MAGNOLIA POINT - Clay Today Sports Editor Randy Lefko returned to the Magnolia Point Golf and Country Club a year after hip replacement and rehab, and now he is going to endure a month worth of …
MAGNOLIA POINT - Clay Today Sports Editor Randy Lefko returned to the Magnolia Point Golf and Country Club a year after hip replacement and rehab, and now he is going to endure a month worth of lessons with Tim Cooper, PGA Director of Instruction for Junior Golf for The Golf Academy of North Florida at Magnolia Point.
The first thing I heard about Tim Cooper was he was the top golf teaching pro in Florida. I hope that he had heard that I was nowhere near the top golfer in Florida; far from it.
Cooper, 43, and a former varsity soccer player for the University of Kentucky (yes, he learned golf), did not get to golf until after a soccer stint and then an elite running stint in Kentucky. Cooper came to Magnolia Point through a chance meeting with Dale Claussen, director of the North Florida Golf Academy at Magnolia Point. Cooper credentials are impressive, to say the least; PGA Class A pro, US Kids certified kids coach (good for me), and past president of the Northern chapter of the North Florida Professional Golf Association and the JAGA 2020 Professional of the Year. Cooper was also a sixth-grade math teacher which probably has more relevance to teaching me golf.
“I was late to the game having played soccer my whole young life then played soccer for the University of Kentucky,” said Cooper, who joins forces with The Golf Academy of North Florida director Dale Claussen. Claussen recently lost long-time assistant Mike Trinley to a job in Tennessee. “I was trained as a teacher; a sixth-grade math teacher for seven years before finding golf.”
Cooper’s introduction to golf came by way of not a golf team, but an elite running team in Lexington. Patience: golf is coming soon.
“After I graduated, I joined the elite running team; got an hour, 11 minute half marathon as my best race effort,” said Cooper, slightly skinny at about a buck 40 pounds. “Ironically, a bunch of them were golfers and they invited me to an outing. The third or fourth time, they gave me a club at a par three course. Hit a decent wedge and liked it. That’s it. I caught the bug.”
From there, Cooper brought his family; wife Jenny and son Owen, to Jacksonville in 2010 at Deerwood Golf Club.
“Eventually, became head pro there, but the job got more into the business than the teaching,” said Cooper. “Then, I met Dale (Claussen) through the PGA of America. I learned more and more about Dale and the Academy. His credentials as a master’s kids coach were the biggest thing that impressed me.”
On our golf lesson, Cooper was first to take jabs at my wide receiver sticky gloves attached to my golf clubs, thus dubbing me Odell for a few swings.
“I guess that club is not going to slip,” said Cooper. “You got some pine tar on them?”
The second dig was the weight of my golf club bag with the collected clubs over the years.
“You could survive a month on the Appalachian Trail with whatever is in this thing,” said Cooper.
So far, so good. No golf, lots of sarcasm. On to the golf.
My first question was how the heck does a golfer know how far he stands from the ball before swinging away. I have never been told that and it has bothered me every time I swing with my positioning looking like Cal Ripken digging into a batter’s box.
“Simple, get in what position you feel comfortable with the Y-grip on the club,” instructed Cooper. “Let your right hand go, swing it straight away and if it lands back in the original position, you are perfect.”
How simply stupid I felt, but it was the best advice of the day.
Reveal moment: I had hip replacement surgery a year ago in March. My hip rotation was nil for nearly five years and this was the returning saga. Cooper knew that and was very cognizant to adjust to that knowledge. Very cool.
“Warm up with a 50-degree iron, hit three balls short, three balls 10 yards past them, three balls 10 yards past them,” he instructed. “Go from a Y hand position facing the ball into a capital L on the backswing and finish with a good follow-through. Have to stick the follow through and I know by seeing the bottom of your right foot when the swing is done.”
The impressive part of golf to me is that the pros have every club designed and trained for very specific conditions and distances. I had one club that I thought you hit it harder, it goes further.
Cooper got me relaxed and hitting consistently downfield until Claussen showed up and added to the lesson.
“Think of an Escalade on the backstroke and a Ferrari on the swing,” said Claussen.
I learned another nuance of great golf swings; slow back, transition at the top and increased speed to the ball. Boom.
“The swing goes back slow and steady and there has to be a transition pause from going back to coming forward,” said Claussen. “The club should be at zero miles per hour at the top, then 5 mph, then 10 mph, then 15 mph, then 20 mph at impact with the ball. The follow-through points toward the target; the flag, and we have a swing.”
Trying to remember all these nuances proved difficult at first for my swing, but, at my solo driving range session on Sunday, it seemed to work with numerous straight, high and long 6-irons.
The driver was more difficult. That’s where the next phase with Cooper will go.
We did take a break and headed to the putting green where Cooper had set up a bunch of sticks and tees to try and corral my swing consistency into a tight tunnel toward the flag. I learned of negative, neutral and positive club positioning. What? Seemed a lot of thinking in this golf game.
In a negative club position, the putter is slightly ahead of the ball. Who knew?
Putting went well except some young tyke on the green beat me in a round of three-hole putting; a triangle formation of holes at different distances with eight strokes the target. I got nine, the kid got eight. Nice.