By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – John Cook has enjoyed a great life in golf. His resume includes 11 PGA Tour wins and an additional eight on the Champions Tour.
The only thing missing from the 54-year-old’s list of accomplishments is a major championship.
Cook would love to check that off the list this week in the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid here at Harbor Shores, and through 18 holes he’s off to a fantastic start.
Battling strong winds throughout an otherwise perfect weather day in southwest Michigan Thursday, Cook navigated his way around to an opening-round, 2-under 69 that had him one shot behind leader Roger Chapman from England.
“I thought a round of par would be great,” said Cook, who had three birdies and just one bogey. “And you would be very happy with that.”
Cook's first birdie of the day came on the par-3 fourth hole, which played slightly less that the 209 yards on the card. He hit a 7-iron off the tee that settled 20 feet right of the hole. He managed to knock down the putt, then followed that up with a birdie at the par-5 fifth after sticking a wedge approach to 4 feet.
Cook missed a 5-foot par putt at No. 12 for his lone bogey in the first round, but bounced back nicely at the par-4 14th, where he made a 25-footer for birdie.
The key, Cook said, was being patient – something he and caddie Tommy Anderson aren’t usually real good at.
“I normally work really quickly and I don't carry a book, I don't carry anything, I just listen to Tommy and decide what I'm going to do,” Cook said. “Today we took our time a little bit more. It was the first time we had seen the golf course play like this. So I was patient, which I'm normally not very patient, and I hit a lot of good quality shots that ended up on either the right level completely or I only had to go up and over one ridge. My distance control was pretty good today and I think that was a big key.”
The huge mounds in the greens on this Jack Nicklaus course are the ridges Cook referred to. Throughout the week, players have been perplexed by the green complexes around Harbor Shores. Asked if he’d ever seen greens like the ones here, Cook shook his head for a few seconds, grinned and said, “No.”
Eventually, he elaborated.
“If you hit a really good shot and you hit your spot within two or three feet, that's not very big, hitting some of these clubs we're hitting into, you'll have it on the right level or just a one section putt,” Cook explained. “If you miss your spot by a foot or two, you'll have a two- or three-section putt. Or you'll be off the green.”
Aesthetically, Cook loves Harbor Shores. It’s just those quirky greens he could do without.
“Tee to green it's phenomenal,” he said. “It's really one of the best eye-catching golf courses we play. It’s gorgeous. The greens are what they are. They're, even the short holes where you think you might have a chance to get something back, if you don't hit your spot exactly where you're supposed to hit it, you're going to have a two- or three-section putt. And that's the way it is.”
It’s been a solid season so far for Cook, but he hasn’t yet tasted victory – something he’s done in each season since joining the Champions Tour in 2007. Then there’s that matter of winning a major.
In his days on the PGA Tour, Cook was runner up at the 1992 British Open and PGA Championship.
Even more heartbreaking, though, he’s been a runner up three times in majors on the Champions Tour, coming up short in a playoff on each of those occasions.
First it was a playoff loss to Bruce Vaughan in the 2008 Senior British Open at Royal Troon.
In 2009, Cook made a strong bid at the JELD-WEN Tradition. Carrying a one-shot lead going to the 72nd hole, Cook made a bogey, which ended a run of 54 holes without a bogey. He was defeated on the first playoff hole there when Mike Reid made a birdie.
Finally there was the 2011 Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship. Fred Couples took Cook down on the third hole of a playoff.
Is 2012 the year Cook turns the tide?
For now, anyway, his only concerns are the wind and placing his golf ball in the proper sections of the greens.
When someone asked whether he thought 5 or 6 under would win, Cook laughed and said, “I would take that right now and I would sit right up in that clubhouse. Start polishing that trophy.
“I think if you're under par at all you will have a very good opportunity to win,” Cook added. “I really do. I know the wind's supposed to be different almost every single day. I know it's supposed to be hot on Sunday. So it just, it just adds those variables… There might be a score of 4 or 5 under, but it won't be all week. It might be one a day. And then if your other rounds are around par, I think you've done a pretty good job. So I'm, I would be happy with anything in the red. “