Pete Cooper: Golfer Won on Tour in 1940s, 1950s

Pete Cooper was a PGA Tour winner in the 1940s and 1950s, and the winner of a senior major in the 1970s. His tournament playing career extended from the 1940s into the 1990s. He was also a noted teacher of the game and had a major influence on Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Full name: Richard Bernice Cooper

Date of birth: December 31, 1914

Place of birth: Lakeland, Florida

Date and place of death: October 8, 1993, in Lafayette County, Florida

Nickname: Pete

Cooper's Biggest Wins

On the PGA Tour:
  • 1949 St. Petersburgh Open
  • 1950 Miami International Four-Ball (partnered by Claude Harmon)
  • 1954 Virginia Beach Open
  • 1957 St. Petersburgh Open
  • 1959 West Palm Beach Open Invitational
Cooper also won two unofficial-money tournaments, the 1950 Aiken Pro-Amateur and 1957 Latham-Reed Pro-Am. On the Caribbean Tour:
  • 1959 Panama Open
  • 1959 Puerto Rico Open
  • 1959 Colombian Open
  • 1960 Jamaica Open
  • 1960 Maracaibo Open
  • 1961 Panama Open
Other wins for Pete Cooper:
  • Florida Open: 1944, 1946, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1957, 1958, 1966
  • 1953 Metropolitan Open
  • 1954 Orlando Two-Ball (partnered by Patty Berg)
  • 1956 Michigan Open

In the Majors

Pete Cooper first played in a major at the 1946 U.S. Open, and last at the 1976 British Open. He played in majors 36 times total. His best finish in The Masters was tied for 12th in 1956, but he had Top 10 finishes in both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

His best finish in any of the majors was tied for fourth in the 1953 U.S. Open. Cooper achieved that finish with a final-round 70, which was the lowest score of the round and tied for second-lowest round of the tournament. He also tied for eighth in the 1949 U.S. Open, and, among his other best U.S. Open finishes, Cooper was 25th in 1948 and tied for 14th in 1956.

Cooper tied for ninth place in the 1953 PGA Championship, then a match-play tournament. That means he lost in the Round of 16; he fell to the eventual champion, Walter Burkemo, 3 and 2. His other top finishes in the PGA Championship included tied for 17th in 1959 and tied for 15th in 1960.

More About Pete Cooper

Pete Cooper turned pro in 1938, but didn't make his first appearance in a PGA Tour tournament until 1944 at the Phoenix Open. He made six appearances on tour that year, culminating with a fifth-place finish in the Miami Open. Cooper played another seven PGA Tour tournaments in 1946, posting three Top 10s including his first runner-up finish at the Charlotte Open.

He didn't play a lot on tour in those early years, but when Cooper did get into a PGA Tour tournament, he was often a threat to post a high finish. His first year making double-digit PGA Tour starts was 1948, with 10. The following year, he embarked on the best part of his tour career.

From 1949-58, Cooper won five PGA Tour titles and had another four runner-up finishes. He did that despite not being a full-time tour player in most of those years. For example, in 1952 he made only seven starts on tour. In 1953, just nine — but had six Top 10s, including in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Cooper opened his 1957 PGA Tour campaign by winning the St. Petersburg Open Invitational and, several days later, the unofficial money Latham-Reed Pro-Am.

In 1958, Cooper earned the last of his PGA Tour wins at the West Palm Beach Open Invitational. There, he defeated Wes Ellis in a playoff. A year later, attempting to defend his title, Cooper lost a playoff in the West Palm Beach Open Invitational, to Arnold Palmer.

His winning efforts were over on the PGA Tour after 1958, but that year Cooper started playing some tournaments on the Caribbean Tour. That was a loosely organized circuit, loosely affiliated with the PGA Tour, with tournaments in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. In 1959-61, Cooper won seven times on that tour, including three times in 1959 at the Panama Open, Puerto Rico Open and Colombian Open. His tour mates began calling Cooper "King of the Caribbean" during this period.

Cooper didn't make his final PGA Tour start until 1975. Overall, he played in 223 PGA Tour tournaments, with five wins, five seconds, five thirds and 55 Top 10s.

Few big tournaments were available for senior golfers in his era, but Cooper first played the Senior PGA Championship in 1965 and tied for fourth. He had multiple Top 10 finishes in that senior major before claiming the trophy for himself.

Cooper won the Senior PGA Championship in 1976 at age 61. His 283 total was four strokes better than runner-up Fred Wampler. At the time, a one-vs-one match was played for the "World Senior Championship," U.S. Senior PGA winner vs. British PGA Seniors Championship. Christy O'Connor defeated Cooper in that 36-hole match in 1976, 2 and 1.

Cooper last had a Top 10 finish in the Senior PGA Championship in 1977, and last played in that senior major in 1991. His 11 career Top 10 finishes at one time ranked as third-most in Senior PGA history. He also held the record as the oldest winner of the Senior PGA (age 61) until 2011.

Throughout his tournament career, Cooper dominated his home-state championship, the Florida Open. He first won it in 1944, last in 1966 when he was 51 years old, and won it eight times total. That included three consecutive wins in 1948-50. After he won the 1963 Florida Open, Herb Graffis, in Golfdom magazine, called Cooper "the best bermudagrass putter in captivity."

Cooper worked as a club pro at every step of his professional career, mostly in his native Florida but also with stops in New York and Michigan. For example, in 1946 he was pro at Gainesville (Fla.) Country Club; as of 1951, Cooper represented Ponte Vedra (Fla.) Country Club as playing pro; and as of 1963 he was head pro at Palm Beach (Fla.) National Country Club.

In 1959, Cooper was hired as head pro at Dorado Beach Resort, in Dorado, Puerto Rico, taking over from another former PGA Tour player, Ed Dudley. He only stayed through 1961 (note that the years 1959-61 coincide with Cooper's Caribbean Tour successes), but had a big impact one one particular golfer. When he got there, Cooper discovered a remarkable young golfer named Chi Chi Rodriguez already working there. Cooper became a mentor to Rodriguez, helped him develop his skills, and got him ready for Rodriguez's fruitful PGA Tour.

"Pete Cooper was a great teacher and a friend to me," Rodriguez said many years later. "He helped hone my skills and got me ready for the Tour. I am a combination of many teachers, but Pete gave me the best lessons of anybody I ever worked with."

Cooper and Rodriguez together represented Puerto Rico in the 1961 Canada Cup (the tournament today better remembered as the World Cup). In 1987, when Chi Chi Rodriguez won the Senior PGA Championship, Cooper was also in the field. After missing the cut, Cooper stayed and walked the final round following Rodriguez, offering encouragement to his friend and mentee.

Cooper was known among his peers as a great teacher. When Jack Burke Jr. was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000, he mentioned Cooper, along with other notable instructors such as Jack Grout, Claude Harmon, Johnny Revolta and Paul Runyan, in his speech.

"Without these great teachers, none of us would be in here," Burke said. "Those fellas are probably not going to get in the Hall of Fame, but I want to say to you tonight, 'You're coming in with me.' I'm bringing the teachers in."

After returning full-time to Florida in the early 1960s, Cooper lived in Lakeland. He owned and operated the Par 3 and Lone Palm Golf Club there, and also owned a farm.

Cooper was 78 years old when he died in 1993. He is a member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

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