Cohen Trolio (USGA photo)
PINEHURST, N.C. – If Cohen Trolio holes a putt, the fairways at Pinehurst No. 2 are going to sing. There’s a large Mississippi-based crowd following the 17-year-old this week at the U.S. Amateur, and they have a trademark phrase when Trolio jars one: “Putting arc!”
Dad and caddie V.J. Trolio explains that’s the training aid he trademarked “a million years ago,” way back in 2002. Trolio is the teaching professional at Old Waverly Golf Club, site of last week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. It’s also where the Mississippi State teams practice.
When Cohen dropped his clinching par putt against Austin Squires at No. 17 on Friday, he looked first at his father V.J., noticeably turning his head mid fist-pump. Theirs is a calm and close on-course vibe, which can be hard ground to find in a father-son golf relationship.
“Golf is kind of like our hunting,” said V.J., who also has a younger son Collins.
V.J. may be toting the clubs at Pinehurst, but Cohen is running the show. It’s a quick show, too. Squires, who recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati, is another quick player and the two put holes between themselves and the next group very quickly during the quarterfinal match.
The week is built around “Big C’s” expectations, the caddie says dutifully. What does that mean?
“I wanted to win the golf tournament,” Cohen said. “I didn't think any less of that. I knew that if I stuck to my plan, then I'm good enough to beat just about anybody here.”
Squires spent the day driving it past Trolio by as much as 50 or 60 yards. Still, Trolio played his own game. If there was an advantage in all of that, it’s that Trolio generally got to hit his approach first. That can eliminate some nerves.
“You kind of start thinking, ‘Oh, I've got to hit it harder, oh, I've got to hit it harder,’” Trolio said. “It got kind of hard after I saw him bomb it about 50 past me I guess on No. 4, but I still knew that what I had was good enough. So I just stuck to it.
Trolio’s game is the product of a lot of things, not the least of which is the caliber of players he grew up around. Central Mississippi is a hot bed of good golf. He has spent considerable time playing with Jim Gallagher Jr., a five-time PGA Tour winner, but also played frequently with former World No. 1 amateur Braden Thornberry. Mississippi-based professionals Jonathan Randolph, Chad Ramey and Matt Fast have also been sparring partners.
When asked to name the best player he’s ever beaten, the edges of Trolio’s lips curl up.
“I don't even want to throw his name out there,” Trolio said in his slow southern drawl. “I've gotten a little bit of Jim Gallagher. I've gotten a little bit of him. Now, he still can put on a fight, but I got him once or twice.”
The families are so close that the Gallagher’s youngest daughter Kathleen, who graduated recently from LSU and played on the golf team, often goes by Kathleen Trolio.
Gallagher’s wife Cissye, herself an 11-time Mississippi Women’s Amateur champion and former LPGA player, was part of a Southern mob that tossed Trolio around in one embrace after another when he secured his place in the semifinals. Earlier in the week, when Trolio looked to make a deep run here, Cissye threw a suitcase together and started driving east. She and a few other friends drove until midnight on Thursday, stopped in Atlanta, woke up at 5 a.m. and started going again.
She wanted to get to Pinehurst mid-morning so she could “hug his neck” before the start of the quarterfinals. Her husband had to be in Orlando this week because of previous work obligations as an analyst at the Golf Channel, but he’s giving the live scoring page a workout.
“Cohen has laid it out there,” Cissye said. “He’s given up a lot of things like these kids do, just stayed in the process, just doing the things that his dad and the programs he created for him to do. Developed a great golf swing and he loves it.”
The U.S. Amateur is Trolio’s first real amateur start. It’s been mostly junior golf up until now. As such, Trolio doesn’t even appear in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. He was the only quarterfinalist without a number beside his name.
Then again, the high schooler just turned 17 last week. That he’s played so well here tells V.J. that the preparation he’s had at home is working.
“We put some Jesus in there, and then some golf,” V.J. Trolio says.
Cohen Trolio has been one cool customer through this run, but in his mind, why wouldn’t he be?
“I do this every day,” Cohen said. “I mean, I play golf every day.”
It’s a freeing way to look at things.