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MEN'S COLLEGE GOLF: ATHENS' COOPER SIGNS LETTER-OF-INTENT TO PLAY AT VIRGINIA WESLEYAN (2024-04-02)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — A two-time state qualifier, Athens senior Evan Cooper signed a National Letter-of-Intent Tuesday to continue his golf career at Virginia Wesleyan University in the fall.

Cooper is looking forward to calling VWU, located in Virginia Beach, his home for the next four years.

“Ever since I made States last year, I’ve wanted to play in college.

“I also wanted to get South, and out of the cold weather,” said Cooper. “It’s easier to get better at golf when you’re don’t have to stop playing for three months out of the year.

“I visited Virginia Wesleyan … they have great facilities, and a good up-and-coming team.

“I’m hoping to go there and compete, and contribute to their success,” Cooper added. “I’m excited to get going.”

Cooper will continue to hit the links all summer in preparation for playing Division III golf.

“I play a lot in the summer,” he said. “It’s not about playing rounds, I’m out there on range every day for at least an hour, and on the putting green for another hour or so.

“I’ll play two or three rounds a week, but I’m out there practicing on my game the rest of the time.

“I play in tournaments over the summer,” added Cooper. “I play in the Central New York PGA, and that’s helped me progress, and get the confidence I need in actual tournament conditions.”

Cooper’s preparation is already under way.

“Right now, the weather is a little rough, so I’m in the gym working on my mobility,” he said. “I’ve been outdoors practicing when the weather’s been nice.

“It’s all about getting everything tuned into where it needs to be,” added Cooper. “It’s all muscle memory, you just have to get it down.”

Cooper believes he needs more work on his mental game than anything else.

“For me, it’s about the nerves, and confidence … me telling myself I belong at that level.

“It’s a whole different level of golf, and I have to remind myself that I’ve earned it, and that where I need to be,” said Cooper.

Athens golf coach Lenny Pientka has the utmost confidence in Cooper’s abilities.

"I have no doubt that Evan will be successful at the next level of his golf career.

"Evan is a student of the game,” said Pientka. “What I mean by that is, he studies each aspect of his golf game. He looks at his strengths and weaknesses of his game and works to constantly improve.

“Evan's hard work and determination has gotten his this far, and I'm certain it will continue in the future,” added Pientka.

Jay Kelly, who has spent 25 years as a club pro in the Greater Binghamton area, and is now teaching out of Endwell Greens, has been instructing Cooper for nearly four years. He’s most impressed with Cooper’s game management.

“He’s very much a thinking man’s golfer,” said Kelly. “He gets his way around the golf course managing it, where a lot of people are just playing impulsively.

“He plans out his shots accordingly, and plays high-percentage shots,” noted Kelly. “He plays to score well, and plays sensible golf — there’s not a lot of gambling out there.”

Kelly said Cooper just needs to keep working.

“I think he needs to work on his short game — his chipping, his pitching,” he said. “His long game is very good, and his iron game is excellent.

“His short game is also excellent, but that’s where almost all young players need to put a lot more focus,” noted Kelly. “They tend to focus too much on the long game.

“His all-around game is fantastic, but his short game would the area of a little more focus.

“It’s exciting to see Evan taking this step,” added Kelly. “I’m excited to see where he takes it.”

Cooper is looking forward to the next step, and has lofty goals for his first year.

“I’d like to be our league’s Rookie of the Year” he said. “I’m working to make that happen, that would be a great way to start.”

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IN PHOTO 1: Athens senior Evan Cooper. IN PHOTO 2: Evan Cooper is flanked by his parents — Matt Cooper and Cynthia Gannon-Cooper. … PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.

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