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November 4, 2010

John Cook


PHIL STAMBAUGH: John, four birdies on the back, and you shoot 7-under, 64 for the first-round lead here at the 2010 Charles Schwab Cup Championship. I've got it at six straight round in the 60s and five straight at this event. You sort of pick up right where you left off last year at Sonoma. Talk about the day.
JOHN COOK: Yeah, it was -- very happy with the day. You know, you're still trying to figure the golf course out. Beautiful conditions obviously. This is my kind of weather. This is kind of Southern Cal weather here more than San Francisco, but we will take it. We always love coming up here. It's great to be up here. Couldn't ask for a better day.
The competition obviously is great. I played a solid round of golf. I hit a lot of the good, quality golf shots, and made some birdies with a 4-iron and 3-iron, which are bonuses. So that -- took advantage of a couple par-5s, and that was it. I didn't -- made a couple nice up and downs, but for the most part I kept the ball in front of me and played pretty well.
I have no complaints. Nice up and down at 18. Got a little bit fooled on my second shot. Other than that, played pretty solid.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Just take us through your birdies. If you did have a good save, let us know that. I know you were in here for the TPC Harding Park announcement, too. Just talk about that.
JOHN COOK: Yeah, it's great. Like I said yesterday, I grew up a Southern Cal country club kid. We always had a great time going down Rec Park in Long Beach and Lakewood and El Dorado and Skylinks, you know, the Department of Recreation golf courses. You know, where real golf is played.
Coming up here and having Harding Park part of the TPC network I think is going to be great. It'll evolve way, way up to the top four or five public golf courses in the country easily, if it's not already.
So we're excited about that, and we're fortunate to be here certainly playing on this golf course with the tradition and the history. I have a little connection here with Ken Venturi and his presence around the Bay Area. He talks so much about California Club and Harding and San Francisco Golf and the places that were great to him. I'm pretty honored to be around here, to tell you the truth.
So my birdies were No.4, hit an 8-iron in there about six feet. Actually, hit a pretty good shot at 3 that actually hit the shot before Bernhard made his.
I had a bunker save at 6. Hit a nice bunker shot out a foot and made that.
Birdied the next hole. Hit a gap wedge in there about -- well, gosh, it was close. About two feet; made that.
Came back with a nice save at the next hole. I plugged a 3-iron. The wind had switched into our face on that hole for some reason. Hit 3-iron and plugged it right in the face of the bunker and hit a really good bunker shot out and rolled it up there about a foot.
Birdied 9. Hit a nice drive and 3-wood just short of the green and pitched up about six feet and made that.
Birdied 10. Laid it up and had 85 yards. Hit a nice little gap wedge in there about five feet; made that.
Then I hit some good shots on the next few holes. I hit a nice 4-iron at 11 about 12 feet and made that.
The next hole hit a nice 3-iron about 15 feet and made that.
So those are bonuses if you birdie 11 and 12. I had chances the next few holes, and then 16, just hit a little sand wedge in there about three feet and made that.
Then got it up and down at 18 just from the left edge -- just off the left edge of the green but in the rough. Pitched it down there a foot and made that, so...
Overall, pretty good. Not great, but I hit some really quality golf shots. Need to be a little sharper throughout the week, because this golf course will -- I have a feeling it's going to rear its head at some point.

Q. That kind of leads into my question. You mentioned the weather today. It seems like the scores were lower than some players anticipated. Was that just the weather or ball in hand? How much do you think that could change in the next few days?
JOHN COOK: Definitely the weather. Ball in hand, unfortunately you have to. The fairways just aren't conducive to a real good championship. I don't know how many times I went up to my ball and said, Wow, I'm glad I don't have to play this. Just from the middle of the fairway, you just had no chance. There's just nothing there.
But it is what it is. To make it a fair competition where everybody has the same, it really let's the skill -- the rest of it is luck. If you don't play ball in hand, it's just luck. 72 holes of luck is no good, not for this championship.
I think it has so much to do with the weather. It just was gorgeous. The ball was actually traveling. I know it can get heavy, the air can get heavy here and the ball goes nowhere. The ball was traveling a little bit today, so that was nice.
I anticipate that the next three days aren't going to be quite as nice as this. Although it looked pretty good. I think maybe Sunday we might get a little something. Other than that, I think we're in for a nice weekend.

