Cook hopes to shed underachiever label with one last big win
WINDERMERE, Fla. -- It's a bit surprising to hear John Cook say he feels he may have "underachieved a bit" in his professional golf career, especially considering he has 11 PGA Tour wins.
But flash back to 1983 (yes, that's Boy George in your head, singing "I'll Tumble 4 Ya"), when Cook and fellow blonde-haired golf gods Hal Sutton and Bobby Clampett were featured in Golf Digest as the next superstars of the sport. And flash even further back to 1977 (you're forgiven if you start humming Ram Jam's "Black Betty"), when Cook was already on a first-name basis with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf and securing the first of three consecutive All-American honors at Ohio State.
With that kind of star-studded start to his career, you'd think Cook would be kicked back in his La-Z-Boy at his posh Windermere home today, holding neighbor buddies Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara in wide-eyed attention while recounting the remarkable stories of how he won his three or four majors.
Instead, he's trying hard to erase the memories of majors that slipped away, including the 1992 British Open when he missed a two-and-half-foot putt on the 17th hole in the final round and eventually lost to Nick Faldo.
But back to those 11 PGA Tour wins. How many PGA Tour players today would love to win just one tournament, let alone 11? And none of them ever got to do a photo shoot with Bo Derek or burn rubber on a Kawasaki Green Streak gift-wrapped by legendary auto racer Parnelli Jones.
And the 45-year old Cook's not done chasing majors (or any other tournaments for that matter) just yet. In fact, his career has caught fire once again with a victory in 2001 at the Renoe-Tahoe Open and four top-five finishes in 2002. His second top-five of 2002 was worth $177,187.50, bumping his career earnings over the $10 million mark. Not bad for an "underachiever."
Cook's not the only over-40 golfer to pick up his game and challenge the young guns of the PGA Tour in recent years. He thinks there's a logical explanation for these old fogies' fantastic play.
"All we know how to do is compete," Cook says of the over-40 bunch. "The golf ball doesn't know how old the person is. Experience plays a big part in winning golf tournaments. Hitting the ball far is not what drives the game."
But moving to Windermere apparently is. A lifelong California man (he was born in Toledo, Ohio but grew up in Southern California), Cook made the move to Isleworth in Windermere several years ago to reduce travel headaches and be a sand wedge away from the homes of practice buddies Woods and O'Meara. That's one of several reasons he says his game is sharper than ever.
"Playing and practicing with Mark, Tiger, and my son Jason and his friends who are very good junior players has definitely helped," Cook says. "Keeping in reasonably good physical condition hasn't hurt either."
But any athlete knows that good health is often a combination of training and good luck. This year, Cook's luck ran out. After playing reasonably well, making five of seven cuts and $78,931, he was forced to undergo shoulder surgery. Cook views it as a temporary setback with long-term benefits, and plans to keep his playing schedule on track.
"As my health improves, I plan to play a reasonable schedule on the PGA Tour, 15 to 20 events," he says. "Doing a little television work for the USA Network this year while I've been on the mend has been a blessing, but I really want to keep competing if I'm competitive."
At the same time, Cook wants to spend more time with wife Jan, son Jason, 17, and daughters Kristin, 21, and Courtney, 19. Living in Florida instead of California allows him to be home on Sunday, Monday and sometimes Tuesday night, even with a hectic playing schedule. Cook's competitive playing plans after his 50th birthday leave no doubt as to where his family stands in his list of priorities.
"I will play the Champions Tour, but I'll only play the tournaments that my wife wants to go to with me," he says. "I won't travel by myself very often -- I've already done that for 25 years, and we'll be able to enjoy this travel together."
In the meantime, Cook will be trying to take it to guys half his age who regularly drive the ball over 300 yards. He's never been a monster hitter himself - this year, he averaged 266.8 yards off the tee which put him 181st in the rankings. Driving distance is the biggest change he's seen during his competitive years.
"The main difference is the driver and the ball," Cook says. "Everything else is about the same. Courses are getting longer, which I don't necessarily agree with. I say bring trouble back into play -- rough, firm and fast small greens. Shot making is a lost art, as is driving the ball in the fairway."
So if Cook never does win a major, he still can say he had a private moment with Bo Derek. OK, a not so private moment, but a moment nonetheless. Flash back 10 years before the movie "10" -- 1969 -- when Parnelli Jones, a friend of John's dad, asked the 12-year-old towhead if he wouldn't mind being photographed on a new small-frame Kawasaki motorcycle. Motorcycle racing, not golf, was John's thing at the time, so he enthusiastically accepted the offer. A girl, Kathleen Collins, was involved in the photo shoot as well.
Ten years later, "10" came out, and someone told John that the girl in that movie, Bo Derek, was the girl he took pictures with. The irony is that he remembered the motorcycle more than he remembered her. Another story for John to tell about the one that got away.
June 2, 2003