Cook relives the past, happy with the present

By John FeinsteinNovember 21, 2012, 5:13 pm

Jeff Cook is 50 now and life couldn’t be much better. He and his wife, Pam, are in the process of building a house in Indianapolis and he is about to start his 16th year working as an equipment representative for Mizuno. That means he spends time on the PGA Tour almost every week, seeing old friends, spending time on the range trading jokes and old stories or arguing about his beloved Indiana Hoosiers with anyone who cares to take him on.

“Most of the time I’m perfectly happy to be on this side of things,” he said on a recent morning. “I like doing what I do and I enjoy myself out there working with the guys I work with. But there are times when I feel the twinges, when I miss the competition. That was the most fun about playing golf – the competition.”

Cook competed on the PGA Tour for one year, in 1993. Before and after he was a regular at PGA Tour Q-School finals. He played in the finals for six consecutive years and then twice more – the last time in 1999 – when he was already working for Mizuno. That may be why he’s perfectly happy that his late-season schedule this year didn’t call for him to be in California for the final finals.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re playing or not playing, the feel of Q-School is entirely different than any other tournament,” he said. “No one wants to stand around on the range and tell stories. There’s too much tension. I usually just wish guys luck and, if it’s one of our (Mizuno) guys I tell them I’m here if they need me for anything. I remember when I was playing at Q-School, it just wasn’t a week for socializing – even with my friends.”

Like every player who has ever teed it up at Q-School, Cook has a couple of indelible memories – one good and one bad.

“In ’92, the finals were at The Woodlands (outside Houston). It was cold and damp the whole week and at times it was tough to grip the club and really take a swing at the ball because you knew the contact was going to hurt.

“The last day, I came to 18 and I thought I was right on the number. That was what my gut told me. No one wants to play that hole under pressure – it’s long and the second shot’s over water and if you’re shaking with nerves, it’s brutal. I think I had 3-iron to the green and I hit it perfectly. Give me 50 tries and I won’t hit the ball better. I took my two-putt par and ran off the green.

“Making it through to make the Tour was thrilling, but doing it by hitting a shot that good under pressure made it even better.”

A year later, like a lot of Tour rookies, Cook was back – first playing second stage. “Second stage that year may have been as good as my game has ever been,” he remembered. “I mean I was on. I think I won by six shots (at Fort Ord) and I was ready to go play finals the next day.

“Problem was, they weren’t the next day; they were two weeks later. By the time I got there (at PGA West) I just wasn’t as sharp. I honestly don’t think I ever had my best game going during a finals – even the year I made it. That was frustrating but you can’t control that sort of thing.”

Even though he didn’t feel great about his game that week 19 years ago, Cook again went into the final day right around the number to make the PGA Tour. He was convinced he was smack on the number when he got to the 17th hole, which was a par-3 with water on three sides.

When Cook and his group arrived on the tee there were two groups ahead of them and a third walking towards the green. “That’s the toughest thing about Q-school, the pace of play,” he said. “The days are short because it’s December and the rounds are long. You feel like you’re playing almost from sunup to sundown.”

Cook took one look at all the players on the tee and went for a walk. “In that situation you don’t want to watch other guys,” he said. “It’s just too tough. If you see someone melt down it can affect you.”

Actually one player waiting on the tee did melt down, but not with a club in his hands. Steve LaMontagne, who, like Cook had been on Tour and was on the bubble trying to get back, lost it.

“What a hole to have to sit and wait on,” LaMontagne said, his voice loud enough that it could be heard up on the green. “I mean, can you believe this, can you (expletive) believe we have to sit and wait on THIS hole!”

When someone on the green turned and yelled, ‘Hey!’ LaMontagne lowered his voice but kept railing while he paced in a circle.

Cook was sitting under a tree at that point, trying not to hear or see anything. When it was finally his turn, he hit a perfect-looking 6-iron that flew right over the flag and stopped 20 feet above the hole. It was right on top of a plateau, meaning if it sucked back just a little it might roll all the way down to the flag. It never moved. Cook was left with a 20-footer, straight downhill. He tapped it and watched it go 4 feet past the hole. His par putt did an absolute 360 around the hole – and stayed out.

“It was like getting kicked in the stomach,” Cook said. “But at that moment I had to think, ‘OK, let’s birdie 18.’”

He almost did. He hit two very good shots to another hole with water fronting it and had a 20-footer for birdie. He missed it by about 2 inches. That was the difference between getting his card back and not getting his card back.

“I remember going and standing by the board, watching the scores go up,” he said. “I was totally deflated after all the adrenaline I’d had going. I knew someone had to really screw up coming in from the last groups for the number to move. No one ever says it, but that’s what you’re standing there hoping for.”

It didn’t happen. Cook missed by one. He played on what is now the Tour for the next six years – getting back to finals on several occasions but never coming that close to the PGA Tour again. In 1997, while he was still playing, Rick Nelson, the Mizuno rep on the PGA Tour, quit halfway through the year. Cook had been playing Mizuno irons since college and had become an unofficial go-between the company and players looking to play Mizuno on what was then the Nike Tour.

Harry Taylor, who had been Nelson’s boss, called and asked if Cook would fill in as the company’s rep on the tour for the rest of the year.

“At first I said no, I was still playing,” Cook said. “But he said I could go in on Mondays, leave on Wednesday and they’d fly me to wherever I was playing. I tried it and liked it and actually played pretty well. By ’99, though, I was getting worn out. I had to make a decision.”

He played Q-School one more time, made finals but not the PGA Tour and decided, at the age of 37, it was time to move on. Thirteen years later, he’s married and has twin teenagers from Pam’s first marriage. And couldn’t be happier.

“I turned 50 this year and a lot of people said, ‘Are you going to try the Champions Tour?’” he said. “I thought about it, but then I realized I’d have to give up my job and the life I’ve built to try to do it. I do think back to that day in ’93 on occasion but not often.” He laughed. “One thing about Q-School, it’s not that often things happen that you try to remember. But you do remember, whether you want to or not.”

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''