We sat down with one of the nation's top sports psychologists to talk about his upcoming movie, Seven Days in Utopia (in theaters Sept. 2, 2011), and his life in the Texas Hill Country.
As president of the Peak Performance firm and one of the country’s top sports psychologists, David L. Cook, PhD, has served as a mental training coach for several U.S. Olympians, the San Antonio Spurs (1996-2004) and Washington Wizards (2005) professional basketball teams, and more than 100 PGA players. On September 2, 2011, David’s novel, Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, will be released as a motion picture, Seven Days in Utopia, starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black.
Southern Living hosted the world premiere of the movie, August 8, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta.
How did you come up with the idea for Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia?
I had an idea for a story about a young golfer who gets help from a mental training coach, and it needed a setting. One day I heard about this old rancher who had built a driving range next to a cemetery near this small town called Utopia that’s in the middle of nowhere. I drove out to the range, and it was the simplest thing I’d ever seen in my life. You put your money in a slot in a metal pole and hit the balls into a cow pasture. I started hitting some balls, and it was almost a supernatural experience. I realized that sometimes the simplest things can really be profound, both in golf and in life. So I pulled out my laptop when I got home, and the story just flowed. I worked on it for two years. I put a little bit of all the guys I’ve ever worked with and all of my mentors in the story’s characters.
Were you involved in making the movie?
I served as the executive producer and was also one of the screenplay writers. We filmed it at the actual Utopia driving range and golf course and the tournament scenes at the Boot Ranch Golf Club in Fredericksburg. We tried to make things as authentic as possible, and I think it’s the most realistic golf movie ever made. That’s why we got Lucas Black to play the young golfer. Not only is he a great actor, but he’s also a great golfer. We tried to make everything they do look authentic–there are scenes of Lucas and Robert fly-fishing, flying an airplane, even painting a painting—and we worked very hard to get all of the details right.
Who taught you how to play golf?
A golf pro named Johnny Arreaga, who was later coach of the Baylor University golf team. He taught me to think about the mental game, not just the physics of a swing. He inspired me to think about playing the game in front of the ball. I owe a lot to Johnny, and I dedicated both the book and the movie to him.
You’ve served as the mental training coach for two NBA teams and more than 100 PGA golfers. Those sports are so different—are there any similarities?
I think basketball becomes similar to golf at the free throw line when everybody in the crowd is looking at you and you have to perform. Both basketball players and golfers have times when they go into slumps, and they have to get their confidence back. That’s why working with the Spurs was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been associated with—watching a team go from the worst to the best in the league in just a couple of years. We won two NBA Championships during my time with them, which took a lot of confidence on their part.
You could live anywhere in Texas. Why Utopia?
I’m from Waco and have lived in several different places around the state. But I just love the Hill Country. Utopia is a very quaint community where life slows down and people have time to think and reflect. It is beautiful and seems to bring out the author in me.
What’s your favorite Texas barbecue place?
I’d have to say Rudy’s. I know they’re all over Texas now, but when we lived in San Antonio, the original Rudy’s was just down the street from us. I haven’t found any better.
Are you working on another book?
I’ve written a few chapters of the sequel, but I had to stop and work on the movie for three years. I have a lot more ideas I want to communicate, so there will be another one. I’m just not sure when.
Seven Days in Utopia premieres in theaters September 2. Learn more about the film at www.sevendaysinutopia.com.