Cooke steps up golf game

Lapping the field usually won’t apply to the game of golf.

But for all practical purposes, Alan Cooke nearly made that happen during a recent tournament at Edgewood Country Club in Sissonville.

On the heels of spending a year in South Carolina refining his skills at the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy, Cooke is playing some of his best golf as he prepares for next week’s 80th West Virginia Open. The 54-hole tournament begins on Wednesday and just happens to reside on Cooke’s home course at Parkersburg Country Club in Vienna.

“If you look at the 13th hole, you can see our house across the field, so this tournament is right in my backyard,” Cooke said. “I couldn’t ask for a better spot to play, but no matter what you still have to hit the shot.”

After missing out on an exemption despite advancing to the final round at last year’s West Virginia Open, Cooke eyeballed Edgewood Country Club as the location he wanted to qualify for this year’s event. Not only did he accomplish that feat, but he claimed medalist honors by a five-stroke margin over runner-up Will Evans of Charleston.

“Last year at the West Virginia Open, I fell apart at the end,” Cooke admitted. “This year at Edgewood, I had played an event there a few weeks before and played well. I like that course because of its big greens.”

At 18 years old, Cooke is ranked eighth for his age group in the International Junior Golf Tour rankings. Only two Americans rank ahead of him.

Since competing in IJGT events last September, Cooke has produced three runner-up finishes. Of the 15 events he has entered, Cooke has placed in the top 10 nine times.

In terms of rankings, his most successful encounter occurred at the 5th annual Hank Haney Invitational at Sean Pines Resort in Hilton Head Island, S.C. His second-place effort accounted for 2,000 points. Currently, he has compiled 5,037.50 points.

“By going to the academy, my short game has improved,” Cooke said. “Hitting balls every day definitely helps you with tempo. The good thing about it was the competition provided by kids from all over the world.

“There were 25 different countries represented. I met some cool kids. The kids from Thailand were my favorite. They were nice and friendly – just good people.”

During his stay, Cooke established a connection with the men’s golf program at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort and will be competing for the NAIA program in the fall.

“I like the fact the coach is enthusiastic and is a competitive guy,” Cooke said.

As for what awaits Cooke beginning next Wednesday, he just wants to be competitive. He doesn’t consider himself in the running to break a record owned by one of his own family members. In 1981, his father Matt Cooke was the youngest to win a West Virginia Open at the age of 20.

“It’s a longshot,” Alan Cooke said. “All these guys are trying to win and not get second.”

Contact Kerry Patrick at kpatrick@newsandsentinel.com