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Texas A&M golfer Hailee Cooper and head coach Gerrod Chadwell were a team years in the making

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It’s been more than five years, but Texas A&M women’s golfer Hailee Cooper remembers standing in a Sam’s Club parking lot making a difficult call.

As soon as then Houston head coach Gerrod Chadwell answered the phone, Cooper began sobbing. She quickly said she’d be playing at Texas, not with his Cougars, though the pair had bonded through the recruiting process.

“I’m always going to be your coach,” Chadwell told Cooper.

Tuesday, Cooper will play her first home tournament since joining the program last season as a graduate transfer. Cooper and Chadwell have been looking forward to the two-day “Mo” Morial Invitational at Traditions Club.

“I recruited her probably more than any other student athlete I’ve ever recruited out of high school,” an emotional Chadwell said. “There’s just some kids that you connect with and you’re just a part of their life outside of golf. When she graduated early from Texas and was looking for a place to play — she should have been here from the start, regardless of Houston. She represents everything you want. I’m a father and it’s what you want out of a daughter. I’m a coach and she’s what you want out of a player.”

The two first met when Chadwell was an assistant coach at Oklahoma and Cooper was visiting as a seventh grader. The two immediately bonded.

“[We talked about] faith-based stuff,” Cooper said. “Golf ties into that, because a lot of times in golf, your identity can just get fully caught up in golf and we were talking about that there is more to life than golf and it’s more about who you are as a person as well. The coolest thing he said to me was, ‘You’re more than a golf score and I really mean that.’”

Chadwell when he was hired at Houston had a chance at landing Cooper, who was the ninth-ranked high school golfer in the 2018 class, according to Golfweek. But the Montgomery native picked Austin and the overall experience of a bigger university.

“I knew we were in there with Texas and Texas A&M and so, at that time, for a startup program, that was flattering in itself,” Chadwell said. “I just knew how special she was going to be.”

In Cooper’s first season with the Longhorns, she earned Big 12 freshman of the year, as well as Golfweek and Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-American. She led UT in stroke average, 72.28, and shot par or better in her first 10 rounds. She won the Betsy Rawls Invitational, tied for first in the Buzzy Challenge and finished fourth in the 2019 NCAA Championship. In her sophomore season, she average 72.94 strokes and shot par or better in 13 of 18 rounds.

After graduating in three years, she was looking for a change and called Chadwell first. The next day, he called back and asked if she would be possibly interested in joining the Aggie golf team, should he get the job. The answer was an immediate yes.

“I knew what she thought about A&M, through the recruiting process and how hard of a decision it was that she had, in general,” he said. “I knew, kind of turning over a culture and establishing your own thing, she was the first call I made. It’s God’s timing. There’s no denying that and I think we both agree on that.”

Last season, Cooper had a 76.04-stroke average and helped A&M advanced to the NCAA Championship match play semifinals for the first time in program history. In A&M’s opening tournament of the season, the Carmel Cup at Pebble Beach, Cooper finished ninth in medalist play with a 1-over 217, helping A&M to a second-place finish behind No. 1 Stanford.

It will be a quick jaunt across Highway 105 for Cooper’s family to come watch her play at the home course of the school she always felt destined to attend. Adding to the fun, the Aggies will be paired with Florida and her former school, Texas, in the opening day of play with an 8 a.m. shotgun start.

“I will be an Aggie girl for life,” she said. “My kids will come here, if they want me to pay for college.”

However, the more unlikely scenario is the one she’s living now, where she finally gets to play for they man who said he would always be her coach.

“I’ve been on teams before where you want to play for the other girls, but I’ve never been on a team where you want to play for the coach,” Cooper said. “You want to play for [the coaches], because they give us more than we give them, really, so it’s just cool to tie that around and have him be so involved and so caring. Success sprouts from that.”

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