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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2011

U.S. SENIOR OPEN

Toledo native Cook, OSU teammates return for Senior Open

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
John Cook won the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at the TPC of Tampa, one of three 2011 Champions Tour wins. John Cook won the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at the TPC of Tampa, one of three 2011 Champions Tour wins.
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John Cook spent about a year in the area, doesn't remember a lick of it, and yet for him, Toledo will always be where his roots remain.

The Champions Tour golfer and northwest Ohio native son will return "home" this week for the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness.

The son of former Maumee High School football coach Jim Cook, John was born in Toledo in 1957 but moved away as an infant. He grew up in southern California but returned to the Buckeye State to help Ohio State win a national championship in golf in 1979.

Two of Cook's college teammates, Joey Sindelar and Rod Spittle, will also be at Inverness Club this week for the U.S. Senior Open, which will serve as a Buckeye reunion for the trio.

"It'll definitely be a special week," Cook said. "Even though I left the area when I was quite young, coming back there is really special. Anytime you can get back to your actual birthplace and have people still recognize you, it's quite a nice feeling obviously."

Playing at Inverness has always suited Cook well. He finished five shots back in a tie for sixth at 7-under at the 1993 PGA Championship and tied for 53rd at both the 1986 PGA Championship and as an amateur in the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness.

"I love the golf course," Cook said. "I know it's been touched up a little bit since I first played it way back in the mid-70s, but I've always enjoyed the whole golf course. It fits my eye and I'm a big [course designer] Donald Ross fan.

"Then you add in the good vibes from being home and that certainly helps. It's one of those things where everything is aligned for you to perform well."

Cook and his OSU teammates first became acquainted with Inverness while traveling from Columbus to college tournaments against Big Ten schools in Michigan. Legendary Ohio State golf coach Jim Brown always made it a point to stop along the way and let his players get a round in at the famed course on Dorr Street.

"We'd always stop in our way up north," Cook said. "That's when I developed a great affinity for the golf course."

Even though they weren't born here, Sindelar and Spittle both echoed Cook's sentiments about returning to Ohio and playing the U.S. Senior Open at a course they came to appreciate more than three decades ago.

"To come back to Ohio is just absolutely amazing," Spittle said. "It's a homecoming for us, to be able to see the friends we made in Ohio and then you throw in the site, which everybody knows is one of the best courses in the country. You can't make this stuff up, so I'm very excited to come back and play."

"The Open is always a huge thrill, but in this case on several levels, it's very exciting," Sindelar said. "I'm very much looking forward to it."

The fact that this trio is still playing competitive golf on a high level 32 years after the Buckeyes' national championship isn't lost on them either.

Joey Sindelar captured the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, N.C., in 2004. Joey Sindelar captured the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, N.C., in 2004.
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"I've said a number of times over the past couple of years, this Champions Tour is great," Sindelar said. "I'm 53 years old and I'm out there competing as if I were a kid against guys I've been playing against since I was 13. With John Cook and Rod Spittle, I've known them since I was 18 years old. It's a huge thrill, and we're all very thankful for it."

Cook has been especially tough to beat this year. He was second on the Champions Tour money list with $1,025, 362 in earnings heading into this weekend's Senior British Open and has won three times in 2011.

"It's been an interesting year," Cook said. "Winning three times has obviously been a highlight, but my play the other weeks has been just average, but not bad. I'm pretty happy with all aspects of my game and I'm happy that I've been competitive."

Cook's success comes as no surprise to Sindelar, who with Cook was part of the 1979 national championship team at OSU the fall after Spittle graduated.

"A big reason why I went to Ohio State was Mark Balen, who was a year ahead of John and two years ahead of me," Sindelar said. "Mark told me when I was being recruited that I needed to see Ohio State, because the golf courses there were awesome and also there was this kid coming in named John Cook and he was supposed to be the next Jack Nicklaus. So I decided to visit and I loved it.

"John gave instant credibility to our team. He was one of the handful of superstars of the day [in college golf]. One man doesn't carry a golf team, but it sure helps. So Cookie effectively carried the team."

What followed was one of the career highlights for Cook, Sindelar and all the other Buckeyes from that team.

"That national championship goes higher up in my trophy case every year," Sindelar said. "When you figure you only had four chances to get it in your life, it's glowing that much stronger as the days go by."

Those memories will surely be recounted a time or two this week at Inverness, when Cook, Sindelar and Spittle reconvene just a few miles up the road from where they excelled as college golfers.

"I don't think any of us ever imagined still playing 30 years later," Spittle said. "It's a huge credit to coach Jim Brown and the caliber of players who were there at the time, and that's what's so great about the game that we play is the relationships you have. Here we are 30 years later and we still like each other, we're still playing well and we still all hang out. And the older we get, the better those memories are.

"It'll be great to reunite with those other two guys at this stage in our careers."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.


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