A Quick Nine with Kay Cockerill
08 Aug 2022
by Staff

Kay Cockerill (Jed Jacobsohn / USGA Museum)
Kay Cockerill (Jed Jacobsohn / USGA Museum)

As an on-course reporter with Golf Channel and NBC, Kay Cockerill has walked hundreds of miles alongside the best players in the world in all kinds of conditions bringing viewers keen insight and astute observations gained from her years of experience in the game.

Knowledgeable, well-respected and easy to listen to, her eloquent, calming hushed tones could put the fussiest of toddlers into a deep, restful sleep.

Before she began her career with the Golf Channel and NBC, Cockerill had game - and lots of it.

Now that's not to say she can't get into one of her Golf Channel colleague's pockets from time to time or ratch it up for the U.S. Senior Women's Open, where she made the cut both times she entered.

Cockerill, who played on the LPGA Tour for nine years before joining Golf Channel, won back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships (1986-87) and participated in the 1986 Women’s World Amateur Team Championships. She received her economics degree from UCLA in 1987 and is the only female golfer in the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame, where she won six times and was a two-time All-American.

In 2008, the Los Gatos, Calif. native was honored by the California Golf Writers Association with the Jack Lemmon Ambassador of Golf Award, honoring individuals in golf who have represented the game with character and personality and whose positive image has served as an invaluable service to the game.

As the U.S. Women's Amateur takes center stage this week at Chambers Bay, its two-time champion shares her thoughts on her memorable wins at Pasatiempo and the Rhode Island Country Club, insight on the amateur game today and a new chapter in her life that sees her traversing around the country in an Airstream with her husband Danny and their dog, Darby.

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A Quick Nine with Kay Cockerill

What memories stand out from your back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateur victories in 1986 and ‘87?
When I think about the first U.S. Women’s Amateur, it was special in so many ways because it was at Pasatiempo Golf Course in Santa Cruz, just 20 minutes from where I grew up in San Jose. Since I was playing basically in my backyard, I had lots of friends and family following me.

I didn’t play Pasatiempo regularly, only on special occasions. I loved the golf course and really wanted to play near home in a national championship. So just qualifying for it initially was a big goal and then my next big goal was to make match play. From then on, it was win the first match, then win the second match and so on. ‘Wow, okay,’ I thought, ‘we're gaining some momentum.’

I just remember how I couldn't wait to get up each day and play the golf course and see who my opponent would be. And it was just the perfect environment. My mindset was in that perfect state where I had sort of low expectations but my confidence just grew steadily round by round, match by match and low and behold, I ended up winning it. And certainly, that was not my expectation as I had won several college golf tournaments, but I had never won a major national event. It will always be one of my favorite moments in golf.

The next year at Rhode Island Country Club, people asked me if I felt like I had a lot of pressure. And I said, no, I didn't feel pressure at all because I already won and I actually had played well that summer. I just felt really confident. I felt like I had a two-shot advantage on the first tee for just about every match except when I faced Carol Semple Thompson in the quarterfinals. I had never beaten her. She was a perennial great amateur and just such a classy woman who just owned the golf course and knew how to play match play so well. I was nervous about that match. And I prepared mentally really hard for that match felt like I had to go out and just play excellent golf. I couldn't get away with average golf. And I think I shot six under and beat her. Once I got past her, I felt like I could win this thing again.

What are your impressions of the amateur game today and its quality of play?
I think it's a version of what I experienced only heightened even more. The fields are deeper and the women are younger. They're often teenagers that make the finals or the semifinals and they're not wide-eyed at all. They're all pretty savvy because they've played national junior events, like Junior Solheim Cups, PGA Junior Championships and now Augusta National Women's Amateur, or they're decorated college kids who might have played on a Curtis Cup team. It just seems like when you look down the roster, it's kind of the who's who. They're all very talented. All of their swings and the games just are so much better and the number of quality players is so much deeper than when I was playing in the mid-80s.

Who has had the greatest influence on you in golf?
Probably from my formative years when I was really getting into golf it was Julie Inkster, because she was from Santa Cruz. She grew up at Pasatiempo and was in the process of winning three U.S. Amateur Championships and a ton of collegiate tournaments at San Jose State. That was in the early 80s when I was really just starting to get into golf and committing myself to the game. She was a local player who I could follow because she was making headlines in the sports page and in Golf World magazine. We didn't know each other, but what she was doing definitely had a big influence on me and made me think, hey, there's a girl from coastal California who’s making it big in golf and she opened my eyes to the possibilities of what was out there. She was a great influence on me.

