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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

‘A Needed Change’

Graduate+Hailee+Cooper+and+Florida+senior+Annabell+Fuller+line+up+their+shots+on+the+18th+hole+of+the+Traditions+Club+on+the+second+day+of+the+Momorial+Invitational+on+Wednesday%2C+Sept.+21%2C+2022+in+Bryan%2C+Texas.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Graduate Hailee Cooper and Florida senior Annabell Fuller line up their shots on the 18th hole of the Traditions Club on the second day of the “Mo”morial Invitational on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 in Bryan, Texas.

When Hailee Cooper held her first golf grip perfectly at 3 days old, her grandfather knew she was going to be a golfer — and a good one at that.
Within the two seasons Hailee has played for the Texas A&M’s women’s golf team, she has become an integral part of the group’s foundation, earning the title of captain among her teammates and head coach, Gerrod Chadwell. However, Hailee’s success did not begin with her transfer to A&M, nor did it begin when she committed to the University of Texas and completed her undergraduate degree in Austin.
Hailee’s success story is rooted in support; from her parents, her coaches and her teammates. It is rooted in drive, desire and the sting of failure. More than anything, her success is derived from her love for the game of golf.
“It’s not a game of perfection, but you strive to be perfect on every shot — you try to be the best you can be,” Hailee said. “I think that’s really cool and it translates to what I really live for.”
Growing up, Hailee spent most of her time on the golf course, given that her father, Ronald Cooper, was a longtime coach of the golf team at Montgomery High School. Despite the connection, she spent the first 10 years of her life playing other sports like basketball and soccer, not yet committed solely to golf.
“We didn’t get into it early on,” Ronald said. “I didn’t want to be one of those pushy dads.”
However, when she was 10 years old, she decided she was all in — Hailee stopped participating in other sports and dedicated her time to practicing golf. In that same year, she played in the Southern Texas Professional Golfers’ Association Junior Tournament, earning a fifth-place medal.
At 12 years old, she was competing in the qualifying round of an American Junior Golf Association tournament alongside high schoolers and athletes such as Kristen Gillman, now a professional golfer in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
Her talent was enough to not only win the qualifier, but to catch the attention of Angie Ravaioli-Larkin, the head coach of Texas Christian University’s women’s golf program, who approached her father and asked if Hailee was really only 12 years old.
“At that time, she was still playing with junior clubs because she was so short,” Ronald said. “We decided to get her some real clubs after that.”
Hailee’s success followed her into her high school career, where she won state her freshman year and was able to travel around the world for fiercely competitive tournaments. And she reached even taller heights her senior year when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open.
“It was actually really funny,” Hailee said. “I had prom on Saturday, I won prom queen, and the next day I played a practice round for the U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier.”
That following Monday, Hailee played in the actual qualifier and won — meaning she earned a spot in one of the most well-known championships in golf. Her father, who caddied for her during the qualifier, said watching his daughter make the cut for the U.S. Women’s Open was one of the proudest moments of his life.
“It was a special moment,” Ronald said. “People dream about that their entire lives.”
For Hailee, the decision of where to continue her academic and athletic career after high school was a difficult one to make. During the recruitment process, while meeting with golf coaches from universities across the world, she found herself drawn to the teaching style of Chadwell, who — at the time — was employed at the University of Oklahoma.
“He was my favorite coach to talk to,” Hailee said. “I liked his approach to coaching and how he chose people over players.”
However, Chadwell was on his way to the University of Houston, where he planned to build a golf program from the ground up. Despite their connection, Hailee decided to commit to the UT.
“When it came to decision day, I decided to go where I thought was best for me — and that was the University of Texas,” Hailee said. “The girls were great. The golf course and facilities were great.”
Though Chadwell thought he was not going to be coaching Hailee in college, they still shared a sentiment of appreciation for one another.
“I’ll never forget when she called me and told me she wasn’t coming to Houston — she was so upset,” Chadwell said. “I told her, ‘I’ll always be your coach [and] a part of your life.’”
Hailee’s first year at Texas was met with resounding success; she represented the United States team in the Arnold Palmer Cup, was First-Team All-American and was awarded the title of 2019 Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year.
Following her rookie year, she hit a wall.
“Oh yes, my years of sadness,” Hailee said. “I was really struggling mentally with golf.”
Hailee spent two more seasons with the Longhorns, working hard to escape the slump she had fallen into.
“I had seen it before, coaching golf for 25 years — but it’s different when it’s your kid,” Ronald said. “You’re trying to say the right things and do the right things, and it just felt like nothing was helping during that time.”
Resilient as ever, Hailee finished her undergraduate degree at Texas in three years and decided to enter the transfer portal – a decision that would ultimately change her relationship with golf and subsequently, her life.
“I wanted something different,” Hailee said. “I was thinking about quitting and I kept wondering where my passion for the game went.”
While Hailee was making the decision to transfer from Texas, Chadwell was making an equally important decision 165 miles away — he was leaving the University of Houston. While speaking on the phone, Chadwell told Hailee he was interviewing for the head coach position at A&M.
Then, he asked her the question.
“He goes, ‘If I got the job, would you want to go to A&M?’” Hailee said.
Hailee, who had long since fallen in love with the atmosphere and culture surrounding A&M, was quick to make the jump and become an Aggie. Her parents, though, may have been even more excited than her.
“Her mom and I always wanted her to go to Texas A&M,” Ronald said. “It’s where our hearts have always been, and she finally found it.”

With the person she always wanted to coach her and the city she always wanted to play in, Hailee was ready for a new start in College Station.
“She came to us a little wounded in a way,” Chadwell said. “We just tried to provide an environment around her so that she could find herself again, and she’s done that.”
Not only did Hailee’s transfer to A&M positively influence her golf performance, but moving to College Station also provided her with lifelong friendships and an opportunity to be a part of the community.
“She’s one of my daughter’s favorites, and my daughter is 4 years old, if that tells you anything about her,” Chadwell said. “Hailee gets along with everyone — we come from all different walks of life, and she can relate to them all in some way, shape or form.”
While playing in the last two seasons at A&M, Hailee has been able to play on some of the biggest stages, such as Pebble Beach in the 2022-23 season and the NCAA Championships last year. This season, she is second on the team in terms of stroke average.
“I’ve had no second guesses on the opportunity that she was given here, to come and be a part of a culture change for us,” Chadwell said. “She epitomizes the culture that we want for our team.”
After countless nights of hard work and frustrating tournaments without success, Hailee was able to reignite her love and passion for golf with the help of Chadwell and the A&M women’s golf team.
“She wasn’t in the right spot at The University of Texas, she needed a change,” Ronald said, holding back tears. “Coach Chadwell — he was the change.”
Despite the concerns Hailee was never going to be able to escape the rut she had fallen into with the Longhorns, her father and Chadwell agreed that her resilience and dedication on and off the golf course would have led her down a path of success one way or another.
“She’s going to be successful in whatever she does in life because she’s got the work ethic and the attitude that is going to make her successful,” Ronald said. “If my grandkids come out like that, I’ll be a super blessed man.”
Though she has successfully escaped her “years of sadness” and has found her place as an Aggie, Hailee is far from finished in terms of her future with the sport of golf.
“I’m playing for more,” Hailee said. “I’m playing for my family, I’m playing for God, I’m playing for my school — I’m representing something.”
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