One Day in Utopia with David L. Cook
I'm not a fan of golf, but I do love a good story, especially when it's real. So when I had the chance to sit down in Utopia, TX, with Dr. David L. Cook, author and sports psychologist, and hear his story, I listened with fascination.
Dr. Cook wrote a book called Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, which has been made into SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA, a major motion picture starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black. The film opens nationwide on September 2.
I Called You to Write
This Is the Place
Finding the Sweet Spot
From Friend to Friend
I Want to Make a Movie
It's All Grace
When I was about 14 years old, I met two men who influenced my life greatly. One guy was a golf professional named Johnny. He'd play a lot of golf with us young boys. He was on his way to a 61, and all day long after he'd hit a shot, he'd say "Picasso" and put his club in his bag. He hit a lot of shots so Picasso was a word we heard all day long.
Finally after he hit a shot on the 17th hole that came within 16 inches of the hole, I asked him, "Johnny, what do you mean when you say that word 'Picasso?'" I didn't know what it meant, but if it was something you were supposed to do in golf, I wanted to do it.
He said, "Cook, you don't understand. Every time you have a shot, you have a blank canvas in front of you. Every time before I take that shot, I look at that blank canvas and I begin to paint a picture. I put all the elements on there, put all the shades on it, and when I take the shot, Sonny, I just basically sign the painting 'Picasso.'" He said, "If you don't do that, then basically you're going to be a stick-figure golfer all your life."
So he began to teach me early in life that golf, life, whatever, there's so much art to it, so much preparation of your mind, which eventually took me into the study of sports psychology, the study of how to perform your best with whatever gifts and talents you have.
That same year [in the 70s, when they still allowed evangelists to do programs at schools], an evangelist named James Robison came to our school. He'd invite us down to the rodeo at night for the crusade. Then he specifically called the football team over to the corner and said, "I want to know which of you men are brave enough and have enough courage to come down and hear what I have to say tonight."
Now James is about 6'4" and he has those dark eyes he can pierce right through you and is a great motivator and evangelist, so we all raised our hands. Well about 10 of us actually went, and that night my life went from death to life in a moment. It was a flash, a lightning flash, when I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I took God at His word when He said in Jeremiah 33:3 when He says, "Call to me and I'll answer you." That night I called and He answered.
I use that verse with people a lot now, because it's one of the promises that God is a real God, He wants a relationship with us, and He interacts with us. That was the moment in my life when that interaction began. It was awesome and amazing. So my life went along in the pursuit to help people be the best people at what they do. Also my faith journey moved along at the same point.
About 5 or 6 years ago, right over here by this cemetery, those two men and themes in my life clashed head-on. It happened about 3 weeks after I lead a men's retreat at my ranch, which is right at the top of these mountains over here. I had 12 men come to the ranch. I'd been praying out in this oak pasture on 25 acres in the middle of my ranch, which is where we plant oak trees in the fall. It was plowed and there were little oaks coming up.
As I walked out of the gate, I looked over at the edge of this field, and there was this old seed bin that had been used out in that field. As I walked past it, I lifted up the lid and was just kind of studying it. I'd never really noticed it before, but I was interested in how it worked. I went over and lifted the seed lid up and looked in. It was about ¼ full of seed that had never been planted. It had meant to be planted 75 years ago.
I reached my hand in there and watched it drain through my fingers and it hit my in my heart that God had a word for these men. They came out, and as they passed that seed bin, I opened it up and told them, "There's some 75-year-old seed that never got planted." We went out to the middle of this field to a campfire. I asked these guys, I said, "You know, guys, I really believe that God gave me this message that there's seed that has been meant to be planted in your life through your life that will change eternity for many people. But somewhere along the way, it got stuck. Either through a bad experience or through a failure, through life pulling in another direction, through fear or whatever it is.
"Tonight I want us to walk over to the campfire in this pitch-dark, moonless night in Utopia, and I want us to kneel down and pray 'God, show me what this seed is in my life.' I want to do what Jesus said. He said, 'Unless this seed fall to the ground and dies it cannot produce fruit.' As a symbol to the Lord, as He speaks to you, I want you to reach down and dig a hole with your hand and put that seed down as a symbol that you're acknowledging the calling, the purpose that He put within you that you've hidden, that you'll allow it come out and change eternity as God works through you."
I Called You to Write
I could hear weeping around the field and it was awesome. It was amazing. But then I realized I had a piece of seed in my hand. I asked Him, "Lord, what is that?" it was clear as a bell. He said, "Dave, I called you to write." The first time I heard that I shut it down when I was a little kid.
In Texas, you become a football player, an athlete. Anything that has to do with the arts, with creativity and imagination is shut down and stumped. As I learned in my higher education classes, it's about nine years old, third grade, that's when creativity in our educational system shuts down and rote memory begins.
I felt like something transpired in me that was huge, but I didn't understand it in that moment. Three weeks later I was driving through downtown – where we shot a scene a couple of days ago – and some guy had ripped a piece of paper in half and put it on the bulletin board by the register of a café. It said, "Utopia Driving Range, next to the cemetery. Come to the cemetery and find your game."
This Is the Place
You can look right over there and see some of the tombstones. There wasn't a golf course within 60 miles of the place. I was curious, because I've never seen one here. I showed up and right next to this glorious cemetery was three pieces of Astroturf and a plowed cow pasture about 300 yeards long. There were markers for yardage, and paint was running on the signs.
There was a metal pole right next to the Astroturf with a slit down it and an index card taped to the post. It said, "Small bucket $3, large bucket $5, put your money in the slot." You looked down at the balls and they were horrible. There were no markings, no dimples. It was pathetic. There were weeds everywhere on the Astroturf, and it was a sad sight. It was the worst driving range in the history of the world. But there's that cemetery right there.
