Ever since he was 8 years old, John Cook's memories of late May have always been of the smell of oil, grease and smoke in the pits at the Indy 500, where he and his lifelong friend and hero, Mario Andretti, have roamed.
However, after shooting 65 yesterday to tie Jack Newton for the first-round lead in the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club, Cook may have to grow accustomed a new set of impressions in his May memory bank: drizzle, thunder, lightning and the sound of birdie putts plunking into the cup.
Until this wet, windless afternoon, Cook assumed he would remember this week for Andretti's victory-by-default at Indianapolis. After all, Cook's father is Andretti's contract manager and the 23-year-old Cooke has buzzed around Andretti's elbow at 10 of the last 15 Indys, including his victory in '69.
Actually, something much more exciting could happen to the Cook clan this week; an Indy win may be good for all those commercial deals dad likes to line up, but it wouldn't compare with the further blossoming of a son who is one of the PGA tour's most promising young stars.
Minutes after Cook had walked off this 7,054-yard track yesterday with a one-shot margin over Howard Twitty (66) and a two-stroke lead over Craig Stadler, Dan Edwards and Vance Heafner (at 67), his father telephoned to ask innocently, "Who's leading the Kemper?"
Since his son has played poorly for three months since winning the Crosby in early February, the senior Cook hardly expected to hear the words, "Your son."
"Dad went bonkers," said Cook, who made six birdies and only one bogey on a day that was as ideal for scoring as it was miserable for the sparse 7,000 spectators who lined the Congressional fairways one deep.
The common thread among those at the top of the leader board in this round, which was delayed 29 minutes by lightning and soaked for eight hours by steady rain, was that none arrived here with high expectations. In fact, Cook and Newton, who came within one shot of the course record (Tommy Jacobs' 64 Open) and Twitty, who chipped in for birdie on the 18th hole, arrived in states of deep golf depression.
This was a day when few pros left River Road with a frown. Par of 70 was smashed by 18 players, including Mark O'Meara, Mike Reid, D.A. Weibring, Tom Weiskopf and Tom Purtzer, at 68. Another 51 players shot 72 or better, including almost every well-known name in the field: Lon Hinkle, Ray Floyd and Tom Kite at 70; John Mahaffey, Hale Irwin and Tom Watson -- who got some help saving par at the 14th hole when his errant drive bounced off a spectator -- at 71, and George Burns and Larry Nelson well within striking distance at 72.
This second Kemper at Congressional may have been afflicted so far by bumpy greens, a paucity of super-stars and opening-day rain, but it now can present the heartening news that many of its genuine drawing cards will probably be in contention on the final two days.
This was a day for men with sickly golf games to get well. Scores were so low that the second-round cut score could be 144 or 145, compared with 148 at last year's Kemper, 149 at the '76 PGA and 150 at the '64 Open. With soaked greens holding long-iron shots like arrows and fresh moisture improving the roll of putts on the greens, many a pro discovered a miracle cure.
Three of the PGA tour's most pernicious diseases are gold fatigue, gold elbow and golf brain. No certain cure is known for any of them. And Cook, Newton and Twitty -- the men who shot lights out this day -- had 'em bad.
Golf fatigue is, in Cook's words, "when you wake up tired, go to bed feeling even more awful.
"Ever since I turned pro (in the fall of 1979 after being a three-time all-America and U.S. Amateur champ in '78), I've tried to find my proper pace. You hear so much about guys like Watson hitting a thousand buckets of balls a week in practice that you get the guilts and think you should, too. I'm dedicated, but I'm more a person who loves to play rather than loves to practice."
Golf elbow is when you hit too many golf balls too often and too hard. Newton, the long-hitting Australian, has had that malady for a year.
"I've a upright swing and I chop down hard . . . been known to take some famous divots," explained Newton. "I've hacked out plenty that were sirloin steak size," he added, holding his hands up 1 1/2 feet apart. "Last year at the U.S. Open at Baltusrol, I took a swing in the rough and my elbow went.
"The more I played, the worse it got. I flinched when I swung.By Christmas, it was so bad that I couldn't lift a cup of coffee with my right hand. I had serious worries about my future acupuncture. That didn't work either."
Finally, Newton stopped consulting physicians and accidentally mentioned his problem to a friend who is a veterinarian. "He gave me some horse ointment that is similar to DMSO," said Newton. "I rub it in three times a day, and take some 'elbow pills' that (pro) Bob Eastwood recommended to me. The big test has come in the last three weeks since I've both played and practiced heavily. So far, the elbow's held up. Still, I've not played that well, been in a bad frame of mind and just generally grown more and more disconsolate. Until today."
If you think that fatigue and pain are distressing, think how bad it is when you have something wrong that has no name, no known cause and not so much as a hint of a cure. That's what has afflicted Twitty.
"I've been going crazy for three months. I think I'm playing well, but, week after week, nothing happens," says Twitty, who was 15th and 14th in money the previous two years, winning $345,809, but has dropped to 98th place ($14,966) this season.
"It's the mystery of scoring. Every iron falls 15 feet short or long, but never right next to the hole. Hit one bad shot and it buries in a bunker instead of getting a lucky bounce. It can get you down. Jerry Heard finally said to me, 'No matter what they do to you out here, there's only one thing they can't take away from you -- your grit.'"
So Twitty gave grit a try. His long chip-and-run from the right back of the green into the heart of the 18th hole was proof that it works.