Friday, December 9, 2016

John Cook

There are a few things I know to be true in the golf world.  Fred Couples and John Cook were cool.  If you don’t remember how cool, let me jog your memory with this Ashworth ad.

John Cook grew up in Southern California the son of a former PGA Tour official.  Obviously he could play some stick because both Nicklaus and Weiskopf personally invited him to attend Ohio State University, which he did.  No official records on hand but my guess is ‘Cookie’ as they like to call him, had OSU ladies diving into his dorm room windows.  John won the US Am in 1978 and lost in the finals in ’79 to Mark O’Meara.  Without going into full blown detail let’s just say John Cook’s amateur career was top shelf.  Strong enough that he was pegged as one, in a short list of players, to come along as ‘The Nicklaus’ (I never was on that list?). 
John won 11 times on the PGA Tour, spanning between the ages of 23 and 43, now that is impressive!  He has also picked off 10 wins on the Champions Tour.  Throw in the 1995 Mexican Open and you have a guy that proved he could win in different areas of the world. 
John has played in 61 majors….let me repeat John has played in 61 MAJORS!  Not sure I have watched 61 majors.  John had several near misses, once at The Open and once at the PGA Championship among other impressive finishes.
I was fortunate to get to know John this past summer when he came to Portland to commentate the LPGA event we host at Columbia Edgewater CC.  We played a round of golf with Jerry Foltz, and a stud amateur golfer and friend of John’s David Jacobsen at Waverley.  It was a treat for a golf geek like me to watch these three players and more importantly to pepper John with questions about everything golf.  Afterwards we had lunch and I sat and listened to all the stories John, Jerry, and David told about various golf pros.  I could easily still be there checking off questions I have.  John has been kind enough to put up with me and my constant stream of golf questions.  He was mentored by Ken Venturi.  If you don’t think that is fantastic we might not get along.  Ok let’s get to the Q&A.

1.     Favorite golfer growing up?

Always liked Nicklaus and Weiskopf and got to know them quite well, but I'm going old school through my ties with Venturi... I was a big fan of Hogan and Nelson. Never saw them compete live but spent enough time around them and talking to them to have a major influence on my golfing life.

2.    How did it come about that Venturi was your mentor?  

Kenny was a huge auto racing fan and my father, after coaching football, was with Firestone and then into the operation side of INDYCAR. They struck up a friendship and my father in his not so subtle way, bragged he had a 14 year old son that was a pretty good player and would Kenny take a look at him. Like Kenny never heard that before. But KV agreed and we met at Mission Hills CC in Rancho Mirage in April 1972.  The relationship lasted until he passed in 2013.

3.    You told me that at the 2000 US Open you told Johnny Miller that Tiger was going to win by 10 shots.  Impressive you called that, any particular reason you knew a blowout was coming?

After playing Mon and Tues practice rounds together along with Mark O'Meara, our usual major practice round group, TW of course was pretty spot on but Wed practice seemed a little different. The calmness and quality of each swing was so impressive. When we got to the 12th at Pebble, MO and I were trying to hit these sky ball 4 irons and if we cleared the gaping front bunker, they ball bounced over the green. TW hit these controlled 6 irons that hit the green and stopped like a full sand wedge into the wind. Johnny Miller had just pulled up to the green to observe. He asked MO and I want we thought and I said the course was great and was really looking forward to the week. He shook his head and looked in TW direction and I then said that he was going to win by 10 shots. Johnny rolled his eyes and I explained what we just saw and it wasn't a fair fight!!! I was dead wrong, he won by 15!!

4.    One shot you could have over in your golfing career?

My 2nd on the 72nd hole at The Open Championship at Muirfield in 1992. While most think the 2footer I missed the hole before might be the one, I had regrouped and striped a drive down 18. Always priding myself on controlling my golf ball, I forced a 3 iron instead of hitting a low running 4 up the front of the green to chase back to the flagstick.

5.    Craziest thing that ever happened to you during a tournament round?

1993 World Series of Golf, third round paired with Peter Senior.  We were playing the 6th at Firestone CC, a long par 4 where you hit over a hill and down a slope so you can't see where your ball finishes. Peter hit his ball down the left that looked to easily catch the fairway. I hit mine down the right with a slight draw also easily catching the fairway. We both walked to what we thought to be our balls, me up the right side and Peter up the left never thinking the balls could have crossed. Peter pulled his second shot into the left bunker and I hit mine to 25 feet short of the pin. Peter blasted out just inside of my second shot.  My caddy cleaned his ball while his caddy raked the bunker. I putted up, missed and tapped in for par. Peter missed, tapped in and we walked to the Par 3 no. 7.  Not paying any attention to the golf ball, I played my tee ball, Peter checked his ball and it was the right brand but different type.  Puzzled, he switched back to his type and played his tee shot. Oblivious to what was happening I walked off the tee then realized that I must have hit the wrong ball, but how and where? Couldn't have on 6 as our golf balls were never near each other. As we called for a rules official we scratching our heads as to what could have possibly happened. Only thing we could come up with was the balls were switched when my caddy cleaned them. That wasn't the main issue as we both teed off the next hole therefore both DQ'd for not correcting the original issue. That was in the day where you marked your ball with pencil marks, not Sharpie dots. From that time on I mark my ball with sharpie dots and in different colors. Lesson learned.

