BANDON, Ore. (Oct. 2, 2007)-- There was a reunion for two members of the 1991 Dallas Highland Park High School golf team on Tuesday at the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, but there wasn’t much time for talking about the girls they used to date.
Instead, Trip Kuehne of Irving and Michael Cooper of Austin talked a bit about their families and more about their golf games during a second round match-up.
“We had an opportunity to catch up,” said Cooper, who used to live a couple miles from the Kuehne family in the 90's. “We talked about family mostly. He has a little one and I’ve got one on the way.”
It turned out that nothing in golf had changed with time. Kuehne, 35, who was a freshman when Cooper, 38, was a senior, still had the upper hand. He pulled away with two birdies and two pars on the closing four holes for a 2-up win over Cooper.
“He’s been beating me for a long time,” said Cooper, who now runs a title insurance company. “I had a better chance of beating him today than I did in high school.”
Even if Cooper was third best on his high school team that year, he was good enough to become a college All-American at the University of Texas. Another teammate, Harrison Frasier joined Cooper at Texas and gained All-America status before joining the PGA Tour.
Kuehne headed west to Oklahoma State, where he was an All-American. After graduation, he was the runner-up at the 1994 U.S. Amateur and played on the 1995 USA Walker Cup team. He was a Walker-Cupper again in 2003 and 2007.
He’s accomplished a lot, but he’s still chasing that elusive USGA title that would give the Kuehne family a USGA hat-trick. He was on the bag when his younger brother, Hank, won the Amateur crown in 1998. He celebrated with his younger sister, Kelli, when she won back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateurs.
Tuesday, Kuehne marched on, chasing that dream while holding the mantle of being possibly the best career amateur never to have won a USGA title.
“The key for me was making a 10-foot par putt on 12,” said Kuehne in a business-like manner fitting of someone who handles large investments for big clients. “If I don’t make that, he gets up on me.”
So they went to the 13th all square. They both birdied that par 5 before Kuehne took the lead for good when he rolled in a 15-foot birdie on the 14th, a short par 4. Cooper had been driving the ball solidly all day, but he drove it into a fairway bunker on the 14th and found heavy rough off the tee on the 16th. Those poor drives proved the difference.
Kuehne moved on. Cooper headed home.
Still, Cooper couldn’t be too disappointed. A couple of years ago, he thought he may never play golf again. He had kidney cancer, and in 2005 doctors removed one of his kidneys. He still gets regular tests, but there is no sign the cancer has returned.
“It puts golf in perspective,” said Cooper after the loss. ““I’m a better player now than I was in college. I have a lot of respect for Trip. I know how good he is.”
It was just like old times.
--Story by Craig Smith, USGA