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Cooper Brings Championship Cachet to N.J.

By Lisa D. Mickey

| Jul 18, 2016 | Paramus, N.J.

Hailee Cooper (left) already has a USGA championship victory on her 2016 list of achievements, winning the U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

Though both include the requisite family times and starting times, there is one intangible that separates Hailee Cooper’s hectic 2016 summer golf schedule from her 2015 slate. She is touring the country this time around as a USGA champion.

“To be a USGA champion is a huge confidence booster for my summer,” said Cooper, 16, who teamed with fellow Texan Kaitlyn Papp, 17, to capture the second U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in May at Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green, Fla. “It’s just amazing to be listed up there with all the great names in golf and it makes me feel like one day, I can be as good as these people if I keep working hard at it.”

Cooper’s jam-packed summer golf schedule brings her this week to Paramus, N.J., and her third U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, at The Ridgewood Country Club.

It was less than two months ago that Cooper, of Montgomery, and Papp, of Austin, defeated 13-year-old Californians Angelina Kim, of Los Angeles, and Brianna Navarrosa, of San Diego, in 19 holes for their first USGA championship, but Cooper was making her presence felt in competition both well before and since that exciting extra-hole victory.

Cooper tore into the 2016 season in mid-March with a runner-up finish at the American Junior Golf Association’s Bishops Gate Golf Academy Junior at Horseshoe Bay in Horseshoe Bay, Texas.

Two weeks after that event, Cooper won the AJGA Kansas Junior at Buffalo Dunes in Garden City, Kan. From there, she and her family drove to Pine Bluff, Ark., for a U.S. Girls’ Junior sectional qualifier, where she finished as co-medalist with Josie Roberson at even-par 72 at Pine Bluff Country Club.

The Coopers drove to Georgia in late June for a U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship qualifier, where Hailee carded a 1-under-par score of 71 at St. Ives Country Club in Johns Creek. That score put her in a six-way playoff for three spots. Cooper rolled in a birdie on her first playoff hole to earn a place in her second Women’s Amateur.

“It made our 15-hour drive back home to Texas a little happier,” said Cooper, who was reached by phone last week in the family car as she traveled from Texas to North Carolina, where she explored Duke University, before traveling on to New Jersey for this week’s championship.

Cooper’s summer has included five top-16 finishes in six AJGA events, pushing her to No. 17 in the AJGA’s Girls Rankings, and to No. 943 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking with a stroke average of 73.94.

But the rising junior at Montgomery High School feels that the heart of her summer competition starts this week at the Girls’ Junior, and she believes she is better prepared to face the competition than ever before.

Last year when I played this event, I was super nervous, but now I feel like I have a chance to win,” said Cooper, who reached the Round of 64 in 2015 and the Round of 32 in 2014. “I’m really excited for this championship and I want to get out there and play well.”

Cooper lost in 19 holes in 2014 to Brigette Dunne, who advanced into the quarterfinals at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz.

In her first U.S. Women’s Amateur last year in Portland, Ore., she made it through the first round of match play before losing, 1 down, to Sierra Brooks at Portland Country Club. Brooks, who birdied the final hole to complete a comeback from 1 down through 14 holes, went on to reach the championship match.

When Sierra ended up finishing second in the championship, it made me feel like, ‘Hey, I can do this,’ so I’m excited about this year and I want to improve from last year,” added Cooper.

Cooper admits that she feels like she’s “kind of late” in verbally committing to a college. She said she is considering the University of Texas-Austin, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston, which is close to her hometown.

“I’ve been looking at colleges since the eighth grade and everyone’s committing early now, so I want to commit pretty soon,” she said. “Some of my friends in the eighth grade have already [verbally] committed.”

When asked what she wants to study in college, Cooper said she doesn’t know yet. What she does know is that she wants to play golf after college.

“I want to make a wise decision before I pick a college and I want to have a backup plan after college,” she said.

But for now, Cooper plans to keep up her intense tournament schedule. Following the U.S. Girls’ Junior, she will travel to Greenwich, Conn., for the AJGA’s Ryder Cup-style Wyndham Cup, set for July 25-28, at The Stanwich Club.

The Women’s Amateur will follow the Wyndham Cup, and following the Women’s Am, which will be contested at Rolling Green Golf Club, in Springfield, Pa., from Aug. 1-7, Cooper and her family will roll on to Rhode Island for the 2016 Junior PGA Championship at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, Aug. 9-12.

“I have a bunch of tournaments in a row, but this year, I feel more confident about my game,” she said.

Cooper’s father, Ronnie, served as her caddie at the Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, but her brother Zach, 13, will take over looping duties this week at the Girls’ Junior. Her youngest brother, Zane, 10, caddied for her last year at the Girls’ Junior qualifier when he was 9, and will be on her support team this week with her dad and mom, Tonya.

“Championship week is so much fun because there are dinners and receptions before the competition and lots of my friends are going,” added Cooper. “It’s a family bonding thing whenever we go to tournaments.”

The entire family doesn’t always make the trip, but when they do, they make the most of their time together.

“Sometimes I feel bad for the boys because they usually get stuck watching me play golf, but they’ll go find a water park or an amusement park and have fun,” said Cooper, who plans to spend time with family members who live nearby this week. “We’ll get to hang out with our cousins, so we will do some stuff we don’t usually do.”

And her cousins will also get to see a player who hopes to make a Texas-sized mark on a championship this week in the Garden State as Cooper’s tournament train keeps rolling on.

“I feel like I have the potential to play well in the championship this year,” said Cooper. “The goal is to get into match play and if you get into match play, anything can happen.”

Lisa Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

68th U.S. Girls' Junior