Q. You won, of course, the state amateur 35 years ago.
JOHN COOK: I was just thinking that.

Q. In Northern California, you played Olympic in the Open?
JOHN COOK: In '98, yeah.

Q. Yeah. How does this course compare? In other words the grass, the weather you're talking about, obviously it's usually cool here and in the breezy. Does what make much of a difference?
JOHN COOK: I think the difference that I can see is growing up in Southern California around the water, I can play in some heavy, moist, damp air as well. So I understand that, where the ball just doesn't go.
I remember Olympic Club playing obscenely long one year. I think '98 it was that way. It was heavy air and the ball wasn't going. Of we had been down to Pebble many times -- besides the AT&T and the Crosby -- but even the state amateur being in June, it can be damp and moist there, too.
I kind of anticipated that. You get a day like today where the ball is actually going pretty normal distances, you know, and that's a bonus. You know you might not get that the rest of the week, so you're going to have to adjust. We know how things can come in and go out. It kind of did today. Something came in for a little bit and it got cool, and then went away.
You anticipate that. So we've all been around Pebble so much and been around Olympic Club. I think everybody here probably played in '87 and '98 anyway, so we pretty much know what to expect.

Q. You were playing with Bernhard today, with Langer?
JOHN COOK: I played with Russ Cochran today.

Q. Did you see his ace?
JOHN COOK: We didn't see his ace; we heard it. I had the flag in the group before, and we were walking down the fairway, and, of course, that's unmistakable. We did see Fred's go in at 10, because we were standing on the 11 tee waiting for him to hit before we walked off the tee.
Of course, one bounce and it went right in the hole. So we got as excited as he did, I think.

Q. How far did your ball end up after hitting the stick?
JOHN COOK: I was about 15 feet. It kind of hit and glance and went to the back of the green.

Q. It was no gimme?
JOHN COOK: No, it was no gimme.

Q. (No microphone.)
JOHN COOK: Oh, God, yeah. I was wondering. God, these guys are making ones and holing out shots. You know, figured they would be -- but, you know, the golf course is what it is. You got to hit quality golf shots out here, and a lot of them.
It's such a great variety of short and long holes and long par-4s, and then backed up by another short one and another long one. So you're never really in a flow. It's such a great tee shot golf course, because you have to shape the ball pretty well.
And then like I said, the par-4s are such a variety that you're just not standing out there with a 6-iron or a 5-iron. You're hitting 3-irons, 4-irons, chip shots three, and then you hit an 8-iron and then you hit a 3-iron.
It's just wonderful. That's just old-time golf, which is great. That's actually what we get a lot of on the Champions Tour. We play a lot of golf course with a lot of character, and this is one of the best.

Q. You play the older courses as opposed to these 7200-yard things?
JOHN COOK: Monsters. Yeah, we play a lot of character golf courses. A lot. Yeah, we can almost go every single week. You know, Pebble, then you have Old Del Monte, good old Old Del Monte. What great golf course that is. Just such great character.
We're very lucky on this tour. We play a lot of great, old golf courses where you just don't get up and start slamming drives. You got to think about what you're doing. Everybody in the field has a chance to win each and every week, which makes it really exciting coming down the finish.

Q. You had four birdies in a row. Did anything spark that?
JOHN COOK: Probably the up and down I made out of No. 8, the buried lie. That was kind of a get-out there. Wasn't really expecting that. I hit a nice shot. It was right at it, but it just came up a little short. So to get that up and in and not even really have to work hard, I hit a really nice shots up to about a foot.
Then I hit some really nice shots in the next four holes. Actually hit a good shot at 13 and didn't make it. But a lot of times a par save is the spark that kind of gets you going.

Q. As the defending champion, are there good vibes being the defending champion? Does it feel good to just jump right out to the lead the next year? Does it feel comfortable to be there?
JOHN COOK: Well, it's nice to be the defending champion in the tournament, because that doesn't happen. It's not because I won that I got back in. You have to play quality golf throughout the year to get back in to have a chance to defend. Yeah, I'm happy about that. We don't get to defend titles a whole a lot in our game unless you're the big, big guys.
I've had chances to do a that, and have normally played fairly well in defending titles. So we'll see. I feel good.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: John, as the defending champ, you got to come back for media day and actually throw the ball out at a Giants game.
JOHN COOK: The Giants haven't lost a game since. How about that?
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Thoughts on that?
JOHN COOK: That was really fun. I never thought I would throw out a first pitch at a Giants game. Maybe an Angels or a Dodgers game maybe, but not a Giants game. It really was exciting. I was so happy to do it and be asked to do it.
Loren and I went up there. I know Pat Burrell fairly well, and so he agreed to catch me, warm me up actually down there in the cage behind the dugout. I really hadn't thrown in years. I can throw a little bit, but I haven't in years.
We started playing catch, and he goes, Dude, you got no problem. You always worry about bouncing it or throwing up some little 38-mile-an-hour flame. I was not going to do that. I was going to throw it over his head with some high heat.
I actually threw a decent pitch, so he didn't have to move much.

Q. When was it?
JOHN COOK: It was Rockies -- it was Monday of AT&T.
JOHN COOK: Yeah, and they played the Rockies. And I know Loren threw a perfect strike, I threw one with a little bit of heat to it, and they haven't lost since. They lost a couple games; they won a couple big ones.

