John Cook calls it a career at place where it all began
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Honed his craft at Mission Hills; won 21 times across PGA TOUR and Champions Tour
Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour
When the 2023 PGA TOUR Champions schedule was announced, there was an Easter egg for John Cook.
The venue for the newest event, The Galleri Classic, was Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California – the place where he developed his competitive edge as a teenager. It marked the perfect setting to retire from competitive golf.
“It was exciting to see the schedule and that that’s where the new tournament was,” Cook, 65, said Tuesday. “I knew I wanted to be part of it in some capacity. Whether it be working it for TV, or a tournament host role, or as we got going I was just kind of thinking, ‘I’m playing OK, still a little competitive, why not play these couple of weeks then call it a career there at Mission Hills where I spent so much time?’
“The timing was great. Everybody in the family was over -- both of our daughters and son, granddaughter, and family and friends. It couldn’t have been a better time.”
Cook was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1957, but his parents moved the family to California and bought a house at Mission Hills in 1971. It remained in the family until 1998. Ken Venturi was the director of golf at Mission Hills at the time, and he became Cook’s mentor. The foundation that led to 11 PGA TOUR victories and 10 PGA TOUR Champions victories was laid in the Southern California desert.
“I cut my teeth at Mission Hills in 1972 with Venturi and finished up some 50 years later at Mission Hills,” Cook said.
Cook played his first full season on the PGA TOUR in 1980, and he won for the first time in 1981 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Speaking of his golf coming full circle as it did at Mission Hills, so it did at Pebble. He recorded the last of his 10 Champions Tour victories at Pebble in 2014 in what is now known as the PURE Insurance Championship.
Cook is one of only 19 players in history to reach double-digit wins on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions. He’s joined by the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and current PGA TOUR Champions players Steve Stricker and Fred Couples
“I’m pretty proud of it. It’s a small table of guys who won in double digits on both tours,” Cook said. “There’s not much I would add. Obviously I’m disappointed I didn’t capture a major or two. That’s the biggest disappointment in my career. I had my opportunities (he was runner-up at The Open Championship and PGA Championship) and didn’t cash them in.”
Cook hadn’t competed on PGA TOUR Champions in a couple of years before prepping for The Galleri Classic at the Hoag Classic in Newport Beach, California, a couple of weeks ago. His rust showed; he finished in last place at 14 over.
Ever the competitor, Cook made sure he wasn’t going to go out that way at Mission Hills.
“I was not very competitive at the Hoag. Man, I struggled,” Cook said. “This week, I felt more comfortable. I got a little bit more confidence. My game was better, and I didn’t stress out. The whole week, while it was emotional, I kind of clicked into being competitive, wanting to shoot good scores and hit good shots. I really focused on that the first couple days.
“I was grinding pretty hard, even the final day. Not emotional, still competing. But with more and more people coming out, coming down the last hole, it was pretty special. It was such a surreal walk on 18. The weather was perfect. It was the golf course I remembered for over 50 years.”
Cook had kept a lid on the emotion until he had closed out a final-round 73 and finished at 3 over and in a tie for 62nd. He said playing partner Tim O’Neal came over and shook his hand but couldn’t get any words out.
O’Neal, 50, is a rookie on PGA TOUR Champions, having earned his card via Q-School. He called it an honor to share the round with Cook, a player he said he’d watched for a long time.
“We talked during the round, talked Ohio State football,” O’Neal said. “He played forever at such a high level. I know how I would be in his situation -- his last round -- I didn’t really say anything. I could tell he was starting to feel the moment.
“I wish I could have played with him more. Just a super nice guy with a great swing who you could tell loves the game.”
After the handshake, Cook saw his wife and son, and the moment began to take over.
“I was giving my son a hug and I saw my wife, and she couldn’t talk,” Cook said. “And I thought, ‘Maybe I’m supposed to be emotional about this.’ After I signed my card and I’m putting my stuff away in my bag, people were coming up. Then it kind of got to me."
While Cook exits the competitive arena, he plans to stick around PGA TOUR Champions in his role as an analyst for Golf Channel.
“I just love the game so much, and I want to stay part of it,” Cook said. “The TV thing came along at a nice time. I was kind of trying to wind down being competitive. I tried to do both as well as I could, and my golf just wasn’t great. And then I envisioned myself … what am I going to do in my 60s? Grind and finish 50th every week on PGA TOUR Champions, or commit to doing television stuff? I think I chose wisely with that.
“It keeps me active, keeps me learning more and more about the game, today’s players. … It keeps me in the game for another cycle or two. I love the game and talking about it and bring a little different perspective on how I see things.”