Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
Under the radar for such a highly ranked golf instructor, Chuck Cook has now coached five different players to seven major-championship victories. The first six came in 1989-99 with Payne Stewart (three), Tom Kite, Corey Pavin and Mark Brooks.
Cook’s latest prized pupil is someone who is slouch-shouldered and lumpy, mop-haired with dip camped under his chin soul patch, laid-back and lumbering, monotoned but dryly humorous. We speak, of course, of Jason Dufner, who could have been a member of Spanky and Our Gang, save for the monotone part.
The Texas-based Cook deserves attention because of all that major success by his students (four U.S. Opens in the 1990s) and because of something Dufner said Sunday night after winning the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. Dufner was ranked No. 660 in the world, just behind 53-year-old Tommy Nakajima, when he started with Cook in 2008. Though he won twice on what is now known as the Web.com Tour, Dufner maintains he’d still be 660 without the 68-year-old sage’s help.
One of the things Cook told Dufner the morning of the final round was this: “The plan is to ball-strike the hell out of them and trust your putting a little.” Dufner, of course, executed the plan brilliantly, hitting nine approach shots to inside 15 feet on Nos. 4-16, including three Shaun Micheel-like kick-ins.
Dufner had but two top-10 finishes all year coming in, largely because of substandard putting (163rd on the PGA Tour). But, with Cook’s help, he made two adjustments PGA week that proved highly beneficial: He fixed an alignment problem that had him aiming to the right and coming over the top, and he used a forward press with putting so he’d stay in motion as with his waggly full swing.
Cook has dispensed his wisdom to more than 100 professionals and through countless seminars, clinics and written words. He was fortunate to have worked with and learned from several renowned Golf Digest School instructors in the 1970s-80s and also was greatly influenced by the late Harvey Penick, Ben Doyle and Phil Rodgers.
Cook is relevant at 68 because he loves teaching and has kept up with changes related to technology and power. He takes pride in the fact that his major champions had varied swings, ball flights and approaches.
Stewart was a feel player to whom Cook didn’t show swing video. Kite, his student of 30 years and counting, is a mega-technical player who wanted video analysis. Pavin, a fader, wanted to hit a high draw with a weak grip, and Brooks wanted to get rid of a hook with a strong grip.
“Just opposites,” says Cook, who teaches at University of Texas Golf Club in Austin and Dallas National.
“What makes him so good is that he understands cause and effect, and he’s flexible in adjusting from student to student,” said Kite, who overhauled his swing with Cook in the early 1990s, going from a reverse-C motion to a big-muscle rotary action. “He lets his students have a say on ball flight and then works with them based on their build and mental and emotional makeup to help them accomplish that.”
Big on swing plane but never one for self-promotion, Cook says his driving force has been to be the best teacher, not the most famous one. Penick once told him that the instructors he admired most were ones whose students were more famous than they were.
Despite all his success, Cook somehow still fits that profile. As Kite says, “He got that understated, let-my-teaching-do-the-speaking from Harvey.”
• • •
• I recall interviewing Dufner one-on-one on the putting green at the Torrey Pines tournament in 2010. I was asking him how he rose from No. 184 on the money list in 2008 to 33rd the following year. I can’t recall what he said, but I didn’t write much down because he was so introverted and shy to the point of being boring.
The last thing from my mind was this: Yeah, sure, someday this guy will be a cult hero.
• • •
• Conjecture seems to be growing that Tiger Woods, his major-championship drought having surpassed five years, is pressing too much in majors. Woods says that isn’t the case, but I’m not sure I believe him.
Because Jack Nicklaus, the record-holder with 18 major titles, said he used to try too hard in the Grand Slam events.
“I would try too hard and I’d have to pull myself back, and then I’d just have to prepare better so when I finished preparing myself I was not too anxious to win,” Nicklaus told colleague Alex Miceli the other day. “I had to prepare myself to try and play my best, and then I had to back off so I could play, not be too excited.”
Nicklaus said he tried too hard in a lot of majors, even some that he won. He looks back and considers the handling of such emotions “part of the learning experience.”
In other words, as he chases Nicklaus, he would do well to learn from him.
• • •
• The PGA Tour has banned caddie races, popular on par-3 holes at the Phoenix and Colonial tournaments, because of safety reasons. The Tour says running 150 yards puts caddies at risk for injury.
That well might be. But one also could argue that cutting out sideshow entertainment is risky for a Tour that for more than a half-century has needed to pump personality into an oft-boring sport.