Cook hopes at-home feel lifts him to 3-peat, Schwab Cup

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
John Cook will lean on advice from Ken Venturi once again at TPC Harding Park.
November 02, 2011
John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM producer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Charles Schwab Cup history and the current standings are working against John Cook this week. His chances at the $1 million annuity are slim.


But for him, this event, at this place, makes an improbable scenario seem entirely possible.

Cook has won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship two years running including last year at TPC Harding Park, channeling the advice of mentor Ken Venturi, who grew up on the famed muni.

If he can make it a three-peat, he'll make some history of his own (the first to win the event three consecutive times) and have a chance at the season-long points title.

Cook is fourth in the points race, 612 behind leader Tom Lehman, but can take the title if he wins and Lehman finishes T5 or worse. It would be just the second time in the 11-year history of the Schwab Cup that the points lead switched at the season finale.

"Yeah, I'm aware that I need to win," Cook said. "I need to win the golf tournament, so I'm going to play like I need to win the golf tournament. After that, everything else is out of my hands."

Such win-or-bust scenarios don't come in too often in golf, but who knows? Luke Donald essentially faced that for the money title at last month's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, and pulled it off in thrilling fashion.

Cook has something close to home-course advantage, having leaned on Venturi's wisdom at TPC Harding Park before.

Venturi won the San Francisco Amateur title 55 years ago here, in front of 10,000 fans. Cook was 14 years old when he met Venturi, an auto racing fan when not deep into his golf. Cook's father, Jim, was involved in racing.

The Cook family relocated from Ohio to the California desert where Venturi worked as a pro, and Jim Cook asked Venturi if he could take a look at his son's swing.

And a 40-year friendship was born.

Venturi shared his wisdom on course management, and taught Cook to pay attention to the subtleties of the San Francisco courses he knew so well.

Armed with that wisdom, Cook won last year with four consecutive rounds in the 60s including an opening 64. Michael Allen shot a third-round 61 to take the lead into Sunday, but Cook's solid 67 sealed a two-shot victory.

"It's a great vibe I have here, obviously," Cook said. "We don't know until the end of the week what's going to happen, but I do feel good about things, what's going on. My practice the last couple weeks has been really good.

"The vibe with Kenny and the time that he's spent around this area growing up and playing here, you know, it's there. It was last year. It doesn't go away."

Cook's vibe this season has had ups and downs, though he's coming to the finale on another upswing. After a Champions Tour career in which all five of his wins from 2007-10 were in October and November, he opened 2011 with a win at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. April brought another win, at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, then in mid-summer he won the Montreal Championship.

But the end of the summer brought a pair of losses in playoffs, at Songdo IBD in Korea and at the Constellation Energy Senior Players -- ironically to Fred Couples, who just named Cook to serve as one of his Presidents Cup assistant captains.

That playoff loss, his third such defeat in Champions Tour majors, stung deeply and the pain didn't leave right away. A week later at the Boeing Classic, he was T51.

Lehman, by comparison, has had more consistent excellence this year. He also has three wins, but has 12 top-10s to Cook's eight, which is the key to the points race (only top-10 finishes earn points) and leaves him in the driver's seat this week.

"Rather than worry about what (Mark) Calcavecchia (second in points) might shoot, or what John Cook might shoot, or whether Peter Senior's (fourth) going to get his first win at the right time, I choose to not play that game." Lehman said. "Anytime you think about the result before you get on the playing field, you're in big trouble.

Cook knows the result he needs, and relishes the challenge. And he knows he's in the right place to make it happen.