Hailee Cooper overcomes triple bogey to stay in position at Girls Junior PGA

Montana Pritchard/PGA of America

Hailee Cooper overcomes triple bogey to stay in position at Girls Junior PGA

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Hailee Cooper overcomes triple bogey to stay in position at Girls Junior PGA

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ST. ALBANS, Mo. – It could have fallen apart on Hailee Cooper’s back nine.

The 17-year-old had been cruising along at the Girls Junior PGA Championship, posting 10 birdies in a flawless first 27 holes at the Country Club of St. Albans. She was 10 under and two in front.

Then she came to the par-4 first (her 10th of the day). Cooper skulled her greenside bunker shot into another bunker, got the next one on the putting surface and proceeded to three-putt.

Triple bogey.

“I was really upset,” Cooper said.

It would get worse before it got better. Cooper proceeded to miss a 5-footer for birdie at the next and a 7-footer for another at the third.

The frustration was mounting and after her first short miss, Cooper immediately thought, Wow, that was stupid.

But patience prevailed. On a hot day outside St. Louis – temperatures were into the high 90s and the area is under an excessive heat warning until Saturday – Cooper remained cool.

Cooper made a birdie at the par-3 fourth, and she knew all would be fine.

“I was like, ‘You’re even (on the day). It’s not a big deal, you’re back where you started.’ ”

She would tack on two more, birdieing Nos. 6 and 7 to close out a 2-under 70. Her two-shot overnight lead remained just that through the morning wave in Round 2, as Cooper’s three late birdies got her back to 10 under – with Sophie Guo (8-under 136) her closest challenger.

It can be simple to be out in front when everything’s firing, much less so when things start falling apart. But Cooper’s impulse is to be patient.

Cooper, of Montgomery, Texas, committed to the University of Texas on December 22, 2016 – a day after her 17th birthday. She had gained the attention of big schools for years, but she waited.

She waited as all of her friends made commitments. They even joked about it. In a 2015 qualifier for the LPGA’s Volunteers of America Texas Shootout, Cooper and a group of friends decided to take a group photo with each player showing the respective sign of the school she committed to.

But Cooper still hadn’t made a decision. So she shrugged in the photo instead.

The commitment was still more than a year away. She would eventually choose the Longhorns over Texas A&M and Houston.

It was carefully-crafted decision, and came as Cooper honed in on being the top-ranked junior in the Class of 2018. Seems like prudence was the right call.

But as she notes with some humor, it was not a welcome choice for everyone.

Ariana Saenz, Cooper’s best friend, had signed with Texas A&M a month earlier and was not totally thrilled with the news.

“She told me, ‘Hailee, I cannot believe you committed to UT. I have to hate you now for four years,’ ” Cooper said, with a laugh.

Montgomery is also firmly in Aggies country. The town sits roughly an hour from the Texas A&M campus, and a good two-and-a-half hours from the University of Texas grounds.

One neighbor point blank told Cooper she was an idiot if she didn’t go to A&M. When Cooper informed him that she had already committed to the Longhorns, he remained firm: You’re an idiot.

“That one really hurt my feelings,” Cooper said, with a laugh.

She’ll be part of a Longhorns squad with longtime friend Kaitlyn Papp, who she teamed with last year to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. But those times in college are still a little more than a year away.

Cooper has dropped to No. 8 in the Class of 2018 but could start a climb back to No. 1 if she can keep her nerve over the final 36 holes to win outside St. Louis.

She’s not keen to pile the pressure on even as she stays in the lead. After all, she still shot 70 on Friday despite leaving several shots on the course.

“You can’t be perfect every time,” Cooper said.

If that attitude doesn’t change, Cooper may be in for some more big hardware.

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