Editor’s note: For the first time since 2009, a major championship returns to New York’s Bethpage Black. This time around, it will be the PGA Championship. Back in 2009, however, it was the U.S. Open, won by Lucas Glover. In this first-person piece, Glover’s caddie, Don “Coop” Cooper, recollects on what that breakthrough major win was like and why he’s so looking forward to this week and Glover’s crack at another major at a familiar venue.
Lucas Glover and I go way back. He officially hired me in 2003 – I’ve been alongside him ever since – but it starts even before that.
It all goes back to when he was in college at Clemson University in the late 1990s/early 2000s. At the time, I was a club caddie at Augusta National Golf Club.
Clemson golf coach, Larry Penley, would take his team out to play. I remember being a caddie in Lucas’s group – not for Lucas, but for someone else – and he really caught my eye. I paid attention to what he was doing and thought, “this kid is going places.”
When I was about 19 or 20 years old, I was playing golf with a buddy at nearby Forest Hills. He mentioned they were looking for caddies at Augusta National. I jokingly said, “Tell them I’m available.”
Somehow, it worked out.
During my 8-9 years as a caddie at the world’s most famous golf course, I had some incredible experiences. I caddied for the chairman, United States presidents, members. Not many of the caddies there at that time could get clearance to caddie for presidents, so that became my role.
CADDIE NETWORK SURVEY: Caddie predictions for all things Tiger Woods
I fell in love with it. I met so many cool people there from Warren Buffett to, well, everyone.
The people were great. And I was making good money. There was no downside to it. I even got to play the course a bunch. Is there anything better than that?
Eventually, a corporate caddie company took over the business. I was young and I didn’t like all those dollars they were suddenly taking out my hands for taxes. Some of my buddies were out on Tour, so I decided to go out and join them.
My first pro was Patrick Burke. He was a great teacher and taught me right away that there was a big difference between being a club caddie and being a Tour caddie. He taught me the ins and outs. I screwed up with him one time and it’s a great story…
Early on, he said he liked to hit “good balls” on the range with his driver before we went out for a round. So, when we got to the driver, I’m reaching into his golf bag and tossing him brand new golf balls that he’s pounding down the range.
He finishes up and we’re walking to the first tee. He reaches into his bag to grab some balls to mark before we tee off. He’s searching around and says, “Cooper, where did all those balls go?”
I said, “You told me you wanted to hit the good ones with your driver on the range.”
He started laughing and said, “Hey, dummy, I meant the good ones in the range-ball bag – not the ones in my personal golf bag!” Then he ran back to the clubhouse to quickly get golf balls.
We laughed about that one for a long time. He was such a good dude, Burkey. We still talk and he’ll be a friend forever.
I was with Burke for a bit and then off to another player on what we know today as the Web.com Tour. And that’s where I crossed paths with Lucas again.
READ: ‘I never really thought of caddying as a career. It just happened.’ Rickie Fowler’s trusted caddie, Joe Skovron, explains how it happened.
Lucas had a good caddie then, but he was just a little too quiet.
Lucas and I had been paired in the same group a few times and he eventually said to me, “If you ever need a job, you have one for life here.”
The guy I was caddying for then – we just weren’t working out and decided to go our separate ways.
Not long after, Lucas gave me a call just checking in. He asked what was going on and I told him, “Well, I’m job-free.”
He said, “Not anymore, you’re not.”
We hooked up right there and have been together ever since.
I told Lucas from the get-go, if I dreaded going to work, I’d go home and be with my family. I don’t know if he always looked out to make it fun for me, or if it’s because we’re from the same region, but he’s just a genuinely good person. He cares about people. He wanted one caddie and he believed it could help him in the long run. And I think it does. We can read each other’s mind. It’s a disadvantage when you change caddies all the time. They don’t know how you are under pressure.
There have probably been 4-5 times in the last 15 years where I couldn’t make it out. But I’m there to help him and if physically able, and everything is OK at home, he knows I’ll be there. I made it a point to never be late. He’s appreciated that.
Our first event together was in Eugene, Oregon and we would go on to miss the first three cuts in a row together. He said, “Stick in there with me.”
Then, in our fourth start together, Lucas won the Web.com’s Gila River Classic.
That win got us our Tour card and we were on our way in 2004.
In that first season, Lucas had two top 10s, but we went back to Q-School – something he wasn’t happy about.
