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Everyone flocking to Couples at North Shore

'Coolest golfer of all time' will play with Kukoc in inaugural Encompass Championship

Teddy Greenstein

On Colleges, On Golf

6:39 PM EDT, June 20, 2013

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Here's how cool Fred Couples is: Golf Digest recently named him the coolest golfer of all time, and Couples hasn't read the story.

"I don't know where that was," he said of the Steve Rushin piece, which pointed to Couples' "It" factor, laid-back demeanor and "physical elegance."

Couples, appropriately, said he never considered what makes him cool.

He did mention his casual, spikeless Ecco golf shoes, which he began wearing at the Masters in 2011. Now golfers stroll straight from the course to the grill room.

"Everyone's going crazy with these shoes, so that's a cool thing to me," Couples said. "That doesn't make me cool. It makes people smart — that the old, heavy shoes are out."

When you're cool, people flock to you. So it was only right that Couples' Thursday session with reporters at the Encompass Championship, the Champions Tour event at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, took place steps from his hitting stall at the practice range.

All other pre-tournament interviews took place in a formal room in the clubhouse.

When a sportswriter offered his hand to Couples, he passed on shaking it, opting for a shoulder pat.

Couples is one of seven World Golf Hall of Famers in the field, joining Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Nick Price.

Couples said he tried "pretty hard" to rope in good friend Michael Jordan for the celebrity pro-am competition, but he's out of town. Second choice Bo Jackson is at his own charity event, so Couples asked Toni Kukoc, a 3 handicap who has played 70 holes in a day.

"He's all worried about how he's going to play," Couples said. "I said it won't matter; we'll just have a good time."

Couples, who averages a tour-best 5.08 birdies per 18 holes, spoke before his practice round at North Shore.

"I wish I'd played the course," he said, "so I could tell you how great it is."

Back at it: Price will make his return to the Champions Tour after suffering a left elbow injury in mid-August.

"Home life's great," said Price, who lives in Hobe Sound, Fla., "but you've got to have a sense of purpose in life, and I miss golf. When you can't do the only thing you're really good at, it's very frustrating."

Price dabbles in golf course design and will serve as captain of the International squad for the 2013 Presidents Cup. But the man who has won twice in Chicago — the 1993 and '94 Western Opens at Cog Hill — said he got bored. He passed on broadcasting opportunities because "I enjoy playing so much."

"I'm going to be like Arnold (Palmer), out here when I'm 70," Price said. "I don't want to be cooped up in some tower. Being outside is the winning ticket for me."

Showtime: Scottie Pippen and actor Dennis Haysbert pulled out of the celebrity/team format, but Bears coach Marc Trestman (7:37 a.m.), Kukoc (8:32), Brian Urlacher (8:54), Joe Theismann (12:28 p.m.) and Jay Hilgenberg (12:39) are playing and will tee off on No. 1 on Friday. Urlacher is paired with Hinsdale resident Jeff Sluman.

Robbie Gould (7:59 a.m.), Jack O'Callahan (11:55) and Pat Foley (12:17 p.m.) will start on No. 10.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein