Toshiba Classic interview: John CookMarch 15, 2013
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MODERATOR: We're joined by John Cook this morning. John, a special place for you with your house right down the road in Corona del Mar, so I know you enjoy coming back to the Toshiba Classic every year. You started 2013 with your 9th Champions Tour win at Hualalai and have played well ever since. So maybe a few thoughts about coming back to Newport Beach Country Club and then talk about your game and your start to the year.
JOHN COOK: Always a pleasure here in Orange County, especially in the area here. We've had a place here now about seven years and just down the road, literally takes five minutes to get here from our house. Grew up north of here up in Palos Verdes, but we've settled here in Orange County, love it, and getting back over here is great.
It's a fun golf course. It kind of fits the character of the Champions Tour. I don't get over here a lot to play. I belong to Big Canyon up across the way, but it's a great spot, it really is. It's home for us. Family is around and we have lots of friends. Obviously that's a big bonus coming here. Getting family and friends out and playing in front of them is, you either go one way or the other; you either have a great week because you're really relaxed or you don't. There's no in between here. I found that playing in backyards, I've either won or I've not done well and it's one of the two, and hopefully the cycle is on the way up for this one, so that would be fun.
Decent start to the year, yeah. Came out of Hualalai, played well, was ready to play. One of my favorite spots or our favorite spots, and it's just easy to get up to play for me there. I get there on Monday and I'm ready to play a practice round Tuesday, and I just feel great there. So I've had a nice run there at with a Hualalai and kept it going this year actually through Boca, which I've played well at in the past and played decently that week, finished I think 9th. And then Naples, which I had not done well at all in Naples in my four, five other attempts, I just had not played well at all, and had a real good weekend with some real windy conditions there, so I kept playing well, finished 3rd there. It's been a nice stretch.
We've had some time off, so I'm not quite sure where we are right now. We had three weeks off and I've been working pretty hard the last week and a half and feel like I'm ready to play this week. Look forward to trying to contend here. Good field, great field as always on a wonderful golf course, and ready to get to tomorrow.
Q. You're doing some TV work now with the Golf Channel. Can you talk about that and how that came about and what the future holds?
JOHN COOK: Interesting, yeah. I did a couple of things last year just for the Ryder Cup, a couple of days for them and enjoyed it. It was great. Just the Morning Drive, that morning show. They then hired a new producer for the Morning Drive. Jeff Neubarth, who I had worked with in the past at USA when we were doing a show there when I was hurt in '03 and '04, needed something to do and did that and I enjoyed it. I wasn't very good. I learned a lot and Jeff asked me if I would be interested in doing the morning show on my weeks off, and I kind of looked at the schedule and I said, you know, why not, yeah, it might be something to do, kind of life after golf stuff, foot in the door type thing.
Comcast bought NBC, which owns Golf Channel, and you never know where that might lead. And it's easy for me to do, it's literally about the same, from our house to here is about the same from our house to Golf Channel in Orlando. So I'm going to do a lot of shows on my weeks off, and it's all the morning show. I might do some hits for Masters week or PLAYERS week later on in the days, but I'll do pretty much exclusively the Morning Drive show with Gary and Charlie Rymer and Damon Hack and that whole crew, Kelly and Lauren Thompson. It's not a bad gig. I kind of like it. It's fun. I really don't take many notes, we just talk golf and they just ask me stuff and I just give them answers. If I don't know the answer, I won't give them an answer. It's just kind of the way it is. It's fun, I enjoy it. It moves quick. I'm done at 9:15 in the morning and I can go do my stuff. So it really doesn't take much out of my routine. So I thought I would give it a try for this year and next year and see if I can mix golf with this, which I think has been okay so far. It really doesn't it doesn't take away from any of my preparation and gives me something to do in my off weeks because I can get lazy.
Q. How much of the year do you actually live in Newport Beach?
JOHN COOK: We're not going to be around a whole lot this year. Normally we've been probably four months, at least four months the last few years. With this Golf Channel thing, my off weeks we're going to be in Orlando so we won't be around a whole lot, if a month maybe. Sporadically. Not like through the summer or anything. It will be a week in May, a week in June, a couple weeks in September and that's about it.
Q. Who are some of the people you played with at Big Canyon?
JOHN COOK: I had a group over there, the (indiscernible) boys, Will Tipton, a lot of good players, Mike Carpenter, Lanes, Ron Lane, Danny Lane, that crew over there who are really good players and they keep you sharp. They like to gamble a little bit and I end up paying at the end of the day and I don't like that.
