Ten years after, nothing has changed. The white walls of
Muirfield's clubhouse are as stately as ever; the familiar
waist-high rough lining the 1st fairway makes it seem as narrow
as a bowling alley. Even the wind is blowing in the same
direction as it was on that unforgettable day in 1992 when John
Cook lost the British Open. Now Cook has returned for this year's
Open. Two days before the tournament begins he plays a practice
round with his good buddies Mark O'Meara and Tiger Woods. Woods
picks Cook's brain about strategy, how to play certain holes and,
inevitably, how Cook played them in '92. "Tiger asked a lot of
questions, especially about the last four holes," he says.
Cook is 44 now, and with a few more lines on his tanned face,
especially around the eyes, he is no longer mistaken for a
California surfer dude. Otherwise, like the landscape in eastern
Scotland, Cook hasn't changed much since that fateful Sunday 10
years ago, when he missed a short putt on the 71st hole, made
bogey on the 72nd and allowed a stunned Nick Faldo to win the
Open and lose his composure. Nasty Nick's tears began as soon as
he picked his ball out of the cup. "I can't believe it!" he
shouted on the final green. Ten years after, neither can Cook.
It was gloomy throughout the week of the '92 Open, with steady
winds, heavy clouds and frequent squalls. "The sun never shined
the whole time," says Duffy Waldorf, who finished 25th in that
Open. "Later I saw pictures of Muirfield in a magazine with the
sun out, and it didn't look right. I didn't recognize the place."
Playing in his first British Open since 1980, when he had gotten
in thanks to his victory in the '78 U.S. Amateur, Cook was
enjoying a career year in '92, having already won the Bob Hope
Classic and the Hawaiian Open. For extra luck he asked Kirk
Kuzmanic, a high school buddy from Palos Verdes, Calif., to
caddie for him. Kuzmanic, who ran some car washes around San
Diego and Palm Springs, had long made an annual appearance on
Cook's bag at the Hawaiian Open (a ritual that continues to this
day). They shared a house near Muirfield with O'Meara, whom Cook
has known since their days on the Southern California junior golf
scene. "Our careers have always paralleled each other's," says
O'Meara, who beat Cook at Pebble Beach in the final of the 1979
California Amateur, "but as a junior John was always the Number 1
Kuzmanic and Cook made a good team. Cook is known for beating
himself up on the course, but with Kuzmanic he was loose and
relaxed. "Some heavy rains blasted us a couple of times, and I
remember us giggling at each other in the middle of the fairway,"
Kuzmanic says. "When a squall came over and poured on us, I
didn't know what to grab first--the umbrella, the bag, the clubs
or him. I was a total rookie. He was laughing at me, and that
lightened things up."
A 66-67 start by Cook would've been phenomenal in any other year,
but Faldo shot 66-64, an Open record. After a third-round 70,
Cook was tied for second with another Californian, Steve Pate.
They were four shots behind Faldo, who already had a pair of
Masters and British Open titles to his credit. "I don't know
anybody I'd want to give a four-shot lead to," Pate observed on
the eve of the final round, "but he is the least likely to go out
and shoot 74."
Playing in the group ahead of Faldo in the final round, Cook put
some pressure on the leader early by eagling the 5th hole, but at
the 9th he hooked his drive out-of-bounds and made double bogey.
Cook still trailed by four strokes at the turn. However, Faldo
began to struggle midway through a windblown back nine. He missed
a three-foot par putt at the 13th, then drove into a fairway
bunker and made bogey at 14. Cook birdied the 15th and 16th and
suddenly led by two. At the par-5 17th he had 258 yards to the
pin and rifled a low, boring three-iron shot that left him with a
30-foot putt for eagle. This was the Moment. "I almost made the
first putt for 3," Cook says, "and that would've been it."
Instead the ball ran 2 1/2 feet past. Then came one for the
highlight reel--he missed the gimme for birdie. "It was a shot in
the stomach," says Kuzmanic.
How did Cook miss that putt? It's a question that he has pondered
for a decade. "It was a left-center, inside-left putt, and I
simply hit it too hard," Cook says. "The greens had gotten kind
of slippery and skiddy, and I hadn't really noticed. I never
thought about missing it. You're going to blow two-footers in
your life, but in that situation it was a putt you can't miss."
Cook recovered well enough to bust a good drive at the 18th; then
came a decision he still regrets. Torn between hitting a run-up
three-iron or trying to fly a two-iron all the way to the back of
the green, Cook chose the latter but left the shot short and
right. He pitched to eight feet and missed the putt, making
bogey. "At that point we were both pretty quiet," Kuzmanic says.
"We knew then there was a chance we weren't going to win."
Faldo responded with what he has called the best four holes of
his life. He birdied 15 and 17 and arrived at the final hole
needing only a par to steal the claret jug. Cook, watching on TV
in a trailer behind the 18th green, knew it was over as soon as
he saw Faldo's swing on the approach shot. "I remember thinking
what a good swing that was," Cook says. "That was when he was the
best." Faldo made his par.
