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March 4, 2009
NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA
PHIL STAMBAUGH: We're joined by John Cook this afternoon. John, a sort of special week for you on the Champions Tour since this event is so close to your home.
Maybe start us off with a few comments about what you remember about Newport Beach Country Club, how far you go back with this layout, and then we'll talk about your year on the Champions Tour to this point.
JOHN COOK: I grew up up there in Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, and we would come down to play some high school matches when it was Irvine Coast Country Club. We would get down this direction to play some of the Orange County teams.
But used to come down here quite a bit and play Mesa Verde Newport, Irvine Coast Country Club, Newport Beach Country Club. El Niguel and Mission Vallejo, so always very familiar with the surroundings here.
Now, being a part-time resident in Corona del Mar, I drive by it all the time. Very familiar. I can get here. I will not get lost coming to the golf course.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Any highlights from your history playing at this course? Anything you remember?
JOHN COOK: Not really. High school is a big blur, I think. Southern California High School in the mid-'70s, big blur. Not much to remember. I know we always had a very good team.
I think we would come down and play some of the schools around here and had good battles down here. So it was all fun. We used to come down and play basketball -- or we always played either the Newport Harbor tournament or something like that when I was in high school. That's just golf that we played. We made the trip down here quite a bit.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Talk about the Champions Tour a little bit. Talk about the start to your year and your goals for '09.
JOHN COOK: I started out at Hawaii and played okay. I think I finished 6th there and 12th at Boca. Did not have a good week at Naples at all, but that was my own fault. Had nothing to do with anything but me.
So not quite the start that I had really wanted, but we've got plenty of events left and plenty of time left. Going to be tough for me to improve on last year. I could certainly close the deal a few more times and it would be an improvement on how I played last year.
I did win once, but I had a number of opportunities. So while that was encouraging, it was nice to be competitive again. But to not close the deal as often as I probably could or should have was disappointing.
Looking more forward to this year knowing the golf courses, and knowing, you know, how things play out on Sundays. Kind of a little better feel on what goes on.
Hopefully I'll get myself in position like I did last year and maybe close out a couple more times than did I last year. That all depends. It's still very, very competitive out here. It'll stay competitive and get more competitive in the next few years.
You've got to be on top of your game, and I haven't been quite on top of my game this year. Been working pretty hard and would love to start it right here in my backyard.
Q. You played here for the first time as a professional last year. A, can you talk about the overall tournament, your first impressions coming back as a professional? And then talk about the shape of the course this year.
JOHN COOK: Yeah, it's a great event for this community. Toshiba have come in and done a wonderful job. Jeff and his crew have done a great job. Being a part time residence here, we certainly know what the community thinks of the Hoag Hospital and what it does for the community and how that event can help that along so it can generate the funds needed for programs that Hoag provides for this community.
So I feel a big part of this community. We've been here now, my wife and I, five, six years. We feel like this is home. We grew up not far from here, but certainly feel part of the community. This event is a big, big part of the community. Places I go that we know, people are looking forward to the Toshiba. Whether it be my friends at Big Canyon or anywhere we go out to dinner break or breakfast or lunch, they look forward to this week.
It's a great event. It really is. They put on a good show here, and we're happy to be part of it. The golf course is immaculate. The golf course is just wonderful. To see the green, it's as good a course condition-wise as we play. The greens are seaside poana, so their personality shows differently each day. That's what I grew up on, so I'm comfortable on the seaside poana greens.
But the golf course is fantastic. It's as good as we play.
Q. How hard is it to adjust? The last three Champions Tour events we played bermudagrass grass, paspalum, and now poana. How hard is that to adjust?
JOHN COOK: That's the best part of our deal. We're supposed to be able to do that and adjust on the fly. It's not like a football or basketball game where you got the same conditions mostly.
But this is -- it's a lot different, like we were just talking about. Being this close to the water and this close to the ocean, the ball doesn't really carry very far. So that's an adjustment.
We just came from Florida where it was warm and the ball was going miles, to here where it's sea level and damp and heavy. The ball is just kind of struggling all the time to get where you want it to go.
So I think that's the biggest adjustment. Grass-wise, it's not too much. Just getting yourself acclimated to the heavy air is a big adjustment for us this week. And actually a little bit next week, but mostly this week.
Q. Still playing in the off-season here with your friends, like Shady, Big Canyon, El Niguel?
JOHN COOK: I play exclusively El Niguel and Big Canyon. Haven't been over to Shady. I really need to. That would be more like a day trip. I've got Big Canyon five minutes away and El Niguel 15. I've got a great group of guys on the Big Canyon that are very competitive and I still give way too many shots to and can't beat them. But it keeps me competitive. Those guys can really play.
Same with El Niguel. Got a good group of guys down there that I play with. I play golf. I don't really practice much. I like to get out and play. Two pretty good golf courses to play in this area.
Q. What do you shoot at those courses?
JOHN COOK: Well, I have to give everybody four extra shots, and that's not right. So I need to be a little better negotiator on the first tee. If I play well, Big Canyon is a very good test. I've shot anywhere from 64 to around par. I think if you break par there on some days is pretty decent. Good players over there. These guys are good, good players.
Couple of the other older guys over there, they're very competitive. El Niguel about the same. The conditions can be like this and be very difficult, or if it's summertime -- I still have -- I have to go around and I have to play well to not get fleeced as I've leaving the front gates at either one of those places.
Q. Quite a clubhouse.
JOHN COOK: Yeah, a lot of fun. I'm very fortunate to have those two in my backyard.