Q. I think I saw you at the SCGA honors awards banquet. What were you doing there?
JOHN COOK: They were honoring Jamie Mulligan, who's a great friend of mine and has been for a long time, and they were honoring him into the Hall of Fame and he asked us to come and sit at the table. I'm more than happy to do that. He's a great friend and very deserving of that honor. I've known the SCGA PGA people a long time, too. It was a fun evening.
Q. The stretch you're putting together, is this one of the greatest in your career or how would you grade it, the stretch you've had recently?
JOHN COOK: Yeah, I've had a couple good stretches. It seems like a lot of times I'll just have a nice run. I had a nice run at the end of last year. I didn't win last year, which was a bit of a disappointment, but I played well, I played consistently and had a lot of good consistent weeks. But I didn't win and that didn't sit well with me over the winter. So I'm trying to figure out sometimes you can't force winning, you just have to be in control of yourself. Last year I felt like I didn't start out each week very well, so I think that's kind of the game plan I came up with is to be more prepared for Friday. Whether that means going into the weeks a day early, maybe go in Tuesday instead of flying in Wednesday night and just getting your body acclimated to where you're at. So far it's worked out okay where I feel like I've been more prepared to play Fridays than I was last year. So I would like to keep that consistency going, yeah. I think the schedule is set up, I love the golf courses that we play and really there's no reason. My health is good, knock on wood. That's always an issue when you're 55, but I feel good. And if I can stay healthy and keep my body in shape and keep doing the things I'm supposed to do, I think hopefully this run will keep going.
Q. Couple questions about Jamie Mulligan. Do you get up to Virginia much and play with those guys, Peter and John and
JOHN COOK: Yeah.
Q. the good guys out of Virginia?
JOHN COOK: I do, yeah. When I'm not playing, I play mostly at Big Canyon. I don't really practice there, but when I practice, I go up to Virginia. We're members up there as well and it's great hanging out with those guys. It's a great group of kids. Jamie's known all the kids since they were little boys in his program. I've known Jamie since we were in our 20s. He's kind of my eyes for me now, I guess I call him my coach. He's more a great friend, but he's been my eyes for the last five, six years as well at least, maybe close to 10 years. I had worked with Venturi forever and Jamie had actually sat in on some of our sessions way back when and I think that kind of got him into wanting to teach and kind of got him into that. So it's just been great spending time with those kids and maybe mentoring them a little bit. They love to ask questions and pick your brain about stuff. I've known Pete a long time and Merrick from there and then Mallinger had come on board and Mally's a great kid, and seen Patrick grow from 12 years old, so we've known them a long time. He was just this little kid hanging around the rest of us. Who's this little guy, he's a little skinny kid. Pretty good player, you know, couldn't hit it very far. He was just kind of tiny and next thing you knew he was the number one player in the world. It just happened so quickly, going from his senior year in high school to college and being a dominant figure in the amateur world. It's great.
I like these kids because they're not know it all kids. They love to ask questions and pick your brain on stuff. When you get kids like that that are eager to learn and want to get better and don't question everything that you say, they soak in a lot of knowledge. It's just fun being around them. It's kind of kept me young a little bit. My son's kept me young playing and he's part of that little group, too. He's not on that level yet, but he's working towards that. Maybe they've helped me as much as I've helped them just stay young and wanting to stay competitive, get my butt up to Virginia hitting balls and doing that, setting up games. It's been fun.
Q. I actually played with Jason in second stage at Bear Creek about three years ago. How's his game? Is he playing well? Is he still at Virginia?
JOHN COOK: He's actually gone back to Orlando. He's taken a step back a little bit. He just missed there at Bear Creek, a horrible last day. I guess the weather was awful, brutal, so he got close there. He played okay last year, but he missed this year first stage at Oak Valley and that kind of set him back a little bit, made him kind of take a bigger look at what he really wants to do.
I'm not sure what he wants to do. He wants to keep playing, he wants to stay in the game, but he might get into teaching as well. He just read an article, I'm not sure what golf publication it was in, it was about the Harmon brothers and that kind of hit home to him. It kind of touched something and he really kind of thinks he wants to go that direction. So he's working towards that in Orlando right now. Hopefully he'll get back out and play because he's playing as good as he has now that he don't have to. He's relaxed more and doesn't feel like he's got to grind as hard and he's actually playing better than he's ever played.
Q. I think here in Orange County you see a lot of different types of courses, you see some of the privates like Santa Ana, Newport Beach and Virginia, they're a lot different from some of the public courses that are newer. Which style of courses do you like? Do you like the Newport Beach or do you maybe like a course like Monarch or Pelican or Talega, some of the daily fee courses?
