By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – This is Austin Cook’s first season as a PGA TOUR member, but the 54-hole leader at The RSM Classic has found himself in a similar situation before.
Cook, 26, will take a three-shot into the final round at Sea Island Golf Club. It will be the biggest day of his career. It won’t be the first time he’s played in the final group on the PGA TOUR, though. He also played among the leaders two years ago, back when he was trying to beat the odds as a non-member who relied on Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions for starts. Those experiences will help him Sunday as he seeks his first PGA TOUR win.
“Back then my game was good as well, but mentally I’ve grown a lot and matured a lot and been able to kind of just let small things on the golf course roll off my shoulder instead of getting tied up in one little small mistake,” Cook said.
After qualifying for the 2015 Houston Open, Cook made a Cinderella run into Saturday’s final group alongside Phil Mickelson. Cook arrived on the first tee with a stand bag carried by his brother, wearing the rain gear from his college days at the University of Arkansas. Cook stared down Mickelson, 70-75, to start the Houston Open’s final round in second place. His unlikely run ended Sunday, though, as he shot 75 to drop to 11th.
Two months later, Cook again started the third round in second place, but shot consecutive over-par rounds at the FedEx St. Jude Classic to drop to 22nd. Those were two of the five top-25s Cook had on the PGA TOUR in 2015 despite not having any status. He played the Web.com Tour in 2016 and 2017 before earning his first TOUR card.
“I think with an extra year on the Web.com Tour this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of got more confidence,” he said. “I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I’ve just learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.”
Sea Island’s Seaside Course doesn’t require power, but it rewards precision. It measures just 7,005 yards. That’s perfect for Cook, who can be compared to two-time TOUR winner Kevin Kisner as a player known for laser-like accuracy. It’s no coincidence that Kisner holds the 72-hole scoring record at this event; he shot 22 under par to win the 2015 edition of this tournament. Cook can tie Kisner’s mark with a 4-under 66 on Sunday.
He admits that holding back the nerves will be the hardest part as he tries to become the second consecutive first-year player to close the fall with a win at Sea Island.
“I know today it was a lot of deep breaths, a lot of trying to calm the nerves, just stay in the moment, let the anxiety go away,” Cook said. “I think even tomorrow it will be a little bit higher on Sunday, so just trying to stay in the moment and just not really think about the possibility of what could happen.”