The American, a former US Masters champion, produced a three-under-par closing 67 to see off overnight leader Bernhard Langer and Gary Hallberg to win the Senior Open by two shots.
"I'm very happy and excited to have won this event," he said. "I never won the Open Championship, but I got close, so this is the next best thing and it's my biggest Senior Tour win so far."
Since he is a previous Senior Tour major winner, at the US Senior TPC last year, those comments went some way to demonstrating the esteem in which this title is held, also underlining just how big a blow it was for Langer, who had also led the US Seniors Open entering the final round, earlier this month.
Then the German had led by four shots, whereas his advantage was just one this time, but in the end his collapse was similar.
That Couples came through meanwhile spared tournament organisers from having to deal with a major issue, since close-range observers suggested there was little doubt about the 52-year-old's displeasure at being called to account for slow play during the run-in.
The shoot-out between the American and the German was a head-to-head evocative of classic Euro-American battles of the past 30 years, a taste of the Ryder Cup before Medinah in September.
Both men had turned in 35, one-over, to maintain the one-stroke gap between them, but Couples had begun what was to prove a surge to victory on the back nine before being interrupted by that unfortunate intervention by Gene Smith, a USPGA official who was their referee.
The final pair were warned for playing too slowly and told they had, in golf parlance, "been put on the clock" on the 12th hole, where Couples produced a second successive birdie and Langer took a double-bogey 6.
That ultimately proved to be a pivotal moment, but, at the next hole, it briefly looked as if it might not be.
Couples appeared incensed when told he had been given a "bad time" on the 13th hole, pointing out in no uncertain terms that, playing along with a player who, fairly or otherwise, has a long-established reputation for playing slowly, he had not been responsible for them having been put on the clock.
Apparently unsettled, he then three-putted that 13th green to drop a shot. Hallberg had birdied that hole a few minutes earlier and so Couples' lead was reduced to a single stroke. It was then cancelled out altogether when his fellow American, two holes ahead, also birdied the long 17th.
"I was a little upset. I just felt it was the wrong time or the wrong way of doing it," he said, before claiming the warning had not been the direct cause of him bogeying the hole which he simply put down to a poor wedge shot.
"I can't ever remember getting a 'bad time' before. I don't even know the rules. I was just told to make sure I didn't get another one.
"The three-putt had nothing to do with getting a bad time, though. I don't know if it was unsettling to Bernhard."
Langer was subsequently given a "bad time" of his own on the 14th and it most certainly seemed as if the penalty did disrupt his game. The two-time US Masters champion fell apart from that point as he produced three successive bogeys to slump from contention to a share of sixth place with two more Americans, Mark Wiebe and John Cook, as well as Australian Peter Fowler. That group was two adrift of Englishmen Barry Lane and Carl Mason, as well as American Dick Mast, who shared third behind runner-up Hallberg.
Couples fully recovered his composure, however, to produce a birdie of his own on the 17th before rolling in a 30-footer on the final hole. It may have broken his duck in terms of wins in Europe, but this was also the ninth American success in this event in the past 10 years.
He was thrilled, not just by the win, but by the additional prize of a return trip to Scotland and the Open Championship proper at Muirfield.
"The first thing I asked Bernhard on the 18th green was whether this means I have qualified for next year's Open and he said it was. To play one more Open is really special, too," said Couples.
That said, he perhaps offered some insight into why he has taken so long to win on this side of the Atlantic.
"I was playing very solidly but I was glad it didn't rain. I'm not very good in the rain and don't wear a glove, so that would have been a problem," he said, moments after taking a soaking during the presentation ceremony.
One man with no such issues made it clear that he, too, has every intention of returning as often as possible.
On this occasion Tom Watson, so often the hero of both Open Championships, broke par as ever but this time could only finish in a share of 10th at the course with which his name is synonymous, but his love of the place is undiminished.
"It really doesn't matter whether it's the Open, the Senior Open or just a friendly, I love this place," said the 62-year-old.
"As long as my body holds out and I can still hit the ball the way I think I should I still have delusions of grandeur at times."
Like Couples, he will be warmly received at Muirfield next summer.
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