6.    Tell us something about John Cook that most people would be surprised to know? 

What makes me most proud: My wife and I started dating in 1975, except for a few months in 1978, we've been together for 41 yrs, married 37.

7.    If a young tour pro came to you today for advice what do you tell them?

I would advise that player to compete as much as possible. Practicing and playing are night and day from competing. You are a professional golfer, that's what you do, you compete.

8.    Has technology been a good or bad thing for the elite level in golf?  

I would say that yes, technology for the most part have kept players competing at older ages. Yes, the ball goes far and straighter.  Drivers are the size of small cars, 3 woods go far and the hybrid is a game changer but as far as irons and wedges go, the clubs that you score with, very little has changed.

9.    Do you own Ohio State pajamas?


10.  Life motto?

 "What is understood, doesn't need to be discussed."

11.  Toughest hole at Augusta for you over the years?

#11 gave me fits. Each year I had a chance, I'd make a 6-7 there to derail any hopes of a Green Jacket

12.  Favorite major when you were on Tour?  Does it differ now as a non-competitor? 
 I always thought I would do better at Augusta, I studied so hard and loved it so much from my first year in 1979 as an amateur to my last in 2003.
13.  Thoughts on longevity of the Champions Tour?  I just don’t see the young guns playing that late into their careers due to injuries and being filthy rich well before age 50. 

As a policy board member for the Champions Tour I always questioned our long term goals as the next generation of 50 yr olds have made so much money. What needed to be done to get them to play. I think for another couple years, we are fine, 5 years from now, I'm not so sure. If we make the events special, guys like to compete, that's what we've since we were kids. PGA Tour Champions must give these newer players a reason to play.

14.  Biggest fear, if any?   

In answering the same question my kids asked me 20 yrs ago, my only fear in life is losing my wife.

15.  You get one last meal who are you inviting to the table? 

I'm going with my family, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen and Archie Griffin. Among those that have passed, Jimi Hendrix, Hogan, Nelson and Venturi. How about that table?!!

16.  Give me a Bruce Lietzke story.  I loved Leaky!   
Most of us know the banana story but what I remember was back in the early '80s, Leaky travelled around in the most bad ass TransAm!   A funny car minus the nitro!

17.  Best caddie nickname of your generation?  

Bruce Edwards, may he Rest In Peace, nicknamed everyone. "The Duke" comes to mind as one caddy had a head the size of a football.  NFL footballs were Wilson balls that had The Duke on them.

18.  Early in your career who did you play practice rounds with and was there always a money game? 

Played a lot of practice rounds with Weiskopf. Mostly O'Meara, Armour and the Byrum Bros. Not really money games unless I was home and some knucklehead wanted a piece of me.

19.  Favorite club in the bag?

As Ken Venturi once told me, "Fall in Love with your Driver!" When you can drive it on a string with the pressure on during the final round, it puts pressure on your opponents!

20. Being an Ohio State guy and knowing you spent time around Nicklaus do you have any good stories about the Bear?

As a young married couple with a 1 year old living in Dublin OH, on some nice summer evenings, we would walk on the golf course, Muirfield Village GC where I was a member and Jan would push the stroller and I would play holes.  Once in a while we would run into Jack and his kids playing golf.  How cool to just casually play and chat with the Nicklaus family on a summer evening!!! Much like Tiger during his career, Jack was really one of the best pairings. They both showed such respect for their playing partners.

21.  Having Ken Venturi as a mentor, you obviously played with him, any good stories that would impress upon how good he truly was?  I am not sure a guy my age fully understands how good he was.

Venturi's playing career was cut short due to hand and circulatory issues but 14 PGA Tour wins including '64 US Open in 8 yrs, not too shabby. As a college kid, when I use to down to Florida to work with him on weekends or breaks, he would always have a couple other pros there to pick his brain and work with him. Ken and I would always play them and I would always go back to Columbus with some spending dough courtesy of the pros and Ken carrying the load!!!! He was 10-15 yrs retired by then but he still got jacked up to play with me and Curt Byrum.

22. Best or most impressive shot you hit or you saw a playing competitor hit?

I hit some really nice clutch shots in my career and some I'd like to have over but the one I remember best was '93 Ryder Cup at The Belfry. Session 4, Saturday afternoon, Chip Beck and I sent out for our 1st match of the Cup against Faldo/Monty. Easy point for the Euros, right?!!!  Not so fast my friend! Chip and I hung around long enough to take a 1 up lead to the 18th, securing a 1/2 pt but we wanted the full point. Chip drove into the bunker but safe, I piped one down the slot as did Faldo and Monty. Chip lay-up, Monty jerked his 2nd left of green side bunker and Faldo pulled his 2nd into that bunker.  I then rifled a 4 iron right at the flag with the ball stopping 10 ft. from the cup.  Monty and Faldo failed to make their next shots so GAME OVER!!!  An important point for our US team as we went on the win the Cup, the last time US won in Europe.

Follow me on twitter @ghostofhogan for more golf talk!

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