Jour­neys: Austin Cook

Choos­ing Q school over med school

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents - — WITH STEPHEN HEN­NESSEY

Choos­ing Q school over med school.

“Some teach­ers were un­der­stand­ing and let me make up exams and papers. Oth­ers weren’t.”

IT’S WED­NES­DAY BE­FORE the 2016 Tour Cham­pi­onship. I’m shar­ing a house in Jack­sonville Beach, Fla., with my wife, Crys, and Zack Sucher and his wife. We’re hanging on the beach in 40-mile-per-hour winds as Hur­ri­cane Matthew ap­proaches. I’m 27th in the stand­ings, need­ing to move into the top 25 to earn my PGA Tour card for 2016-’17. And I had just missed the cut by one shot in the third event of the Tour Fi­nals. We’re hit­ting balls on the sand, try­ing to have fun. Then my caddie calls: “The tour­na­ment’s can­celled.” My sea­son is sud­denly over, my PGA Tour card ripped from me. it took a lot not to chuck the wedge i was hold­ing out into the ocean. Zack and my wife just let me have a mo­ment to my­self. We had to evac­u­ate the area, and so we drove from Jack­sonville to Birm­ing­ham, where we’d stay for a night with the Such­ers be­fore driv­ing home to north­east Arkansas. I wouldn’t calm down for a few days, but my wife’s ad­vice sticks in my head: She said, “I know this is heart­break­ing right now, but it’s gonna hap­pen for you.” She was right. When you’ve worked hard for a life­time for a goal, you’ve got to re­mem­ber the big­ger pic­ture. i’ve al­ways had two dreams—to be­come a pro golfer or a doc­tor. My fa­ther and un­cle are doc­tors, and my grand­fa­ther, who was a club pro in Min­neapo­lis, played in 60 or so PGA Tour events. His ca­reer high­light was play­ing in the fi­nal pair­ing with Jack Nick­laus in the 1965 Mem­phis Open. My dad of­ten told the story of be­ing in the gallery, scram­bling for a look of his fa­ther walk­ing side by side with Nick­laus at his peak. Though Grand­dad didn’t play well that day, that planted the seed that maybe I could suc­ceed at golf, too. i got my first plas­tic set of clubs at 2 or 3. So my en­tire con­scious life I’ve been play­ing. Grow­ing up, I had an ideal sit­u­a­tion. We lived by a hole at RidgePointe Coun­try Club in Jones­boro, Ark. It was about a one-minute cart ride from our house to the range. I wasn’t sup­posed to, but I started driv­ing our cart down there around age 7. in­stead of do­ing typ­i­cal kid stuff over the sum­mer, i was at the range. Not hav­ing that time with friends was prob­a­bly the biggest sac­ri­fice I made. But my par­ents taught me to work hard at ev­ery­thing I did, and that trans­lated into thou­sands of hours of prac­tice. And I’m happy about where that got me.

you can call me a teach

er’s pet, but my fresh­man year at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, I in­tro­duced my­self to ev­ery pro­fes­sor on the first day of class and ex­plained that I’d prob­a­bly be miss­ing a lot of class be­cause of golf. Some teach­ers were un­der­stand­ing and let me make up exams and papers. Oth­ers weren’t. There were times I had to in­volve de­part­ment heads and coaches to vouch for me. balancing golf and a ma­jor in bi­ol­ogy tested my pa­tience.

Be­fore a chem­istry exam my fresh­man year, I spent 38 hours out of the 48hour week­end at the li­brary. I was the only ath­lete in our study group. My coach, Brad McMakin, would let me skip prac­tice if I needed to. It all worked out, and when I grad­u­ated in De­cem­ber 2013 with a 3.9 GPA, I faced a big de­ci­sion whether to pur­sue med­i­cal school or try pro golf. my med- school pre­req­ui­sites would re­main valid for five years.

So it wasn’t time to give up play­ing. To save money trav­el­ing to Adams Pro Tour events, my room­mate at Arkansas, An­drew Landry, and I pooled money and shared rooms. We’d eat to­gether and stay up late de­bat­ing whether we were do­ing the right thing. the 2014 fedex st. jude in mem­phis is a story.

If you don’t have sta­tus, you need to play in a pre-qual­i­fier for the Mon­day qual­i­fier. Usu­ally they’re on Thurs­days, but this time it was on Fri­day be­cause of U.S. Open qual­i­fy­ing. I drove an hour and a half from Arkansas to Mem­phis, only to learn this when I ar­rived. The guys at the course laughed at my rookie mis­take but let me zip around the course in a cart as a prac­tice round. The next day I medaled in the pre-qual­i­fier, and then medaled in the qual­i­fier, too. i’ll never for­get that first pga tour round. Storms pushed ev­ery­thing back the first day, so I didn’t tee off un­til 5:30 p.m. There were no fans ex­cept a few fam­ily mem­bers. It felt like a col­lege event. I was paired with Kevin Kis­ner and Doug La­belle, two laid­back guys. It was calm and peace­ful. On the week­end, I played with an­other Arkansas room­mate, David Ling­merth, and Scott Stallings, who is such a good guy. That com­fort­able set­ting re­ally helped. I fin­ished 13th. but i was shak­ing on the first tee on the satur­day af­ter i mon­day’d into hous­ton that same year. I was paired with Phil Mick­el­son, and that was my first taste of real PGA Tour nerves. I had my brother cad­dieing, car­ry­ing my Arkansas stand bag. The first hole called for a fairway wood, but tee­ing it up with a fairway wood seemed ter­ri­fy­ing, so I hit driver and found the bunker. I found the green and two-putted for a par, and that set­tled me down. i got my pga tour card by fin­ish­ing 15th in the 2017 web. com tour stand­ings.

But it was all my early ex­pe­ri­ence—I Mon­day’d into four tour events in 2015 and had top-25s in six of my first eight starts as a non­mem­ber—that gave me a leg up this past sea­son. I al­ready knew I could com­pete with the best. So win­ning the 2017 RSM Clas­sic at Sea Is­land in my fourth start wasn’t en­tirely a sur­prise to me. fast- for­ward to the end of 2018, and i’m paired with tiger woods in the first event of the fedex cup play­offs. We’re talk­ing about par­ent­hood, as Crys and I are ex­pect­ing our first child, a daugh­ter, in Jan­uary. Tiger’s giv­ing Crys and me par­ent­ing ad­vice as we snap a photo af­ter our round. If you told me be­fore the sea­son that that’s how my first year on the PGA Tour was go­ing to end, I would’ve signed up for that in a heart­beat.

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