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Seeing Red
William F. Reed
July 01, 1996
Par was cheap in Memphis, where a near-record effort by John Cook smoked the field
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July 01, 1996

Seeing Red

Par was cheap in Memphis, where a near-record effort by John Cook smoked the field

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"I'm trying to come to grips with my finish at the Open and remember the fun parts of it," Love said. "I might win no majors and I might win 10, but that one's going to sting for a long time. If I win a U.S. Open, I'm going to be saying, 'Well, I should have won two.' If I win five, I'm going to say I should have won six."

Daly has been trying to sell his house in Memphis so he can move to Fayetteville, Ark. "I love this place," he said, "but I've got family in Arkansas, and I just want to get closer to the Hogs." Daly annoyed the locals last year by skipping the tournament, withdrawing six days before the kickoff because of headaches. "It was tough not playing last year," Daly said. "I know some radio stations bashed me pretty good, but I had to do what I had to do." The criticism abated a few weeks later when he won the British Open at St. Andrews. Daly opened with a 64 last week that tied for the lead but then seemed to lose interest. He shot 71-70-76 in the last three rounds to finish 58th.

That left it to Cook to provide the headlines, and the setting seemed appropriate. Until last week Memphis was mainly known as the tournament at which Al Geiberger shot a 59 in the third round in 1977. That score—tied by Chip Beck at Las Vegas in 1991—is still the Tour record. It came at the Colonial Country Club in Cordova, Tenn., which was replaced as the tournament site in 1989 by par-71 Southwind, a course designed by Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green. The tournament record had been the 21-under 263 shot by Jay Haas in 1992.

But everything was in place for Cook. A resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., Cook thrives in the heat. "The hotter, the better," he says. Besides that, the playing conditions included almost no wind, quick zoysia fairways, short rough and smooth, receptive bent-grass greens.

It was a far cry from the type of public course on which Souchak had shot his 257. "They couldn't grow grass on Brackenridge Park when I set the record," Souchak said, "so they put down a 10-foot square block of cement and that was the teeing area on every hole. They put two rubber mats on the cement, one to stand on and one to hit off of."

Southwind was ready to be had. "We were very lucky this week," Cook said. "It was warm, the course was fast, and the greens didn't track up. When the conditions are like that, you can't hide the pins from these guys. We're professional golfers, and we're going to shoot some low scores. But what's wrong with that?"

Such upbeat talk would have been unthinkable back in March. "Early this year I just wasn't showing myself anything," Cook said. "I was playing and I was shooting O.K. scores, but I wasn't getting much out of it, and it was frustrating me. I've been out here 17 years, so I didn't want to sit around and watch myself become just another guy."

But that's what he had become. After his big year in '92, Cook dropped to 45th on the money list in 1993, 37th in 1994 and 97th last year. His most recent victory was in a tournament run by his father, Jim, the 1992 Las Vegas Invitational—a tournament, by the way, in which he was paired for the last two rounds with John Adams, his closest pursuer last week. Adams, who's 0 for 488 in his efforts to win on the Tour, finished at 19 under in Memphis, which would have been good enough to win all but one of the seven previous tournaments held at Southwind. "It's a shame you can shoot 19 under and not even sniff winning the tournament," said Adams, who leads the Tour in driving distance this year with an average of 283.8. "This was another learning experience that I didn't need."

On Sunday the tournament's outcome seemed a foregone conclusion. Cook took a six-shot lead into the final round, so the drama revolved around whether Cook could shoot a 67, finish 28 under and break Souchak's record. Playing more conservatively than he had in the first three rounds—"I didn't want to get in my own way, as I've done so many times in the past," Cook said—he went to 26 under with a birdie at the 10th. After five straight pars he finally began to think about the record. When Cook arrived at the par-5 16th hole, he knew that he had accomplished his main objective, winning the tournament, so he figured he could go for the glory.

A drive, three-wood and wedge left him four feet away from the record-tying birdie. "But there was a spike mark about an inch high in front of my ball," Cook said. "I tried to hit it through the spike mark." The putt rimmed out, and Cook settled for par. On the par-4 17th, Cook had another birdie attempt, this one from 12 feet, but left his putt a couple of inches short. Then, on the final hole, another par-4, with water on the left, he hit his drive to the right, put a five-iron on the fringe short of the green and gave the gallery a thrill by hitting the flagstick with his chip. When he tapped in for 69 and a seven-stroke victory, the seventh win of his career, he was at 258 and a stroke short of Souchak's mark. "There have been a number of people who've had the opportunity to break the record, and I'm surprised it still stands," Souchak said. "Forty-one years is a long time."

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