Q. You mentioned the good karma with the Venturi connection, all that he means to this course and this area. Can you retell when you first met Ken and what that encounter was like.
JOHN COOK: I met him when I was 14. He and my father were pretty good buddies. Kenny was a big race fan, auto racing fan, and my dad was in it auto racing at the time.
They struck up a great friendship. Of course, my dad being my dad, if you know him, he was kind of bragging to Kenny. Hey, I got this 13-year-old-kid that's a pretty good player. Of course Ken's rolling his eyes. He hears that about ten times a day.
We then bought a membership and a house down in Palm Springs at Mission Hills where Kenny was just starting to be the director of golf down there. Ken said, Oh, sure. Bring him by. We'll take a look at him.
We just hit it off. He could see in me, I think, how hard I wanted to work, how I wanted to learn. He was Ken Venturi, an Open champion. I have never going to question his method or what he was going to tell me.
His credentials were only that he had played a lot of golf with Ben Hogan and learned from Byron Nelson. Who am I to question anything he had to say to me?
We just played a lot golf together. We hit a lot balls and chatted, talked. You know, just for the next -- well, till now -- 35, 40 years down the road. I get to talk to him a bit. Not as much as I would like it.
But I certainly owe him everything that I have in the game of golf. He taught me how to work, what to work on, how to practice, how to play. We played a lot. We didn't just hit balls. You know, I think that's what's missing nowadays for a lot of kids. Not just learning, but good players is don't get out and learn from somebody that's played and been in the situation.
You know, what do you do on the 18th hole when you can't think and you're shaking and your guts are rumbling? How am I going to get this ball on the fairway? Well, Ken Venturi told me how to do that.
But that relationship just was mentor/pupil. It was friend/friend. I admired him so much. In my life I've had three great, great people: My father, father in law, my wife's dad, and Ken Venturi. Just three phenomenal role models.

Q. When you played with him, was that at Mission Hills?
JOHN COOK: Mostly at Mission Hills, and then when he went to Eagle Creek or actually to (indiscernible) country club in Florida about the time I was at school. I had started Ohio State, so I got to travel down to see him in Florida. So regionally it worked out really nicely.

Q. How often did he tell you stories about here? He obviously, like, literally grew up on this course.
JOHN COOK: Oh, I know. He talked a lot about the character. When we would go out and play, he always told me to pay attention to what you're playing and why you like someplace and why you don't like someplace. He would also go back to California Club and Harding Park and San Francisco Golf and the character and the movement of the golf course and what Mackenzie was trying to do and what these designers were trying to do, how they were challenging you. And to pay attention.
So we didn't just work on golf swing and position of the golf club. We were talking a lot about golf and the game and things that he liked, how things fit his eye.

Q. Had you played here before then? Curious how reality sort of matched up since you had heard about it a lot? How did reality match up?
JOHN COOK: I played here a long time ago. I can't even tell you when. I was 16 or 17. We had three or four kids that came up from Southern Cal to play two or three events. I think we played here, somewhere else, and then played Livermore and then we went back to Southern Cal.
So we kind of had a little group that came up and played three or four tournaments in their Northern Cal junior association. I cannot remember basically anything about the golf course, other than the last hole. But the tee was somewhere out there.

Q. (No microphone.)
JOHN COOK: Just character. Just character. I had watched the Presidents Cup. Didn't watch much of the American Express, but I watched a lot of the Presidents Cup.
So I started to remember the holes were switched, I know, but I recognized some of tee shots and some of the approaches. Then kind of remembering way back from what Kenny said about a lot of the greens were just enough raised that you had to pay attention to your trajectory because it wasn't always flat going in. Everything was kind of pitched up.
And it is, there's no doubt. Every green is kind of -- always a little elevation, maybe one or two yards.

Q. Talking about character and Venturi, I remember seeing something when he went home and talked to his father and told him how good he was. His father said to him, Son, when you're really good, they'll tell you; you won't to have tell them. Any pearls of wisdom?
JOHN COOK: I've heard them all, every single one of his stories about he and Byron traveling. Um, never break the home course -- host pro's course record, stuff like that, unless it's in a tournament.
But I just -- he could tell me the same story a hundred times, and he told me the match. I know the match. I lived the match. I know everything about the match, because he would love to tell the stories at dinners or whenever we were around people, and they would ask him.
So I just -- I loved to listen to him talk. I loved being around him. He took me along to watch Ben Hogan hit some balls one time. That was one of the great thrills of my life. How else would I ever have had that chance if it wasn't for Ken Venturi? Got to spend a lot of time with Byron.
You know, that's our era. Those were my idols growing up. If I had never met him, I wouldn't be sitting here, I can tell you that. It would be a long shot.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Thank you, John.
JOHN COOK: Yep. Thanks everyone. You bet.

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