In the final round at Q-School, we’re on the 15th tee at PGA WEST and he asked what we needed to do. He needed to birdie three of the last four holes to get through. He did.
RELATED: Geno Bonnalie explains how sending an email set up his journey to becoming a PGA Tour caddie
Behind the 18th green and in the clubhouse, all the guys that got through are hanging around to celebrate. Not us. We went straight to the car and took off. We met up with Dick Harmon that night to celebrate a little bit, but Lucas didn’t see a need to celebrate. He believed he never should have been at Q-School.
Nobody around him did either. His manager, Mac, kept telling me, “He’s going to win one soon, I just feel it!”
Sure enough, in 2005, we won at Disney.
It would be four years before our next win, but boy it was a big one: the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
Lucas had played in the 2002 U.S. Open with a different caddie. He missed the cut that week but loved the course and said he wanted another crack at it. In 2009, he was the 71st ranked player in the world and had to go through sectional qualifying to earn a spot in the field.
At that sectional qualifier, I remember Lucas went off early with a string of like 4-5 birdies in a row. He was playing good golf. He qualified and the next thing I know, we’re making travel plans to New York.
There are certain things you remember about big weeks.
For me, it’s the Monday practice day at the 2009 U.S. Open. We were out there at 7 a.m. You can’t believe how hard it was raining out there. You couldn’t see. I figured we’d just head back in like everyone else, but Lucas said, “we’ll wait this out.”
We were the only ones out there. We played nine holes in just horrid rain. I thought to myself, “my guy must be pumped.”
Finally, it’s Thursday. You’re always a little extra excited for a major and there are nerves. Lucas had been waiting seven long years for his next crack at Bethpage Black… and that wait ended abruptly with a double-bogey on the very first hole when he had an 8-iron in his hands for his approach shot.
He didn’t talk to anybody going to the second tee.
But he did have a little time with himself and reminded himself that the winner of a U.S. Open is going to make a double bogey at some point, so it might as well be him. He pulled it together with three birdies for a 1-under 69 to start – a great start.
And, man, there were rain delays every day. Despite that, he never bitched, moaned or complained. He told me we’d take advantage of the delays and rest up. That’s what we did. We just kept about our business.
READ: Taylor Ford details his incredible journey to becoming a PGA Tour caddie
He played great. When we got to the final round, we were in the final pairing with Ricky Barnes, trailing by one shot. The tournament had been so stretched out because of the weather that it was hard to grasp where you were. But I knew where we were in that final round and I was starting to believe, “We have a chance to win the U.S. Open.”
Ricky wasn’t playing his best that day and I think we passed him by mid-round. But we had to watch what we were doing. To win a major – especially a U.S. Open – you need to be aggressive, but not make mistakes.
There’s a point at Bethpage Black where you cross the road for holes 15-18. The crowds are tremendous, and that side of the road is extremely loud. We get to No. 16. For the second shot, he’s got an 8-iron in. I remembered it was the same club and yardage we had for his approach in Q-School in 2004. I told him, “just like that 8-iron at Q-School,” and he went on to make birdie and get to 2 under.
Now the par-3 17th is just a tough hole and the wind is hard to gauge. That day, it was blowing right to left and Lucas is a drawer. I’m loving a 5-iron. I say that and then he says, “I’m going to hit you a shot here, Cooper, with a 4-iron.”
He wanted to cut it – highly unusual for Lucas – that’s not his shot. Sure enough, he pulled it off. He missed the birdie putt and it went a little further past the hole than we would have liked, but he came right back and knocked the par putt right in the middle.
Now we get to 18 tee. The tees were way up for the final round because of all the weather. Lucas was so focused he started walking back to where the tees had been and I had to tell him, “No. They’re up today.”
Barnes had birdied 17 and had the honor. He hits driver just right of the green, but in a spot that’s going to make for a very difficult pitch. Not a fun place to be.
Lucas asked if I liked driver, “I said yes, but we ain’t hitting driver.”
There was a sprinkler head in the fairway we were targeting all week to have a 9-iron approach. I told Lucas that to get to that spot, all we needed off the tee was a 6-iron. That’s what he hit – 6-iron off the tee. And sure enough when I got to the ball, he was four feet away from that sprinkler head and we had 9-iron in, just like we wanted.
It was probably adrenaline, but the 9-iron sailed further than we wanted but settled on the back of the green. We had a 40-footer for birdie.