I looked at it, and it was as if the Lord said, "This is the place, write the book."
I began to see some profoundness in the simplicity of this. I didn't know it at that moment, but it came out in the book. Really, what we're pursuing in golf is not the gated community golf course, but finding the sweet spot when you hit it. It doesn't matter if it's the worst golf course in America, but when you find the sweet spot when you hit, that preaches. You understand? God has a sweet spot for us. I didn't know it at that moment.
Finding the Sweet Spot
I went back to our ranch house and sat on the front porch with a card table. I brought out an extension cord, plugged in the computer, put my hands on the computer, and the first line came out: "How can a game have such an effect on a man's soul?"
It could have been: How can a car have such an effect? A home, a car, an addiction, a job, but it was a game, and I knew in that moment that golf was the metaphor here. I closed my eyes and prayed. I didn't know what was going to happen when I opened my eyes, but my hands began to move and I began to just write. I couldn't stop, it was faster than I could think. It was a supernatural experience. This thing came out in waves of inspiration over the next few months. It was about a year's work.
It was written all out of order. The chapters weren't written in order, but then it all meshed together. I had no idea what was going to happen with this book, but I was working with a lot of guys on the PGA tour and I thought maybe the story would give them a different insight. If you ask if this is a golf story, really, the 7 days he spends with Johnny in this story – one day is fishing, one is art, one days' pitching washers, one day's flying an airplane. Really, he hardly ever gets to golf because Johnny is teaching him about golf, but really about life with all these other elements.
From Friend to Friend
No publisher wanted the book because they didn't have a category for it. It was a fiction book, a golf book, a men's ministry book, a sports book. There just wasn't a category in the stores for this book. So I put it out for free on the Internet. Then a friend of mine who'd been on the PGA tour read it and it just moved him deeply. He called me and said, "Dave, you don't know this about me, but I own a publishing company. I'm the president and CEO of this publishing company. I want to give this book to 10 of my friends." Stan Utley, this guy over here (one of the top golf coaches in the world) had sent this guy a manuscript – he printed all 156 pages of this thing off. He handed this thing out and it changed this guy's life.
He called me and said, "I'm not going to have my friends read a manuscript or print this off the internet. I have a publishing company so I'm going to print 1000 of these. I'm going to keep 10 and send the rest as seeds to your ministry. You need to get this into the hands of men and women." He sent 990 to me and gave 10 away.
As I prayed, I asked the Lord if He wanted me to keep it for free on the Internet. It is still there, and will continue to be. So why would anybody buy this book? Right next to there it said "singles." As I prayed, the Lord said, "Put packs of 10 there. Some other guy or lady is going to want to buy 10 of these and pass them out."
I did that and the first 8 orders were for packs of 10. It continued like that, and out of the first 120,000 of our books, about 85,000 went out in packs of 10. We found that we sort of broke the code. I believe we understand deeply now that when men find a book they like, they want to give it to someone else. They will pass books along, and you'll read a book that another guy gives you. This is sort of the model this thing has taken.
I Want to Make a Movie
A young director in Denver read the book and called me up and said, "I'd like to direct a movie of this book." My wife and I went to lunch with him and prayed and felt like he was the guy. So Matt Russell, who at that time was 27, worked with us for two years on a screenplay to bring this book into the world of film.
About March 23 I had a men's retreat in this room. We had men from all over the country, and they got out of their chairs at home and flew here to Utopia because something in that book moved them to take a trek. They came with these stories. At the same time Matt got out of his chair and invited some producers from Hollywood to come out here to help them understand. As he looked at the set, he wondered how much it would cost to make a movie in this location. One of the guys named Mark Mathis had just worked on a movie called PRECIOUS that won two Academy Awards.
Mark came out here – he's a friend of Matt's – they began to talk and walk, and I invited them to come in here and meet with these men who had come that night on March 23. Those producers sat over there with our director and our men sat over there and began to tell their stories. The first man said, "My son committed suicide 12 years ago. He was my golfing partner and best friend. I haven't picked up a stick since then. I read the book, and I came here because I want to start playing again, but for a different purpose, a different reason."
These producers were stunned. They began to understand that it was not just a movie about golf but it was an invasion of God in people's hearts that was changing lives. There were a lot of tears that night, and Mark Mathis left this room knowing that he was going to be the producer.
It's All Grace
Mark got a script doctor who had worked with PRECIOUS. Rob Levine worked it over really well so that it was really available to A list actors. He hired the casting director who cast CRAZY HEART last year, which won Academy Award for leading actor. She handed it to Robert Duvall, who loved the script. Robert Duvall joined us on June 23. On that day, we were going to just do a sleepy little movie, then Robert Duvall came along and we have the chance to do a blockbuster.
Lucas Black came along who has done his last two movies with Robert Duvall. We'd already been in conversations with Lucas before we even knew Robert was going to be available. The reason we were involved with Lucas is because he's the best golfer in Hollywood – period. He's almost good enough to play on the PGA tour. That's what he loves doing. His other passion in life is fishing. He's from Alabama and this is his story. He's a golfer, fisher, country kid that loves the idea of making a movie that will change people's lives.
Robert Duvall is at a point in his life where he is in love with the idea of changing lives for eternity. We didn't know any of this was going to happen. All of this is grace. It's all manna. It's all about God moving and orchestrating and intertwining lives to make a team that's going to pull something off. It's bigger than we could have even imagined. It's Ephesians 3:20: "Immeasurably beyond what you can think or imagine." That's what's happening here.