Fred grew up in Seattle. He lived near the city's Jefferson Park golf course, where he learned to play golf. He attended the University of Houston on a golf schlorship. As a member of the University of Houston Cougars men's golf team, he roomed with Blaine McCallister, another future PGA Tour player, and future CBS television broadcaster Jim Nantz. He graduated in 1980.
Couples joined the PGA Tour in 1982. His first of 57 professional tournament wins came in 1983 at The Kemper Open. Highlights of his golf playing career include winning the 1992 Masters Tournament.
In 1992, Couples partnered with Gene D. Bates to co-designs golf courses. They formed the Couples Bates Golf Design and designed almost two-dozen award winning championship golf courses worldwide. Couples Bates Golf Design later became Bates Golf Design Group.