWING OF THINGS
In September 2017, he headed back out to the course to begin practicing and see how his back felt. From then on, he has taken it one day at a time; his back can spasm or act up at any time.
“This year I decided, ‘I’m getting kinda old, so why don’t I try to play some tournaments?’” he said. “I figured I’d play those four tournaments, and maybe if I got into a couple more, great. I teed it up for the first time in five-and-one-half years in Innisbrook (in March).”
During the four-day Valspar Championship in Innisbrook, Chris made his comeback debut. His wife, Julia, caddied for him, and he did well — he ended up just inside the top 50.
“I actually thought I’d never play again. That’s the thing (with my back) — I never know. When you get herniated disks, they’re so close together that if you make a wrong move, it spasms throughout your whole back. It paralyzes you — literally.” — Chris Couch
“I got on the tee and felt pretty good, and I drove it right down the middle of the first hole and made birdie on the very first hole,” he said. “(Julia) did well, and I made the cut. I owe all the credit there to God. After not playing for five-and-a-half years in a tournament and practicing maybe six months before the tournament, I just couldn’t believe I made the cut, to be honest.”
But a little more than a month later, during the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, Chris was not having a good day with his back. He had a bad first round, and his back went out during warmups the second morning. He ended up making it through nine holes.
Couch has three more tournaments coming up in July, and it’s a challenge in which he hopes to find success. He is currently set to play in The Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia, the John Deere Classic in Illinois and the Barbasol Championship in Kentucky.
LOVE OF TEACHING
Although Couch is happy to be back out on the course, he said teaching and coaching at West Orange Country Club remains his first priority. Even when he is out playing, he has his students send him videos to critique.
Couch’s business is called Chris Couch Golf Instruction, and Julia serves his manager. He has had a couple of students so far turn pro, and some of his junior students currently are making their way through their college careers. He also hopes to get some his players out on tour and watch them succeed.
“To win at the top level was my dream, and I was blessed enough to do it once — I call myself a one-hit wonder (on the PGA),” he said. “Just to win once is an incredible feat, it was a great journey and not too many people can say they’ve won on the biggest tour in the world. I’m proud of that and now I want to give back and watch one of my students try to win.
“I’m confident in how I teach, and I really enjoy it,” he said. “I enjoy watching players get better, and it’s nice to give back to the game and know that I have something to do with it.”