Scott Puryear, Jeff Cook, Highland Springs Country Club - Big Sports
He was the First... Jeff Cook Looks Back On His Victory Two Decades Ago
Article from July/August Issue 2009
That the Price-Cutter Charity Championship has survived a trio of major sponsorship changes at the top and remains one of the four original events still standing on the Nationwide Tour comes as no surprise to its first champion, Jeff Cook.
Because even then, the Indiana native who defeated Olin Browne in a one-hole playoff for the title in the inaugural (1990) Ben Hogan Ozarks Open at Highland Springs Country Club, and eventually played in the Springfield event eight times over his pro golf career, had an idea the tour would be visiting the Ozarks for quite some time.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all because Springfield always gave it so much support,” said Cook, who pocketed $20,000 of the $100,000 purse for winning the 1990 event, his only victory in roughly seven full-time years on the Ben Hogan/Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide circuit.
“Over the years, that was always one of my favorite tournaments. Not only because I won there, but it was a good golf course, a great city and people always came out and supported it very well.”
Cook, 47, quit chasing the professional golf dream nearly a decade ago, when he made the full-time switch to his present position as the manager of PGA Tour operations for Mizuno Golf. His role has him following the PGA Tour some 40 to 42 weeks per year, with some Nationwide Tour visits also mixed in, as he makes himself available to meet the equipment needs of the players under contract with Mizuno, one of the more popular companies (particularly with their selection of quality iron sets) on the tours.
“It’s been fun,” Cook said. “I got the job kind of by luck, anyway. I was using Mizuno products from playing all of those years, and the guy who was my boss and my best friend while I was on what is now the Nationwide Tour at the time, had the guy who was in this position quit 14 years ago right in the middle of the year. He asked if there was any way I could help him out the rest of the year while I kept playing, so I did that off and on for the next couple of years.
“Finally, I didn’t make it to the Q-School finals 12 years ago and said, ‘I’m just going to do this all next year, play a little bit here and there and go to Tour School again.’ Well, Tour School came up that next year and I said, ‘You know what…I just don’t want to play (professionally) anymore.’ ”
Not that Cook didn’t give it a full, healthy run. He turned pro in 1988, joined the Ben Hogan Tour in that inaugural 1990 season, and was back and forth between it and some time on the PGA Tour – earning $72,396 in 29 events on the big tour in 1993 until, for the most part, calling it quits after playing a handful of Buy.Com Tour events in 2000.
“I learned that to make it (as a player), it’s very difficult,” Cook says. “The Nationwide Tour has come a long way…the money is pretty good now, they’ve got good tournaments and it’s a great place for people to start playing. But there are so many great players, if you go to Q-School and don’t get to the finals, you’re kind of out the following year. It’s very do or die.”
Cook also is not the least bit surprised that the Nationwide Tour concept has been so successful, with so many of today’s PGA Tour stars able to say they cut their teeth on what amounts to golf’s version of Triple-A minor league baseball.
“I really thought there was a place for it,” says Cook, who remembers a time in the late 1980s when playing overseas was the only true option before the Ben Hogan Tour arrived. “You never know, but when you’ve got the PGA Tour behind it, you’re really not too worried there. It’s turned out to be what it really should be. If there wasn’t a Nationwide Tour, where would people be playing golf? The Hooters Tour would be so crowded.”
While Cook’s job has him on the road for several weeks per year, he’s also able to return to his Carmel, Ind., home mid-week and stay through the weekends before heading out to the next tour stop early the following week. It gives him quality time with his wife and their 12-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, as well as a little time to continue to work on his game at his home course, Wolf Run, in the suburbs of Indianapolis.
In early July, he’ll compete again in the Indiana State Open, where he’s just one of two four-time past champions of the event.
“I keep playing, thinking I’m going to get that fifth one,” Cook says with a laugh.
He says he has no aspirations to play the Champions Tour when he turns 50 here in a couple of years, adding “I know how difficult it is out there … those guys are really good, and most of them have been playing all the way up to 50 now. I think I could go out there and probably do OK, but it’s just a lot to give up now to take that chance.”
One thing they’ll never be able to take away – his memories of that victory on a Sunday afternoon at Highland Springs, when he rolled in a playoff putt and walked away a winner in what was then a 54-hole event. Or 55, counting the extra one it took for Cook to tuck away the triumph.
“I still see Olin Browne all the time and, now and then, that comes up,” Cook says with a chuckle. “He’ll give it back to me, like ‘I can’t believe you hit driver there on that ninth hole (the playoff hole).’ The thing that sticks in my mind is that I nearly hit it in the water there on 18 going for it in two, when it plugged in the bank. I had to get in there, take a huge swing at it to get it out on the green, then two-putted to get into the playoff.”
And then of course, a few minutes later, receiving a check for $20,000 that was a princely sum back in the day, especially for a guy who had only turned pro two years prior.
“For the first year of the tour,” Cook says, “that was pretty big for me.”
***Photo Courtesy of PGA Tour Photographic Services***