Jones Cup: Still a great day for Cochrane

COSTA MESA — Geoff Cochrane knew that Tuesday would be a great day before he even set foot on the golf course at Mesa Verde Country Club.

Cochrane and his Santa Ana Country Club teammates didn't shoot well, finishing in last place at the Jones Cup with a team total of one-over par. Santa Ana is still the only team to never win the 11th annual event.

Yet the day meant so much more for the club pro. His father, Hank, was his caddie, and just months earlier that might have seemed impossible.

Hank Cochrane went in for a routine surgery last September and the doctors found some blockages. He ended up having quadruple bypass surgery and also had an aortic root replacement. Hank was in the hospital for three-and-a-half months; the surgeon later told the family that he lived despite just a 1% chance of survival.

Tuesday, then, was a special time for father and son.

"Today was the first time he's been back on a golf course," Geoff Cochrane said. "For me, the day was a success, having him here. Period. I thought that to myself this morning for sure. That's about all I needed."

What Santa Ana Country Club needed was birdies, and there just weren't enough to be found. Cochrane made both of the team's two birdies. The first came on hole No. 1, after narrowly missing an eagle putt.

The next didn't come until hours later, when Cochrane sunk a five-foot putt on No. 15. By then, Santa Ana was pretty much out of it, as the players were unable to find any kind of consistency in their putting.

"I think we had six or seven lip-outs along the way," Cochrane said. "These kind of competitions come down to the putter. With five players, you're going to get some chances. But if you don't take advantage of them, things start going south pretty quick.

"We were playing it more like a U.S. Open, where you just par along and that's OK. But you can't do that in these things."

The team also consisted of assistant pro Nick Kumpis, men's champion Boyd Martin, women's champion Debbie Britton and senior champion Bob Veeh.

As Santa Ana played without mainstay Mike Reehl (bulging disc in neck), Kumpis, Britton and Veeh made their Jones Cup debuts. The lefty Kumpis also played fairly well, making a couple long par putts, but there were no more birdies to be found.

Nerves were a bit of a factor for the first-timers, they admitted afterward. Veeh had never even played the course at Mesa Verde before, and Britton said the long course also made it tough for her to compete.

"I was a nervous wreck," Britton said. "I played in the Newport Beach Pro-Am once and I won it with the pro, and I wasn't nervous then like I was today. Today, I was a wreck, I think because I was representing the club. It was tough."

The team was one-under until hole No. 5, when it lost a stroke in the two best-ball format since only Cochrane could make par. Santa Ana was then even-par until No. 9, when again only Cochrane could par the par-four hole.

Santa Ana was then one-over until Cochrane's birdie on No. 15. By then, the team's gallery had thinned, but at least someone was relieved.

"I finally get to erase that green," the scorekeeper said, erasing the green "+1" and replacing it with a black "E."

By then, it was clear Santa Ana was running on "E" as well. A second straight last-place finish was in the cards, not a first-ever Jones Cup victory. It annoyed Cochrane, who has played in every tournament since it switched from a two-man event in 2004.

"For the last three or four years, it's definitely been in my mind that we've never won," he said. "We'd obviously like to win one. We were in that playoff at Newport [Beach Country Club] two years ago, and I think that's the closest we've been. We'd definitely like to win it. There's certainly some pride for the club [that wins]."

Cochrane still had plenty of pride that he was out there with dad.

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