JOHN COOK: Yeah, that's a great observation because it is. The private clubs around town or around the area are old classic Tillinghast, Robinson, you know, some great courses. I played Monarch a couple times, and like you said, they're different, they're newer, they're resort, they're public. Tijeras Creek, they get a lot of play out there, Tustin Ranch, a couple of the others are that newer model, newer design. I'm kind of partial to the old traditional. I grew up old traditional and that's kind of where I learned to play, on old traditional. So you have to shape the ball a lot and you just don't get up and blast, and it seems like the newer courses obviously you can they're big golf courses for today's game.
But I know that they take great pride in their public golf in Orange County and the experiences at the public golf courses are almost private experiences where the staff is great, the courses are in pretty good shape. They take pride in their public golf and it shows.
Q. How much differently do you approach a three day event as opposed to the four day event, and your one bad day, it's hard to catch up. Guys shoot 15, 20 under almost every week.
JOHN COOK: Yeah, you go into it knowing you've got to shoot 12 to 18 under par for three rounds. They kind of look at the Champions Tour, oh, it's three rounds and the courses aren't the big bomber type courses. And you go yeah, it is three rounds and you have to shoot pretty much the same score as you would have to shoot in a regular event. Mark O'Meara and I were talking the other day about the guy that wins this event or any Champions Tour event would probably have won if the great players of the PGA TOUR were playing. It's just that type of golf. You're right, you can't have a mediocre day or nine holes. It can really set you back. So you've got to be sharp and you've got to be on your game. Last year I seemed to start out Fridays not great, not out of it but not great to where a good weekend got me into the Top 5, not really chances to win a whole lot. So you've got to be sharp from the get go, especially around here. You can't kind of get yourself into the day, you've got to start out hammer down and keep firing away, and that's a different mindset than the PGA TOUR where you've got your four rounds and you can have kind of a little mediocre run for a little bit. This Tour, you can't. There's too many really good players that know how to win and you start winning on Friday.
Q. Getting back into what you were talking about for routine, coming off the PGA TOUR all those years basically week in and week out you were getting ready for a tournament or playing. This is kind of the stutter start step that you guys have to do to come into the season now. Did that take a while for you to get accustomed to and is this maybe the year that you're comfortable with it?
JOHN COOK: It did. I was really excited to start, to turn 50. Unfortunately, the run up to my 50th birthday, I had an injury, I got sick during the middle of the year. Just, oh, my God, I turned 50, now my body's falling apart. I was so excited to turn 50 and get going, but now things weren't working out. So I had to pull myself together and get healthy and get my body back in shape, which I did thankfully with the help from a couple guys around here, which I can't thank them enough. I still work with them.
But you're right, the schedule is on the PGA TOUR there's tournaments every single week and you just kind of picked your schedule. Now there's not tournaments every week, so you have that time off to schedule and you play most every single event. So that was a little hard to get used to, just playing all the time and in those weeks off, staying sharp. I think what I found was playing a lot kept me sharp. Playing at Big Canyon with the guys, going up to Virginia and playing or going out to the desert and spending a day of just playing golf all day, that's been more of my preparation than the PGA TOUR. I would take some time off, hit some balls, play a little bit and then go and get yourself ready during the week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Here, we don't really I play one pro am on Thursday and you're off to the races. You have to stay sharp somehow and I do that by playing a lot.
Q. You're playing more than practicing?
JOHN COOK: Playing more than practicing, definitely. I do hit some balls, but I would rather go do it on the golf course. Like I said, those guys over at Big Canyon keep me sharp. I go down to El Niguel and play. Those guys keep me sharp and it's a good golf course. These two golf courses to play are really good, very similar to the courses that we play on our Tour. So it keeps you sharp.
Q. (Inaudible) Have you ever been up?
JOHN COOK: I've been up there a couple times. When Jason was at Pepperdine they played up there and I think when he was in town and a couple of his ex teammates were in town, we would go up there to play and it's a good golf course as well. I think I played over there maybe late last summer with Jason and Jessie Barnsley, who was at Pepperdine with Jason, and had remembered from long time ago when I was a kid down there going up there to play with Lee Michaels and Matt Ellison and those guys. Great golf course. Similar to these, very similar to Big Canyon and El Niguel and it's the type of golf courses we play on this Tour. A lot of character, enough length that you're hitting a lot of different clubs into a lot of holes. So yeah, good spot up there. The greens are tough.
Q. California is set up for tough greens.
JOHN COOK: Pretty much everywhere. It's a whole different game putting seaside poa annua. I grew up on this so I kind of get it.
Q. As much as you can?
JOHN COOK: As much as you can, yeah.