'Coop' has seen it all with Glover

Associated Press
Lucas Glover (left) and caddie Don Cooper celebrated Monday after the former Clemson golfer won the U.S. Open by two shots. Cooper, of Edgefield, S.C., has been with Glover for six seasons.
Correction, June 26, 2009: To clarify a statement in the story, Don Cooper said in 2005 that he would buy himself, not Lucas Glover, a Corvette after Glover's next win. (Highlight changes)

The first hug always goes to the caddie.

 

The familiar scene is repeated weekly at pro golf tournaments all over the world. At major championships, the image often becomes the symbol of the event.


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Carl Jackson's gentle hand across the shoulder of a stooped Ben Crenshaw at Augusta in 1995.

Mike Hicks leaping into Payne Stewart's arms at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999.

Phil Mickelson and Bones Mackay in a bear hug at the Masters Tournament in 2004.

Tiger Woods weeping on Stevie Williams' shoulder at Hoylake in 2006.

Monday's caddie/champion embrace was more a moment of relief than a moment of release. Most significantly, it probably marked the first time in the history of sports that a Clemson Tiger and a South Carolina Gamecock hugged in mutual celebration.

Don Cooper, of Edgefield, S.C., has been Lucas Glover's caddie for six seasons. Their Palmetto State bond has made them perfect partners through the ups and downs of a young golfer's career.

What were Glover's first words to his 44-year-old caddie during that embrace after his par putt dropped and the U.S. Open was his?

"You owe me a Corvette."

It's an old joke between them, dating back to when Cooper told Glover after his first PGA Tour victory at Disney in 2005 that the next time they win a tournament he was going to buy himself a Corvette. That was before General Motors went bankrupt, and the caddie is considering renegotiating.

"I'll leave that to him," Glover said. "I'm not going to hold him to it unless he just wants to. But it was the first thing that popped into my head after that putt went in. I saw Coop standing there and said. 'You owe me, pal.' "

In the aftermath of his boss' defining moment, "Coop" sipped on a beer behind the clubhouse at Bethpage State Park and talked to reporters while he waited for the trophy presentation to end. The flag from the 18th green was tucked into his boss' bag.

Players and caddies kept coming up and offering congratulations.

Former Augusta State golfer Oliver Wilson, fresh out of the shower after his final-round 74, broke into the huddle to throw his arms around the man he's shared a few pints with in some Augusta bars along with mutual friend Vaughn Taylor.

Coop seemed a little overwhelmed by it all, sharing Glover's disdain for the limelight. But it was a big moment for a man who learned about the game during the few years that he worked as a caddie at Augusta National. Cooper decided to make a career out of carrying better golfers bags.

He and Glover first met shortly after the Clemson golfer turned pro and hit the minor tours. They occasionally ended up in the same group together on the Nationwide Tour, each working with different partners. They hit it off so well that when each was making a switch six years ago, they became a natural team.

Cooper laughs at the impression people have of his boss based on his Southern baritone, low-slung cap and occasional chaw in his cheek.

"He's funny, serious, determined," Cooper said. "People have this vision of him as a redneck, and they couldn't be more wrong. He's smart. He can do a crossword puzzle before I brush my teeth."

Glover read four books during the long week of weather-prompted stops and starts on Long Island. Cooper didn't feel the need to keep up.

"I don't read much," he admitted.

A caddie's primary job is to do the heavy lifting, pull clubs and pinpoint yardages, but the relationship is key to keeping a player calm and focused on the shot-by-shot, hole-by-hole routine. Cooper's simple advice to Glover after he bogeyed the ninth hole and made the turn with a one-shot lead was to remind him of the positives.

"Good back nine; just like yesterday," he said, referring to the three birdies Glover made in the third round to recover from a "funk" that had dropped him seven shots off the leader.

When Glover faced the critical 4-foot birdie putt on 16 that put him ahead for good, Cooper confidently told him there was "no way we're missing this."

"It would have went in a thimble," he said.

Cooper says his man never let the doubts of past disappointments and missed opportunities affect him at Bethpage.

"This was so big that those thoughts didn't come into his mind," Cooper said.

Cooper knew Glover was going to have a big week. Despite his 0-3 record making the cut in the U.S. Open, Glover's debut experience at Bethpage in 2002 left him confident.

In an eerie coincidence, both his rounds that year he played with final-round pairing mate Ricky Barnes.

"When he left the place in 2002 on Friday he was kicking himself in the butt," said Cooper, who hooked up with Glover the next season. "Because he knew there's not a course that sets up better for him."

If you want to put a time stamp on the turning point of Glover's career, look no further than the four-month offseason. After a disappointing 2008, Glover and his caddie decided they each needed to get as far away from the game as possible and recharge.

"The three months leading up to that off time, neither one of us had much fun," said Cooper.

Will winning the U.S. Open change Glover?

"Absolutely not," Cooper said. "There's no change in him."

To illustrate that, after his post-victory New York media blitz -- donning blue jeans with Regis Philbin and David Letterman -- Glover and Cooper went straight to Hartford, Conn., to honor his commitment in this week's Travelers Championship while Glover's wife, Jennifer, flew home to Greenville, S.C., with the trophy.

"That's the kind of guy he is," Cooper said.

One thing, however, will be different. That feeling of gloom that weighed on them in 2008 will be gone.

"I just think that it will be fun for him from here on out," Cooper said. "He didn't know how good he was and this proves it. You'll see a lot of smiles from here on."

Probably a few more hugs as well.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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