Russ Cochran, 54, embraces familiarity of Waialae
HONOLULU – This week feels a bit like a reunion for Russ Cochran.
The 54-year-old left-hander, who Monday-qualified for the Sony Open, will be making his first PGA Tour start in nearly four years. But Waialae Country Club, site of the PGA Tour's second event of the season, looks refreshingly familiar to Cochran, a three-time winner on the Champions Tour.
“It was kind of like seeing an old friend out there,” Cochran said of Waialae, where his best finish in 18 starts was a tie for 11th in 1996. “The only drawback of this golf course for me is, with the tradewinds I have an awful lot of shots with the wind coming out of my right, on my back, and that's not the best for anybody, really.”
Cochran won one of four spots in Monday's qualifier at Turtle Bay Resort's Palmer Course, shooting 67. It's a welcome bright spot after an offseason dedicated to recovery from an injury last season.
Cochran had qualified for the 2012 Open Championship by virtue of his 2011 Senior British Open victory, but an injury in his left rib cage that had gone undiagnosed flared up. What was determined to be an intercostal muscle strain forced him off the tour for nearly three months late in the season.
“Breathing stared to hurt, and I couldn’t make a swing,” Cochran said. “It's 12, 14 weeks of just doing nothing. So I took that time off, and thank God we had a little break then afterwards.”
Cochran returned to the Champions Tour for the final four events, placing seventh in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup to finish 24th on the money list, with $693,402.
During the offseason, Cochran worked with a massage therapist and a chiropractor to deal with the injury, which the Paducah, Ky., native says is about 95 percent healed.
Cochran came to Hawaii to play golf and visit a friend on the island of Kauai, and the Sony wasn't foremost on his mind. However, he decided to make the trip to Honolulu early and try to earn a spot in the Monday qualifier.
“I had played Turtle Bay before, so I went over there and played a few holes Saturday and played a few holes Sunday and cranked it up yesterday,” Cochran said Tuesday. He will be playing his first PGA Tour event since April 2009, when he missed the cut in the Zurich Classic, for which he also Monday-qualified.
The same winds that reduced the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to 54 holes and a Tuesday finish on nearby Maui also affected play at Turtle Bay.
“It gusted to 40 (mph), and I knew the scores weren't going to be too low," Cochran said.
He called the 67 "a great round for me."
Interestingly, Cochran played in the qualifier with Patrick Cantlay, the wunderkind who missed out on his PGA Tour card at last month's Q-School and came up short in Monday qualifying for the Sony Open.
“He was witty as heck, great attitude and nothing shook him,” Cochran said of Cantlay, the 20-year-old former top-ranked amateur from UCLA who turned pro last June after his sophomore season. “I remember one hole, I jumped up and put the tee in the ground, and it was his shot, and then I realized what I was doing, took the tee out and said, 'Sorry about that, Patrick.' He goes, 'Hey, man, you want to hit it, you're hitting it good, just hit it.' Just real laid back.”
Cochran made the trip to Waialae early on Tuesday morning to beat the rush and was done with his practice round before noon.
With Wednesday’s pro-am reserved for others, Cochran is scheduled to tee off at 12:40 p.m. Thursday on No. 1 with Chez Reavie and Martin Flores.