My first coach Rick Walker really took me under his wing. He was the teaching coach at De Laveaga, which is the public course over in Santa Cruz and he had an enormous influence on me because he just made golf fun. We’d go out and play with other juniors and have great matches. He taught me all kinds of shots and to believe in myself.

What have been some of the toughest conditions or courses you've ever walked?
Because my memory is never that good, it was probably the recent two U.S. Senior Women's Opens at Chicago Golf Club and Pine Needles in the searing heat. I made the cut so that meant walking 72 holes in really difficult conditions.

I also remember one Pac-10 Championship at Stanford when I was at UCLA and I was playing with Joanne Pacillo, who won the 1983 U.S. Amateur while at Stanford and the late Heather Farr, who was an outstanding player at Arizona State. The weather was just terrible. We had to play 36 holes in one day and it just poured all day and it was just so cold and wet and Heather and I just kind of melted and fell back. We were in the lead group and Joanne just got stronger and stronger as the day went on and she ended up winning. I was always amazed at that. I knew from then on I needed to learn how to not let the elements get in the way.

How has your amateur experience informed your approach as you’re broadcasting?
When I work the U.S. Girls’ Junior, the Women's Amateur and even the NCAA Championships it puts me back to that time period in my life and I’m able to reflect upon my junior and college days by watching these players. Even though I’m decades removed from their world, I can relate to what they are going through, the challenges they've met and how they are dealing with the expectations or the pressure that they put on themselves. It’s an emotional roller coaster for them.

Plus, they have to figure out how to navigate through the long week that these championships entail and dealing with defeat. With match play tournaments, you lose and you go home. There's no coming back the next day. So they have to figure out how to sustain that toughness and develop a positive mental approach to get through a grueling week.

Just watching them makes me just reflect back on my junior days and what I did to succeed and make it through a tournament and in the team events how you blend with teammates and how you can draw upon each other to help each other and push each other.

How’s the recovery going from your torn Achilles back in January and how have you been able to rehab while traveling?
Well, it comes in ebbs and flows the exercises that I'm supposed to do. But overall, I think I've really rounded a corner. I noticed probably when I was working the Curtis Cup and then into the U.S. Open where I walked a lot and I managed it really well. At the end of the day, after walking six to eight miles, maybe I was a little swollen and my foot and ankle were sore and tired, but no major pain. I'm walking a lot more distances at a steady pace. And I've started to play some golf. I've actually played two 18-hole rounds at Crystal Downs, which is a fabulous MacKenzie course in upper Michigan and I've hit balls a couple of times. I’m heading over to Scotland to cover the AIG Women’s Open and already I've got four rounds planned. I think walking over there is a little easier because it's all flat so hopefully, I'll be able to enjoy it. I'll still be a little rusty because I haven't really been able to practice a ton, but I at least swung a few times and got out to play.

You recently made the decision to lead a mobile life with your husband Danny in an Airstream. What's that been like?
We headed down the California coast and then worked our way inland and eventually ended up in Las Vegas for the LPGA Match Play. I worked a couple of other LPGA events and Danny and a buddy drove to Michigan while I had four events in a row on the east coast. I've been back with the Airstream the last couple of weeks, and it's been great. It's literally a mobile home. It’s comfortable and we're getting a routine down and remembering where we put everything.

When you drive some of these back roads and take routes that you wouldn't normally take, you’re seeing with your own eyes what you’ve been looking down at for all these years while flying. It's been really great and we're looking forward to hitting some big national parks later this summer into the fall.

What have been some of your favorite stops so far and are you understanding why John Madden did this for so long in his career?
I can definitely see why he would do it. It really allows you to kind of slow down and you don't have the rush and the hustle bust of airports and rental cars. I think my favorite place so far has been visiting friends outside of Traverse City in upper Michigan. I spent two weeks there after working four events in a row, so it was very relaxing and cathartic. The house was on a lake and had room for us to park our Airstream, and believe it or not, they had guest rooms, but we still stayed in the Airstream. They had a wonderful outdoor shower that we loved to use. So just being able to stay there and there are great bike paths and lots of boat activity on the lake and hiking.

What advice do you have for upcoming promising juniors?
I would say to work hard but make sure you have fun. Put in the hours, work on your weaknesses and create joy and consistency around working on your short game, especially from a hundred yards in along with putting. Those two things are what will separate you from the average player.
Also, have fun with golf. If it starts becoming feels like a job, or you're not enjoying it, then step away for a little bit. Maybe that means you're putting a little too much emphasis on it right now. It has to be fun because it is a game after all.

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