Q. Coming into this event, I mean, you know what to expect now, but are you kind of where you thought you would be when you first got on tour?
JOHN COOK: Yeah, I'm close. I didn't really play much of a full schedule from 2002 until last year. I thought it might take a little while to kind of get acclimated and get competitive again. I got competitive fairly quickly.
Really, no surprise, other than the caliber of play is great week to week. The winning score is always 12 to 15 under par for three rounds, so I know now that you really can't have a mediocre nine holes or one bad day. It'll take you out of having a chance to win, which is what the Champions Tour is about. These guys have won a lot events, and they know how to close deals on Sundays.
So as far as am I where I thought? Maybe a little bit better than I thought. Last year I felt comfortable. As the year went on I played well and hit the ball extremely well all year. Really didn't have any down time through the year. So that was -- I was pleasantly surprised with that, that my body held up. But I've been working on that hard for the last two years.
I think that those guys that are still very competitive are in very, very good shape as well. I think that's a big key.
Q. When we talked, I think it was about when you were going to turn 50, and you were saying you can't wait to get out here. Is that enthusiasm still there? Are you still as fired up?
JOHN COOK: Absolutely. This is what I do. It's what I've done since I was a kid: I've played tournament golf. That's what I know. I'm still very excited to play and want to play for as long as I can and as long as things hold up in your body and your health stays good. It's going to get more and more competitive.
I think that's great. I think the Champions Tour is very well-positioned in the world of golf. I would just love to be part of that for as long as I can. So I think my excitement to play, like you said, from the early part of '07, I am excited to play. I love being competitive and I love the competition.
Q. Is that because the playing field is a little more equal?
JOHN COOK: I feel like each week is a competitive week. I feel like if my game is in shape, there's a chance I could win. I feel like I have a chance to win every single week.
I was that way years ago on the regular tour. But as recently as maybe 2000, you have to kind of pick your spots. Four or five times a year maybe thought you had a chance to win.
But out here is a little bit different. I think everybody, you know, while guys have -- still have the length, the Fred Funks and the Loren Roberts of the world can certainly be competitive every single week as well.
So I think that's great. The variety of the champions and the variety of players that have chances to win out here, it's top to bottom. Every single guy that's here has a chance.
Q. Is there any desire on your part to go back and play on the regular tour?
JOHN COOK: I think maybe at some point, yeah. I can always play the Hope and I can always play AT&T if it doesn't interfere with one of our tournaments, our Champions Tour schedule, I might go back and do that. I certainly don't want to take up a spot and not be competitive, but I think I could be a little competitive at those two events.
Other than that, I really don't have much desire, unless I would win one of our majors to get you in to the next year's major. I think that would be great. I would love to do that, yeah. I would love to be a representative to do that.
Q. Lehman and Couples are close to join this tour.
JOHN COOK: Yeah.
Q. What will they add? Are you buddies with those guys?
JOHN COOK: Freddy for sure. Tom, we go way back as well. Between Fred and Armour coming out in October and some other guys, Bob Tway I think is pretty quick. David Frost. Yeah, we have all done battles together for years and years. Junior golf. Armour and I go way, way back to junior golf. College golf with Fred and Tom and Bob Tway.
It's going to be fun. I think those guys will, when they come out, will see what I saw and see that guys are very competitive. But these are the guys we grow up with and and are comfortable with. You get pairings that you used to get back in the '80s and the '90s. Great battles down the stretch, win, lose, or draw. You're so familiar with the players.
I think they're going to have a great time. I hope they realize that opportunity is here. But you just don't walk on here and think you're gonna hold the trophy every week. It's different than that.
Q. You won the same tournament, what, two years in a row. What is it about Oak Hills?
JOHN COOK: Just familiarity with the golf course. We played the Texas Open there for a number of years. It was always one of my favorites back then. I felt comfortable there the first -- it was my second week on the Champions Tour. I felt good all week.
Last year, it was the same. I knew how the golf course played under certain conditions, and certainly knew how they played on Sunday. So I was familiar with that. I think that helped in the long run.
If the golf course suits my game, it's all about shape. You got to shape the ball everywhere. You have to be very efficient around the golf course. That's what I like about this tour. Most every single week it's like that.
Couple weeks ago at Boca it was the same type of a golf course. This right here, Newport Beach Country Club, it's a similar type of golf course. Not every hole is step up and tag one. You have to put the ball in the right spot. Small greens and it has different characteristics. We like that.
Most every week that we play is very similar to this. We played some golf courses that are very long. That's great. We played golf courses with a lot character, like this one and Oak Hills.
Q. Off the Champions Tour, what's your over/under on Tiger's level this year?
JOHN COOK: I would venture to guess he would be better than 50% of whatever he plays in from a what I saw. I'm kind of glad that he played the Match Play just to shake some dust off and just see where things were going and get all the, How is your knee questions out of the way.
He can get out there and compete and win. He looked great. I played a lot of golf with Tiger during his best days, and the quality of golf shot he was hitting in the last month has been equal to or better than at any time that I've seen. Just a matter of getting back out there and getting comfortable.
He's human too. You get anxious and nervous and you have to actually putt out those few footers with a little bit of break to 'em. You're hitting shots now that aren't in the middle of some of those greens. They're actually tough tournament conditions. He got two days of that. I think that was great.
I think that he felt comfortable and learned a lot from that. Now he can go where ever he's going to play next and be -- I'll be surprised if he didn't win quite a bit.
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