"John had to go up on the green as the runner-up and get a
little medal," Kuzmanic says. "I was standing in a corner,
pretty devastated. Later we went to a champagne reception in the
clubhouse and had to stand around while everybody congratulated
John for a great tournament. He had played great, but in our
minds we should've won the doggone thing."
O'Meara was waiting with a down-home consolation prize--beer and
nachos--when Cook and Kuzmanic returned to their house. "It was
Old Jock beer, and it came in these little stubby cans," Kuzmanic
says. "We made a little toast." Says O'Meara, "I felt bad for
him. You come that close, work that hard and let it slip away. I
know how disappointing that is."
Cook and Kuzmanic passed on an invitation to join O'Meara and his
father, Bob, for dinner and went instead to a small local
establishment for pizza and more beer. They flew to Boston the
next morning. "We've got an eight-hour flight. We take our seats,
have a martini, toast a good week, and then, all of a sudden,
they show the doggone tournament highlights," Kuzmanic says. "We
went right back into our depression."
Cook's family--wife Jan and children Kristin, Courtney and
Jason--met them at the gate in Boston. "There was silence," Cook
says. "Nobody could say anything. Jan was crying, I was crying,
Kirk was crying. I hadn't slept; I was a walking zombie."
The Cooks drove to Sutton, Mass., for that week's New England
Classic. John held a press conference two days before the
tournament began, and most of the questions were about what it
felt like to lose the Open. "That was hard," Cook says 10 years
later, shaking his head. Most of his Tour colleagues avoided him
early in the week, but one who did approach him had also lost the
Open after a bogey on Muirfield's 18th hole--Paul Azinger, who
lost to Faldo in '87. "It was the best thing," Cook says. "Paul
said, 'I know how you feel.' I appreciated that so much. Not many
guys could say that. He could."
In a weird way losing at Muirfield inspired Cook. He contended at
Pleasant Valley, finishing tied for third. "At least I didn't
shoot 80 the first round and get put on suicide watch," he says.
In August he took Nick Price to the limit before finishing tied
for second at the PGA Championship, probably the second biggest
disappointment of Cook's career. "My game didn't fall off the
earth or anything," he says. "I kept playing well. For a long
while, though, I thought about Muirfield every day. That was my
big chance. I can't say a week goes by without me thinking about
it. Something will remind me. I'll walk through the house and see
the trophy case and think, There's the U.S. Amateur trophy,
there's another trophy, and oh, yeah, there's a little runner-up
dish--that's where the claret jug should be."
Ten years after, and once again Cook has come to Muirfield with
high expectations. Already this season he's had a pair of
second-place finishes and a couple of fourths, including one in
his last Stateside tune-up, the Advil Western Open. One of the
best Americans never to have won a major, he's been looking
forward to this British Open for some time, for obvious reasons.
Cook's game seems sharp in the practice rounds. During his
Tuesday round with O'Meara and Woods, the 449-yard 18th hole is
playing into the wind. Woods is trying to decide between a two-
or a three-iron for his approach. "I told him about my mistake on
18," says Cook, "the shot I tried to play, and he concurred that
you've got to get the ball running up the front of the green.
There was no need to try to fly it to the back."
Cook is relaxed, even though he doesn't have his lucky charm with
him. Kuzmanic didn't make this trip. His daughter is recovering
from back surgery, and his passport has expired. Cook travels
instead with his oldest daughter, Kristin, a junior at the
Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, and
one of her friends. On the bag is his regular caddie, David
Cook's tournament begins with a flourish--birdies on the first two
holes. Could such a sweet redemption be possible? Before long
Cook begins to falter, and he fades to a 74, three over par. To
take the edge off he goes sightseeing after the round with
Kristin, visiting a couple of local castles.
On Friday, Cook can summon no magic, as he makes a triple bogey
and a double on the back nine. He shoots a 76, and his tournament
is over. "That's how my game has been all year--good or really
horrifying," Cook says. "I never know which guy is going to show
up, the guy who had a chance to win at Hawaii and the Western or
the guy who makes doubles and triples. I thought my game was good
enough to contend here. To miss the cut as badly as I did and
play some holes as badly as I did...." He pauses. It has been a
long 10 years. "I'm probably more disappointed than I was in
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY FRED VUICH
COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN BOWED Cook (in '92) reacted in horror after his miss at 17.
COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH (TOP) A FRIEND IN NEED A rival since junior golf, O'Meara comforted Cook in '92 and remains a good pal.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER FLIP WEDGE Cook finished fourth at the Western earlier this month (right), but his game didn't fly at Muirfield.
"You're going to blow two-footers in your life," says Cook, "but
in that situation you can't miss."
O'Meara was waiting with nachos and beer as a consolation prize.
"I felt so bad for him," he says.