WINTHROP — The golf course has provided Chris Cooksley with plenty of coming-of-age moments throughout the years. From competing with his older brother to winning his first state title as a freshman, Cooksley has never let youth prevent him from reaching his goals.
He was drawn to the sport at age seven when his grandparents, Ivan and Kay Cole, first let him putt on the greens at their home course Buffalo Creek in Winthrop. Seeing how much fun Chris and his older brother Curt were having, the grandparents kept taking them back to the course.
Eventually they got their set of clubs and Curt, five grades older, would let Chris tag along and play with his friends.
Chris can still recall making a 25-foot putt on the final hole for a round of 36 to beat Curt for the first time. He was 12 and his older brother an upperclassman in high school.
“I owe about everything I’ve learned about the game to Curt,” Chris Cooksley said. “In the summertime we used to play with his high school friends when he was a sophomore and they were seniors. It just calmed me down.”
East Buchanan coach Scott Zhiss credits Chris’ hand-eye coordination, swing mechanics and work ethic as keys to his success. His competitiveness is an added intangible that has surfaced during the biggest meets.
“Growing up playing with his older brother, I don’t think he enjoyed playing second fiddle to him,” Zhiss said. “He just had that competitive drive to compete with him and anybody who was older than him.”
That drive paid off in the form of a Class 1A state championship Chris Cooksley’s freshman and junior years.
Zhiss can still recall Cooksley’s first state meet. He was paired with a group of seniors of good stature bombing drives 50 yards past Chris off the tee.
“He just kept his nose down and doing what he does and pretty much ran them down,” Zhiss recalled.
Cooksley won that first title on a playoff with his grandparents and family on hand to help celebrate the memorable moment.
“Those last five holes the second day were pretty much a blur,” Cooksley said. “I can remember that I couldn’t feel my hands on the last putt when it went in.”
Cooksley’s driving distance and stature has since grown to complement his strong short game and competitive mindset. He entered the final round with the lead before placing third, two shots back of Winfield-Mount Union’s Kaleb Hagge, as a sophomore at state. Cooksley then won his second individual championship by two strokes as a junior.
“Last year, that’s exactly what I wanted to happen,” Cooksley said. “I was kind of mad about my sophomore year because I didn’t end the last couple of holes the way I wanted to. I knew if just kept practicing I’d get back there and have another chance at it. It worked out.”
Cooksley has been consistent this season, and is a cumulative 9-under-par for the spring. Hagge, who fired a 69 to beat him at districts, is back in this weekend’s state field as Cooksley pursues a third title at the American Legion Golf Course in Marshalltown.
“He’s definitely a solid player,” Cooksley said. “I’m just looking forward to competing against him again and I think he’s looking forward to the same thing, too.
“It’s exciting (having that level of comeptition) because that makes you want to do the best you can, compare it to his score at the end of the day and see how you pair out.”
Zhiss has admired Cooksley’s consistency.
“Week-in and week-out, when he puts that peg in the ground he’s right there,” Zhiss said. “His off weeks are a couple over par. That’s real impressive.”
Cooksley has also enjoyed playing a role in his golf team’s rise. East Buchanan placed fourth his freshman year, second the following season and won the 1A title by 23 strokes last spring.
“That’s a lot of pride,” Cooksley said. “When I hear state champs I get chills in my back. It still gets me excited just thinking about it. Our team won every single district meet and we all gel so well together.”
The first player to win four Tri-Rivers Conference titles, Cooksley plans to continue his golf career at Indian Hills Community College with hopes eventually joining a NCAA Division I program. Continuing to seek out the toughest competition he can find, Cooksley even traveled to Florida for a couple tournaments this last summer and finished sixth out of 90 players in the Hurricane Junior Championship.
“You don’t get a lot of these kids coming through,” Zhiss said of his senior. “As a coach, I feel fortunate and blessed. It’s been a real pleasure watching him play, watching him practice, coaching him. He’s such a good kid, understands the game and has that respect for it. It’s been a pleasure.”