But how does one explain Paraguay? With three courses and perhaps 350 golfers, Paraguay is home to Martínez and four other, players who, between them, have won 30 international championships. Carlos Franco got his start when he was five and was given coins for mimicking golfers' swings on the 6th hole of the Asunción Golf Club. In 1993 Franco qualified for the Asian tour by topping the South American money list. In '94 he led the Asian tour, qualifying him for the Japanese tour. Since then Franco has won four Japanese tournaments and more than $1.3 million. Two of Franco's six golfing brothers, Ramón and Angel, have won in South America, and countryman Raúl Fretes has been national champion of four countries—Peru, Uruguay, Chile and China. "I can't explain why we have such good players," says Fretes, who at 31 dreams of playing in the U.S. "Golf is not that popular in Paraguay, and most of us have never had lessons."
Then there are those moments that play like the third reel of an anxiety nightmare. The two charter buses are pulling out of the Buenos Aires airport for the four-hour haul to Rosario when someone spots a golfer inside the terminal, running along the glass wall and waving frantically. "Cookie, stop the bus!" a player yells. "Mayday!" shouts another, tickled by the sight of the player pressed against the glass, arms outstretched, like a fly caught in an ice cube.
The bus shudders to a halt, and the driver hops off to retrieve the castaway and his bags. Schmid, watching from his recliner seat, says, "I think you should fine this guy, Cookie. Slow play!"
These are the times when the South American tour seems like just that—a tour. Most of the players take the same flights between cities, with Cook and Bronger supervising baggage handling and distributing boarding passes. Buses move the players between airports and hotels. Buses carry golfers to and from the courses. "That's a big reason for the great camaraderie on this tour," says Dunlap, who joined the group in Peru two days after missing the cut at the Disney Classic in Orlando. "You share the experience with so many guys."
Sometimes the system breaks down. Two years ago an airline overbooked a flight from Montevideo to Asunción, and Cook had to charter a bus for 30 stranded golfers. The trip, which lasted 25½ hours, took the travelers into Argentina, then Brazil, Argentina again, Brazil again and finally into Paraguay, with customs and immigration at each crossing. The players shivered in the mountains and sweltered on the plains, and everything meltable in the luggage melted.
Rosario at 1 a.m. still has a pulse. Late diners linger over checkered tablecloths. Neon helados signs glow in ice-cream shops. Lovers embrace in the shadows of sprawling fig trees. However, the buses stop on a dark street with shuttered storefronts. The lobby and bar of the Presidente Hotel are posh enough, but—how to put it?—slender. "It's the narrowest hotel I ever stayed at," Cook has warned the players, but they are not prepared for elevators the size of phone booths and rooms as cozy as cupboards. "I'm not staying here," Schmid says, spinning in the lobby like a cornered cat. "This is a joke."
For once, Cook has no answers. Clearly his casual authority wears well on the players. He is their guide and portent and, in a way, their inspiration—living proof that a lifetime of letdowns can add up to something grand. Cook is divorced and has a B.A. in English from Long Beach State. He played on the African and the European tours in 1972 but failed to win his card at the 1973 PGA Tour Q school. Afterward, a shoulder injury nudged him into the real estate game. "It took me a year to forgive golf," Cook says, "but when I got the interest back, I decided to play tournaments for the travel. I realized early on that I wasn't going to be a world-beater."
Unless, of course, he could wear the world out. Cook has had three passports in 24 years, one of which maxed out at more than 100 pages. He has played in 33 different national championships, including one British Open. An infrequent winner—the 1978 South Australia PGA Championship is his biggest prize—Cook began to dabble in tour administration in the '80s, assisting Asian tour director John Benda.
Cook's path and South America's crossed in 1990 when Dr. Berger contacted Benda for help in establishing the Peru Open and other regional events as something more than tournaments staged by a few friends. Benda advised the Peruvians and the other South American golf committees to schedule their tournaments on consecutive weeks, establish common rules and regulations, negotiate lower room rates with hotels and put the money earmarked for appearance fees into bigger purses. In other words, establish a tour.
The South Americans complied and brought in Benda as coordinator. The first event, the 1991 Venezuela Open, attracted 50 players, including Benda and Cook. "In the beginning the guys came down more as a vacation than as a serious attempt to play golf," Cook says. "We used to have guys who would shoot 82. Me, for example."