Down the Fairway: Cooper playing well entering Schenectady Senior Classic

Bob Cooper is one of the top contenders in the annual Schenectady Senior Classic at Schenectady Municipal.
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Bob Cooper is one of the top contenders in the annual Schenectady Senior Classic at Schenectady Municipal.

For almost five decades, Bob Cooper has produced memorable moments on the golf course, thanks to his remarkable length off the tee and an extremely reliable short game.

Still one of the longer hitters among the senior set, the 66-year-old Cooper has finally retired after a long sales career, and he splits his residency these days between Rexford during the warm golf weather months in New York and Florida during the winters as a member of the Plantation Country Club in Venice.

He plays often, and he plays well, no matter where he keeps his clubs. It’s a good bet he’ll once again earn a spot high on the leaderboard of another strong field at the annual Schenectady Senior Classic Thursday and Friday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.

When I was a young golf columnist for The Daily Gazette back in the late 1980s, Cooper was one of the longest hitters I had ever seen. At 6-foot-1 and roughly 220 pounds, he still crushes it off the tee with an effortless swing that seems to defy his age.

“I was always a good athlete,” Cooper explained. “I guess my swing is efficient, so I get the most out of it. Whether it’s the take-away or the turn through the ball, I’m not sure, but I’ve always been in pretty good shape. I played basketball until I was 55 and my hips fell apart, forcing me to get them replaced. I guess my length came from my athleticism and my efficiency.”

Cooper originally learned the game from his grandfather but former tour pro Gene McMasters taught him the finer points, especially the mental game.

“He was the guy who molded me,” Cooper said. “He took my raw talent and taught me strategy and the way to approach the golf course backwards, from the green on back. Gene played on tour for 5-6 years. He was the pro at the Willows, but I first met him at Lake Success on Long Island.”

Cooper was born in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, but his family moved to the Rochester area, and he went to high school at Penfield. He later transferred to Shenendehowa High School, where he played varsity golf. Cooper also played both golf and basketball collegiately at Utica College of Syracuse.

He tried the pro game after college, becoming an assistant pro at the Willows — now Mohawk River Country Club & Chateau. He was also an assistant pro at Lake Success CC. Overall, he was a club pro for about four years, including a stint giving lessons during the winters in Florida.

“Back then, I played in the NYS Open against guys from the Met section like Jimmy Wright, Bobby Benson and Jim Albus,” Cooper recalled. “I could see the difference between their game and mine. I also had some friends at courses like the Willows, The Edison Club and Mohawk Golf Club, and I figured maybe it would be better to work for a living and play golf for fun.”

That’s when Cooper began his long sales career, first as an industrial sales engineer and later in a variety of sales jobs.

“I had a pretty good sales career. Life was pretty good for us,” Cooper said of his family, including wife, Laurie, and his two sons, Matt and Tom. “I turned my attention toward helping my son, Tom, become a good player and eventually [a club pro at Pine Valley Golf Club].”

The elder Cooper has continued to win numerous events over his long career. He’s a two-time Schenectady Classic champion and won a pair of Tri-County Golf Association open divisions crowns to go along with six Tri-County Senior Match Play titles, including the last three in a row.

“Danny Russo and I had some very memorable Tri-County tournament matchups against each other back in the day. It was a lot of fun being paired with him during this year’s Schenectady Classic so we could catch up on old times,” Cooper said.

Cooper was runner-up one year in the NYS Mid-Amateur, and he won many tournaments in Western Massachusetts, including the Little Brown Jug four times.

“Being from Massachusetts originally, I’ve played half of my tournament golf in Massachusetts over the years,” he said. “I’ve won many tournaments at Berkshire Hills and at Wyantenuck CC. I’ve definitely won more tournaments in Massachusetts than I have over here.”

Last year, he tied for eighth in the Florida Super Seniors Championship, and he’s also competed in the USGA Mid-Amateur.

Other noteworthy accomplishments include 8 holes-in-one and 2 double eagles or albatrosses.

“My tee shots are obviously an advantage,” said Cooper, who nearly qualified for the National Long Drive contest when he was 19 years old. “But just as important is the fact that I have a really good short game. People say I can get up and down from a garbage can.”

Cooper’s putting stance reminds most old-timers of the late Arnold Palmer, and there’s a good reason.

“I always turned my right toe in, because back when I first started to play golf, the greens were a lot slower, and it took a longer backswing and a wider arc. I was using a blade putter back then,” Cooper explained. “Turning my toe in helped clear my hip. It was a comfort issue as opposed to copying Arnie, but our styles were very similar.” 

Although he said all of those years playing basketball took a toll on his knees, most likely leading to a knee replacement surgery soon, his longevity in competitive golf can be traced back to his fitness.

“Having my hips replaced means I set off every metal detector at the airport, but otherwise, I’m in pretty good shape,” he said. “My back feels great, and I’ve kept the weight off.  I think my flexibility is the key. I’m very lucky. I can still grab my toes when I bend down, and sometimes, I can even touch the floor with my palms. Flexibility is so important in golf.”

The Schenectady Senior Classic once again has a strong field with former champions like Jim Mueller, Paul Pratico and Tom Salmon as early entrants along with other regulars like Dave Sutphen, Mario Marino, Ron Anzalone, Paul Toth, Mark Compton, Carl Gilbert, Dan Conway, Woody Winslow, Neil Chambers and Andy Bennett.

