The Times 2020 Golfer of the Year: Hard work, high ceiling, low scores for Ottawa's Jonathan Cooper

Pirates sophomore carded conference title, regional championship

As unusual and at times frustrating the 2020 high school golf season was, all in all Ottawa's Jonathan Cooper was grateful for the season he and his Pirates teammates put together.

With the success he enjoyed — winning regional medalist honors to help bring the regional team title to Ottawa, claiming the Interstate Eight Conference's individual regular-season championship and being named The Times 2020 Golfer of the Year — it's hard to blame him.

And since Cooper is just a sophomore and the Pirates featured a lot of young talent, there's reason to believe more good times and honors lie ahead even if the 2020 season didn't end quite the way he and his teammates would have wanted.

"I thought I had a pretty good year," Cooper said. "I didn't play great at the sectional, which I would've liked to have played better at, but aside from that I thought it was a pretty good year.

"I was happy my team and I were able to win the regional. That's the thing I was most happy about — we worked all year to win a regional like we did last year. It's nice to go back-to-back ... [and] I was also pretty excited because it was a goal of mine to win a regional title individually."

Cooper's sophomore-year resume reveals both an impressively high floor [team-leading 40.3 nine-hole average, I-8 individual regular-season champion] and an intriguingly high ceiling [Sterling Class 2A Regional individual champion, I-8 Tournament runner-up] for the next two years and beyond.

"When he really wanted to, Jonathan threw it down," Ottawa golf coach Keith Budzowski said. "At the conference tournament, he was a nervous wreck. He was the first one done, and he was watching nervously as everyone came in ... but regardless of what happened, he was going to be the top point-getter in the conference overall.

"And when you look at the teams in the conference with us — especially Kaneland, because in a lot of conferences Kaneland is going to dominate the entire golf scene — I think that was a big accomplishment for Jonathan."

So what allowed the sophomore to elevate his game to that level?

Good, old-fashioned hard work and dedication.

"Very rarely do you see high school golfers who want to go out and work on their game. They want to play, play, play ..." said Budzowski. "Jonathan works on every part of his game ... and he plays the course. He doesn't worry about playing individuals.

"Yeah, he likes to win, but it doesn't seem to bother him who he's playing against or how they're doing. He just concentrates on himself."

Cooper said he will miss playing alongside this year's seniors, Nick Angus, Caden Ericzon, Noah Stoudt, Michael Bruner and Blaine Koppen ...

"They helped me have a fun time out there and not be too stubborn with myself, made it an enjoyable sophomore season," Cooper said.

... but he is excited about what lies ahead next fall when the Pirates' top-three average golfers — himself [40.3], Drake Stoudt [40.9] and Drake Kaufman [41.5] — are all eligible to return and aim for Ottawa High's seventh overall team state berth and first since 2012.

"I'm pretty excited for next year," he said. "Our team should be pretty good. We'll have three new people on the team, and we'll all need to help them out going through their first varsity season. ...

"I think as a team we should be able to have a good shot at making it to state."

"Hands down," Budzowski said, "I think when COVID goes away, the next couple years we’re gong to definitely have a good state run with the team we have, if not just individuals. With Jonathan, he made such improvements from freshman to sophomore year in the scores he shot. He was at the golf course almost every day in the summertime.

"It's hard for me to predict and say, ‘He’s going to be shooting 3-under-par,’ or ‘He’s going to hear from these big-time colleges,’ but if he keeps improving, there are going to be state runs in his bag in the future."