HUMBLE, Texas – Austin Cook admitted that he was fighting off some nerves on the first tee at the Shell Houston Open.
A mini-tour player with no status on the PGA Tour, Cook survived a Monday qualifier to earn a spot in the field, then played his way into the last group Saturday, where he drew Phil Mickelson.
Not exactly a typical tee time assignment.
Cook steeled those nerves, though, carding a 2-under 70 at the Golf Club of Houston. At 13 under, he trails Jordan Spieth by one shot.
“After the first tee shot they went away pretty quick,” Cook said. “Throughout the round they crept up a little bit, but I did a good job of keeping them away.”
Cook has his younger brother, Kyle, on the bag this week, although their partnership almost didn’t materialize. Kyle is a junior at the University of Arkansas, where Austin graduated in 2013, and his class schedule meant he had to hop a flight Wednesday night from Fayetteville to Houston.
That left his older brother to fend for himself in Monday’s qualifier, where he fired a 64 without the benefit of a caddie and while toting his own bag on a push cart.
“It’s a lot of fun. You’ve got your umbrella holder there if you need it,” he said of the cart. “You can put all sorts of stuff in there.”
While the brothers joked their way through the first two rounds, things tightened up a bit under the spotlight of final-group pressure.
“I couldn’t tell if he was nervous. He wouldn’t eat, though,” Kyle said. “Other than that, he seemed pretty normal…It was just more business today. We knew we had to step the game up a little bit.”
Cook, 24, finished T-13 in his lone prior PGA Tour start, a spot he also earned in a Monday qualifier. The benefits that would accompany a win are life-changing: a two-year exemption, a seven-figure paycheck and a trip to the Masters.
Cook’s focus, though, remains on the task at hand – one more round with his brother on the bag.
“This is a pretty awesome moment,” he said. “I think that after tomorrow’s round we’ll be able to really sit back and take it all in.”