JUNIOR ROUNDUP

Matthew McClenon of Niskayuna shot a two-day total of 9-over-par 151 to tie Brayden Dock of Queensbury in a tie for 16th place to pace the Capital Region contingent at the 80th annual NYS Boys’ & Girls Junior Amateur Championship’s 15-18 age division this week at Soaring Eagles Golf Course at Mark Twin State Park in Horseheads.

Jayden Pabon of Ballston Spa and Jimmy King of Niskayuna tied for 35th at 14-over-par and Dean Kellen of Saratoga Springs was tied for 39th at 15-over-par.

In the 65th annual boys’ 14-and-under division, Jeff Famarola of Ballston Spa was tied for eighth at 13-over-par and Timmy Esmay of Albany was tied for 13th at 20-over-par.

In the 59th annual girls’ division, Jillian Rawson of Slingerlands was tied for eighth at 9-over-par, Hayden Knapp of Gansevoort was 10th at 11-over-par and Samantha Von Rohr of Loudonville was 12th at 14-over-par.

CHIP SHOTS

Scotia native and two-time LPGA champion Laura Diaz finished third in last week’s Senior LPGA Championship at Salina Country Club. Diaz finished behind Karrie Webb (14-under-par) and Annika Sorenstam (10-under-par) with a three-day total of 7-under-par. That’s quite a terrific trio.

Terry Manziano of Saratoga Spa Golf Course shot 7-over-par for 36 holes to win the NENY PGA’s Senior Professional Championship Friday at Town of Colonie Golf Course. Marc Levesque of Wyantenuck CC and Ian Breen of Saranac Inn G&CC tied for second at 9-over-par, while Jeremy Kerr of Mohawk GC and Erik Tiele of Waubeeka Golf Links tied for fourth at 11-over-par. The top two qualifiers earned a berth in the National Senior PGA Professional Championship in New Mexico Oct. 13-16, while the next three are alternates.

Susan Kahler, fresh off her NEWGA Championship victory, and Heidi Harkins, both from Ballston Spa CC, shot a 72 to win the overall gross title in the annual NEWGA Gail Sykes Better Ball of Two Championship Wednesday at Wolferts Roost CC. Nancy Kroll of Schenectady Municipal and Mary Jo Kelly of the host club posted a 64 to win low net honors.

The fifth annual Schoharie County Amateur Open Championship will be held Aug. 27 at Cobleskill G&CC with tee times beginning at 9 a.m. All amateur golfers are eligible to compete, regardless of residency. Competition will be divided into the championship division, men’s division, super senior division and women’s division. Cost will be $60 for non-members and $15 plus cart for members. Contact the pro shop at 518-234-4045 to register or for more information.

Schenectady Municipal Golf Course will host a golf fundraiser to celebrate the life of the late Wendy O’Connor, a former Niskayuna physical education teacher and president of the Parents and Teachers Organization at the Craig School, on Aug. 12.  Entry fee is $125 per person and includes golf, cart, lunch at the turn and a buffet. The format will be a scramble with a 9 a.m. shotgun start. For more information, contact Jacquie (518-573-5480).

Pinehaven CC will hold its Folds of Honor HERO100 Golf Marathon Aug. 8. The event will raise funds which will provide scholarships for children or dependents of veterans who gave their lives or became disabled as a result of their service. Since 2007, Folds of Honor has awarded nearly 35,000 educational scholarships. Last year, Pinehaven CC raised $15,000. Head pro Brian Pierotti and assistant pros Tom Mattice and Andrew Kemp will be competing in the marathon with several Pinehaven CC members. Donations can be made either per hole or in one flat pledge. To pledge, Pinehaven CC members can scan their donation at several code areas around the course or anyone interested in helping this worthy cause can go to this link: http://www.foh.org/Pinehaven.

The first Charity Skins Game for the benefit of the Schenectady Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs is set for Aug. 16 at Mohawk Golf Club. Former No. 1 player in the world David Duval, Blaine McCallister, Fred Funk and Senior Open champion Darren Clarke are competing. Tickets are $40. For more information, go to the Schenectady Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs website — bgcschenectady.org.

The Debbie Fawcett Memorial, to benefit the Empire Youth Open and local scholarships for youth bowlers, will be held Saturday at 9 a.m. at Cobleskill G&CC. It will be a four-man scramble.  Entry fee is $125 a person and includes lunch at the turn and a dinner buffet after golf. For reservations, contact Chris Fawcett at 518-852-9372.

Schenectady Municipal Golf Course will host the 14th annual Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame Golf Tournament Sept 18. The format will be a modified four-person scramble. Entry fee is $420 per foursome and includes golf, cart, buffet and prizes. This event is named after SCSD Hall of Fame member Pete Famiano. Call Bob Pezzano at 518-346-9297 for more information.

HOLES-IN-ONE

Jimmie Simmons aced the sixth hole at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.

EAGLES

In the Gold Key Realty League at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course , 80-year-old Peter Maioriello eagled both the 10th and 12th holes. John Bucci eagled the second hole, and Frank Parisi eagled the 12th hole.

Also at Schenectady Municipal GC in the Schenectady Post Office league, Kevin Hart eagled the ninth hole.

Bob Cantine eagled the 12th hole at Rolling Hills Country Club.

In the NY Telephone league at Van Patten Golf Club, Ron Coonradt eagled the seventh hole on the white nine, while Tim Dufore eagled the third hole on the blue nine.

Nicholas Billert eagled the par-5 fourth hole with two 3 hybrid shots and a putt at Mechanicville Golf Club.

At Hales Mills Country Club, John Klonowski holed out with a wedge for an eagle-2 on the par-4 fifth hole.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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