In the meantime, Ricky is looking at his ball and can tell it’s not an easy shot. He hits it up there inside of us.
Now, the stage is set. We can 3-putt if Ricky doesn’t make birdie.
Lucas hits his birdie putt just a little short. We’ve got 3-4 feet.
MORE: Eric Larson was a successful PGA Tour caddie before — and after — spending 11 years in federal prison. This is his story.
Then Ricky hits one of the best putts I’ve seen in golf – it catches the lip, but doesn’t go in.
Now I’m starting to realize, “we’re going to win the U.S. Open.”
Lucas walked up and drained the putt. It’s so weird because all your emotions are rushing out of you. You’re tired, happy… I grabbed the flag, walked up the hill, people are congratulating me. I’m happy, but not how I should be.
I vividly remember Graeme McDowell standing there on the hill and he says, “Grab a beer! You need a beer! You just won the U.S. Open!” Of course, Graeme would win it the next year at Pebble Beach.
I didn’t see Lucas again that day.
I had to get to Hartford right after since Lucas was honoring his commitment to play – that’s just the kind of guy he is, a man of his word. My celebration – if you even want to call it that – was short.
On the ferry leaving New York, some guy said he was at the Open, he said, “Some kid named Glover won the Open. You should have seen it.”
I said, yeah, “I saw it. I had a front-row seat. I’m his caddie.”
He congratulated me and then left me alone.
When I got to Hartford, the family I was with wanted to celebrate, but I was exhausted.
We were in the pro-am on Wednesday. I remember that’s when Johnson Wagner sneaks up and hits Lucas in the face with a cream pie. That was a fun moment, sort of the first light moment we had since Monday.
As soon as Lucas won, he was swept away by the USGA officials, went to see the media, then had sort of that media blitz in New York City. So Wednesday came quick in Hartford. Was it the best thing to do? Maybe not. We’ll know that next time. When we win next, we will be together that night.
I said, “Damn, I didn’t even get to see you that night.”
He asked where I was, and I told him I was on a boat to Hartford.
We both agreed: that won’t happen again.
After all these years, we literally never had a chance to reflect on it together. We both have this little something in us to get it done at a major again to take care of the celebration accordingly. People were just guiding him everywhere since it was his first major.
That’s why I want to win another major – to celebrate. I’ll make time next time. I’m sure he’ll do it again. He’s got his game back. Something about that week was different – playing in the rain. I knew he was hungry.
I hope it rains there again for the PGA. Lucas is a mudder. Our procedure with the umbrella is solid. Bad weather? So be it. I love the move to May for the PGA. The chances are way better in May to get through without weather. You can’t let go of those storms in the summer that always plagued the PGA in August. In May, you could have a firm golf course. I’m always for firm over soft because it brings in so many aspects. We’ll adjust and play as it is.
The final top 10 at that 2009 U.S. Open was impressive Among others, you had David Duval and Phil Mickelson as part of a T2 with Ricky Barnes. Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy all finished in the top 10. That’s a stout final leaderboard.
I was aware of every one of those names. You can’t not be. Especially Tiger and Phil at that time. The one I thought about in my mind though was Duval. We were going to screw up his opportunity at a comeback. We’re about to crush this guy’s dreams! I can remember almost feeling bad and thinking, “if we don’t win, I’d love for David to win.”
The key was this: control what we do. I didn’t pay attention to everyone else. I was aware of them but didn’t pay attention to them.
When you get Steve Williams and others saying, “Congratulations, you beat us,” that gives you a big satisfaction.
So, what does it take to win at Bethpage?
At that joint, you’ve got to hit fairways and you’ve got to hit greens – the correct quadrant – or you ain’t going to have a putt that makes any sense. Then you’ve got to hope that the putter shows up.
Lucas has been amongst the best at scrambling on Tour this year. He recovers very well. That’s the thing. The fairways aren’t narrow. But when you do miss them, your angles are weird. You have to play super smart. You can’t always get the ball on the green. You’ve got to take your medicine like we did with the double on the first in 2009. Calm down. If you can’t get there, get to the spot where you know you can get up and down. That takes a lot from a pro when they can’t hit an 8-iron on the green. It takes a lot of discipline.
We can’t wait to get there. There are going to be only two guys that week in the field who have won a major at Bethpage before: Tiger Woods and Lucas.
That gives you a level of confidence that you’ve earned and can’t help but take into the week.