Tyler Cooke, the 2017 Rhode Island Stroke Play champion
PAWTUCKET, RI (July 26, 2017) - Add the name of Tyler Cooke to the list of individual champions in Rhode Island Golf Association majors.
The 25-year-old UConn grad, who until this past year has spent as much time playing hockey as golf, earned his first individual crown Wednesday at Pawtucket Country Club and did it in style. He birdied the last hole to shoot a final round 67 and edge Junior Champion Patrick Welch by one stroke. Cooke finished with a sparkling 7-under-par 200 total over 54 holes on the par-69 course.
The two were tied going to the final hole with Cooke playing one group ahead of Welch. Cooke, Welch and Brad Valois, who has won this event twice, had gone at each other all afternoon after pulling away from the field in the morning. Cooke had a bogey-free 65 for a 133 total, Welch had a 66 to match him at 5-under and Valois, the first-round leader, a 69 to stand at 135.
Cooke never lost at least a share of the lead throughout the final round, but could not pull away as Welch and Valois played well, too. By the time Cooke got to 18, he and Welch were tied and Valois two behind.
Cooke, who is one of the longest hitters in the state, bombed his drive on the downhill 379-yard hole down the left side of the fairway, about 60 yards from the green. He pitched to about 12 feet. With a good sized crowd watching in the beautiful amphitheater that is Pawtucket’s closing hole, Cooke rolled the putt in dead center. He let out a deep sigh and accepted hugs from his playing partners.
But he could not celebrate. Welch was behind him and Cooke had a vivid memory about not celebrating too early. In the State Amateur two weeks ago, he led qualifying when he completed play. It was late in the day, no one was within two strokes of him, so he was congratulated for being the medalist. But Joe Tucker birdied each of his last four holes and took the medal away from him.
It did not happen a second time. Welch pushed his drive into the trees on the right side. He was blocked.
"I had to hit a cut. I just didn’t cut it enough," Welch said.
He got it on the green, but about 35 feet from the hole. His putt slid inches left of the hole, giving Cooke the title.
"It feels amazing," Cooke said as he accepted congratulations all around, including from his father, Scott, who served as an RIGA official for years, as did Scott’s father, Bill.
"This feels so good," a clearly emotional Cooke said.
Cooke has won the RIGA Four-Ball twice partnering with his brother-in-law, Bobby Leopold. He has played in his brother-in-law’s shadow for the last several years, even as he played both hockey and golf at UConn.
"I had a good and a bad week last week. I played well at the US Am qualifier. But I didn’t finish well. I got burned out," he related. "But I still felt my game was pretty good. I played well over the weekend in the Wannamoisett Club Championship and I felt that if I did the things I’ve been working on with my dad I could play well." Among other things, he worked on his ball striking.
"I don’t think I made a bogey on a par-3 there all week here, which is big for me," he said. On the other hand, he birdied the eighth hole, the course’s only par-5, in every round.
Coupled with Billy Forcier’s win in the Amateur, the RIGA now appears to have a major fight at the top for player of the year honors, with more players involved (Jamie Lukowicz who finished fourth in the Stroke Play and Kevin Silva also are in the hunt along with Valois) than at any point in recent years.
The Senior Division also had a terrific finish, with Dave McNally making bird on the first playoff hole to edge George Pirie by one after they finished at 9-over 216. Pirie had played from the blue tees, McNally from the whites where most of the seniors played. They both played from the white in the playoff.
Also in the Senior Division, Paul Quigley shot a second-round 71. It marked the fifth year in a row the 72-year-old has shot his age in this event, a tournament he won nine times between 1988 and 2000.
View results for Rhode Island Stroke Play