In just the fourth event of his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Austin Cook found himself in the winner’s circle. Cook held off a slew of hard-charging Tour veterans for the first win of his young career at the 2017 RSM Classic.
Now a year later, the 27-year-old returns to St. Simons Island to defend his RSM title with a full season and a lifetime of experience under his belt. We recently sat down with the former Arkansas Razorback, who has played in 28 tournaments and three majors since his win in the fall of 2017. Cook has used the last 12 months to reflect, learn and appreciate what he was able to accomplish as a PGA Tour rookie.
Your rookie season brought your first career PGA Tour win, three top 10s and eight top 25s. Was your first full season actually easier than you expected?
I knew that I was gonna be able to play and have success out here. It’s just a matter of getting here. I think the win came as a little bit of a shock. I wasn’t really expecting to win during my rookie season, but I was expecting to compete.
You missed just five out of 29 cuts during your rookie season. Does it take a certain type of mindset to grind out cuts on Tour?
Yeah, it does sometimes [laughs]. I know on the long stretches it gets hard to stay focused. But I think that’s just kind of a testament to the consistency of my golf game, and just kind of hitting somewhere close to the fairway, somewhere close to the green, be able to get it up and down consistently. With my ball striking I think it’s kind of hard for me to miss the cuts. I’ve had bad weeks and other parts of my game, like the putting or chipping, has come through to help me make the cut.
Despite never winning on the Web.com tour, you come out and win right away at the RSM in 2017. Holding that trophy, is that a place you expected to be at some point in your career?
Oh, definitely. Yeah, I always expected to win. On the Web I never did get that W. I think these golf courses out here suit my game a little better than on the Web. A lot of the courses on the Web, you hit the ball as hard as you can and as far as you can, and you go find it and hit it again. There’s not as much trouble or thick rough as you have out there. Now, there are some golf courses that are very PGA Tour caliber golf courses. Out here there’s a lot more emphasis on consistency, and hitting fairways, and hitting greens.
Could you say the PGA Tour is almost better for guys like you, who aren’t 6’3″ and bombing the ball down the fairway?
Yeah, I think so obviously, you look at most of the top guys in the world. They’re still bombing it and everything, but I think they have more courses out here that are fair, you know, going both ways. You have places like Memphis and Hilton Head where we’re all playing from the same spot except for only on a couple holes, which are the par fives. So yeah, there’s definitely more courses out here I think suited for fairness.
At the RSM you had your whole family there including your wife. Crys. You’ve said that when you first met her she told you she wasn’t planning on being all in on this “golf thing”. How’d you convince her?
I think a mixture of just the love that I had for the game and then once she figured out, you know the kind of money that you can make and that you can really support a family out here. Once I kind of explained to her the opportunities out here it made her go, “Okay. This is something that we can do and enjoy life together.”
She did a little caddying for you. How did that go for you guys?
It went great. We had a good record together. We did a lot on the Web. It was great for us to be able to save some money. She came out and caddied and I really got to learn and grow myself in the game of golf without having a professional caddy say, “Oh, this is what you need to do here. This is what you need to do there.” I think that was beneficial for me, and my game. And, you know, for my wife and I it was beneficial. It was a lot of fun.
The road from Arkansas to the PGA Tour had a lot of ups and downs for. A couple of years ago you missed out on your PGA TOUR card by a couple hundred bucks, when the Web.com championship was canceled due to Hurricane Matthew. How difficult was that for you?
I came on the Web and did okay during the regular season. Made it to the Web finals. I was 27th going into the last event. And then Hurricane Matthew happened. That was two years in a row that I was close to earning my card. And I knew if I kept doing what I was doing, it was only a matter of time before I got to the Tour. It was tough, but I think it was beneficial. I think God knew more than I did that I needed another year out on the Web to grow, and learn, and get more experience. And, you know, it really paid off.
That last year I did a lot of growing and did a lot of growing mentally with the game of golf. I think it was very beneficial before I came out here.
What’s life like on tour for you? Who are your buddies out here?
Andrew Landry I would say is probably the one that I hang out with the most. We didn’t overlap at Arkansas, but he was up there my freshman year. We played a lot together on the Adams Tour and spent a lot of time together for, a good two or three years out there.
And then, my wife’s made a lot of friends. You know, a lot of the people that we graduated with from the Web this last season and their wives. It’s almost a new group every week that we hang out with.
There are so many great guys out here. I would hang out with most of them, you know, on a regular basis.
Do you gravitate to the guys that share the same life situations as you? Younger guy, baby on the way, married?
It probably makes it a little easier. But, I mean there are so many guys out here in so many different situations and times in their lives. I would love to get to know a lot of the veterans a little bit more, you know, and kind of pick their brains a little bit more. ‘Cause the more you get to know them, the more comfortable you are out here. And that’s really what helps you be successful.
You’re one of many, 26-, 27-year-old guys out here. We hear so much about the Justin Thomas’s and Jordan Spieth’s, yet there are tons of guys like yourself winning golf tournaments and doing well out here at the same age. You guys seem to fly under the radar a little bit. Are you okay with that?
I’m fine with that. I think, at this point in our careers we’re not the ones that the Tour kind of has their eye on. And so I think that’s kind of what’s helping us fly under the radar. You know, we’re not in the media room. Our time will come. Just keep playing good golf. And, you know, I think our time will come. It doesn’t bother me.
One full season on the PGA Tour under your belt, What’s the biggest lesson you learned in your first year on tour?
How much the mind makes a difference out here. I went through stretches where my mental game was great, and then I went through stretches where the smallest little error would make me just blow up inside and I’d get so upset. And that doesn’t help you at all. I think the biggest lesson is just keeping a cool head.
How do you stay cool?
I don’t know. It’s just a mindset you need when you wake up. I think you just make sure that you’re in a good mood coming into the golf course and a good mood leaving the golf course. You just have to really work on letting it roll off your shoulder and being okay with missed shots, because missed shots are gonna happen. Mental mistakes you have an effect on, but I think a good caddy, a good setup with your team, just making sure everybody’s kind of on the same page, makes it easier on you. I’ve got a veteran on the bag who’s quick to call me out whenever I’m starting to be a little whiny baby. I think that helps as well.