Toledo, Ohio – John Cook was born in the Glass City, and although he lived here for less than a year, it’s not a stretch to say that the former Ohio State University All-American has a rock-solid relationship with Inverness Club.
There is little doubt he will be the gallery favorite when the 32nd U.S. Senior Open begins Thursday. With three victories this year, he also will be one of the oddsmakers’ favorites. He has plenty of good vibes about returning to his Buckeye newsContents.
Just being an Ohio native and just a lot of Ohio State people around, said Cook Wednesday about his buoyant attitude on the eve of the year’s fourth major on the Champions Tour. I’ve got some family here and lots and lots of friends, so the support will be out there, which will be great. I’ve always looked forward to that. Ohio is a fantastic sports state. They treat their athletes like their own family, and I got that out of Columbus and Toledo and Cleveland and everywhere that we've played. I feel like we're still very local, and it's a great feeling to have people pulling for you instead of not pulling for you.
Cook, 53, will make his fourth start in the U.S. Senior Open, with his best finish coming last year at Sahalee Country Club near Seattle, where he tied for third.
The progression of Cook’s finishes in major championships at Inverness suggests he’s gaining on the place and should be a threat this week.
As the 1978 U.S. Amateur champion, Cook competed in the ’79 U.S. Open here, and he was paired with reigning U.S. Open champion Andy North and Jack Nicklaus, who would win his record-tying fourth U.S. Open in 1980. Cook ended up tied for 53rd place in his second Open appearance.
An 11-time winner on the PGA Tour, Cook also tied for 53rd in the 1986 PGA, but improved markedly in the 1993 PGA, finishing in a tie for sixth place.
It’s not just Cook’s birthplace that ties him so strongly to Inverness Club. Cook is a protégé of 1964 U.S. Open champion and former CBS television analyst Ken Venturi, who took the youngster under his wing when the Cook family moved to California. Venturi was mentored by two of the game’s greats, Texans Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.
Nelson was the head professional at Inverness Club from 1940-44, having signed a contract with the club just weeks before winning the 1939 U.S. Open.
Cook smiled when he was reminded about the link between himself and Nelson.
Yeah, I knew that Byron was the head professional here back in the ’30s and ’40s. Obviously Kenny's connection with Byron is legendary, and just being around Ken so much growing up and then through most of my professional regular Tour career, I got to spend a lot of time with Byron, Cook said. Just a great man... I feel very connected to that, as well.
That relationship meant a lot when Cook played in the ’79 Open, won by Hale Irwin.
I played here in the ’79 Open as an amateur, [and] I got paired with Andy North and Jack Nicklaus, so that was a great thrill, and Byron had come out and watched me hit some balls on the practice tee … He didn't have to do that, but that's just the kind of person that he was.
There's a lot of connection here between our family and the area and Inverness, as well.
All the more reason a victory this week would be special.
Any time you have an opportunity to play in a major, obviously … these are our biggest events. Anywhere they are, they're great events to have on your record. But if you could do it in a place that is, [that] you feel a strong connection, obviously, it’s that much more special, Cook said. I've never denied the fact that I am an Ohio native, I'm an Ohioan through and through. Certainly [winning this week] would be a great notch on your belt. I would give it a double notch just because of where it is. Absolutely, there's no question about it that this is a special place.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.