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For John Cook, the new PGA Tour Champions event in California represents a homecoming — and a going-away party

John Cook is a full-time golf announcer and part-time professional golfer these days, but the prospect of playing in the new Galleri Classic in Rancho Mirage was too good for Cook to pass up.

“It’s going to be quite a week. I’m really excited about it obviously,” said Cook, who spent the 1970s growing up at Mission Hills Country Club, the site of the Galleri Classic.

Cook continued to play the Dinah Shore Tournament Course in the 1980s and the 1990s during a pro career that produced 11 events on the PGA Tour. But in the last two decades, Cook has rarely seen his old home course.

“I’ve been back since we had moved away to watch Jason (his son) play a couple of AJGA events, but I have not been back to play since, well, 1999 I think was the last time I played it,” Cook said.

The Galleri Classic will offer a full circle closure for Cook, now 65 and spending most of his time working for Golf Channel. In fact, the new PGA Tour Champions event will likely end Cook’s professional career.

“I chose the Hoag (Classic) at Newport Beach and I chose Mission Hills,” Cook said. “These will probably be the last two I play, quite honestly. I don’t see myself older than 65 years old trying to come out and compete. What better places to call it a career than Newport and Mission Hills.”

Cook has already made history in the desert, winning the 1992 and the 1997 Bob Hope Classics, the tournament now known as The American Express. But even as Cook transitioned to the 50-and-over PGA Tour Champions, winning another 10 tournaments along the way, he hoped he would get a chance to play in the Coachella Valley again with a senior event.

“Once they announced the (LPGA Tour) was leaving, I thought it was a perfect fit,” Cook said. “I had nothing to do with it, although I had mentioned to Miller Brady (president of the PGA Tour Champions division) something about it and he said, oh, it’s already in the pipeline. Alright, okay, I thought it was a perfect fit.”

John Cook at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Part of the reason the PGA Tour Seniors seems like a strong fit for the Coachella Valley is players like Cook who have long histories in the desert because of The American Express. Cook’s personal history includes a playoff loss in the 1986 event to Donnie Hammond and then two of the most dramatic victories in tournament history.

In 1992, Cook won a five-man playoff at Bermuda Dunes, making birdies on the first three holes with a chip-in and then chipping in for an eagle on the fourth hole to beat Gene Sauers. In 1997, Cook shot rounds of 62 and 63 on the weekend at Indian Wells Country Club, setting a then-tour record for 36-hole scoring in beating Mark Calcavecchia by a single shot. Calcavecchia led by three starting the final round and shot 67, but still fell to Cook.

“Poor Calc reminds me all the time,” Cook said. “Every time I play with Gene Sauers or Calcavecchia, they remind me of those two years.”

Those were the days when Cook still lived at Mission Hills, then a place where both PGA Tour and LPGA players lived or used as a West Coast base for their careers. Cook and his family first came to Mission Hills in 1971, with Cook falling under the wing of former U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi, who was the director of golf at the course.

Cook won the U.S. Amateur in 1978 while playing at Ohio State and was part of the school’s 1979 NCAA championship team. He turned pro later that year, but remained at Mission Hills.

“I think that we were playing it every day, Fred (Couples) and me and George Brett (Kansas City Royals third basemen and club member) or Kirk Triplett, who was around at the time a little bit, Mike Mitchell (Cook’s friends and a Mission Hills teaching pro),” Cook said. “When we all played it, remember this is back in the 1980s and the 1990s, the golf ball was doing what it was doing and it was a very formidable golf course. We would play either the gold tees or a combination, and it was very formidable.”

When the LPGA announced its major championship at Mission Hills, now the Chevron Championship, was moving to Houston for 2023, Cook was excited but confused.

“I was kind of shocked. Fifty-some years, you don’t just pull the plug on history and a major championship and what the LPGA is all about and who played there into the early ’70s and then into Lorena (Ochoa) and Annika (Sorenstam),” Cook said. “That’s really kind of a head-scratcher.”

Cook said he basically retired from tournament golf five years ago as his television schedule with Golf Channel increased. He could still play a few times a year, but he didn’t play at all in 2022 while battling melanoma below his eye. While the cancer was invasive and moved into his check, he is now healthy and has been playing.

“I’m a lot better than I was last year,” Cook said.

With the chance to play Mission Hills one last time and with Michelle DeLancy named as tournament director after years of running the Boeing Classic in Seattle, Cook figured he could play two final senior events in Southern California.

“I thought, you know, I’ve been playing a little bit and I have been playing okay,” Cook said. “I’m not going to embarrass myself. So I thought why not? Why not go back and play?”

As for ending his tournament playing days, Cook believes the Galleri will be the perfect sendoff.

“Honestly, I’m as excited as I can be,” Cook said. “We’ve got the great support of my family. Our daughter from Australia is coming, bringing our granddaughter. My son is going to caddie for me and my oldest daughter and her family are coming. It is going to be pretty special.”

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