Photos Courtesy of Kevin Allen
As impressive as Earl Cooper the golfer is, Earl Cooper the person has an even better handicap.
As an athlete, the 27-year-old Wilmington native has been a Delaware Junior Amateur champion, co-captain of Morehouse College’s national championship golf team, and a Top-25 finisher in the Delaware Open. He also won dozens of golf-related and academic awards during his school years.
In November, Cooper garnered his highest professional honor when Golf Digest named him one of the Best Young Teachers in America. (He was the youngest recipient.) According to the publication, Cooper’s dynamic teaching style helped one of his students earn the opportunity to compete in the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in California.
But with all his talent and success, Cooper has turned his greatness into gratefulness. He makes sure to give back for the opportunities and funding he was afforded along the way. “I have seen the sacrifices my family had to make so I could practice and go on golf trips,” Cooper says. “I’ve been given great things, and the motivation to give back came from them.”
It was Cooper’s father who got him and his sister into golf when he was a little kid, looking to expose his children to lots of different things and give them more options. They participated in a community outreach program in Wilmington that was designed for the LPGA Tour as a way to give back, a concept that would stick with Cooper. “My father has a big heart for people, always a give-unto-others kind of person, so I guess I got a lot of that from him,” Cooper says. “Paying it forward is something I truly believe is my duty, since I wouldn’t be where I am without people doing that for me. I feel I need to be the change you want to see.”
That program also became the launching pad to his future success. “After that, I won a local Drive, Chip & Putt competition, then won regionals and eventually finished second at nationals,” Cooper says. “I was interviewed on TV and was in the newspaper, and I got to fly to Florida for free with a trip to Disney World. So, as a 12-year-old, I was pretty impressed, naturally, and I said to myself, ‘Wow, I really have to practice golf a lot more.’”
These days, Cooper has given up his goal to be a PGA star, though he plays competitively on occasion. His motto is still “Dream big,” but it applies more to growing the game and helping his community now. As a motivational speaker for young people, he often talks about community- and minority-based issues on the Golf Channel and SiriusXM’s PGA Tour Radio. He’s also an honorary First Tee of Delaware board member.
Interestingly, Cooper will publish his third children’s book later this year. The first two were motivational books to make college a focus for today’s youth. It will be his first with Delaware as the backdrop and will include original art by a Delaware artist.
Cooper recently took a job with Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki’s office, working on community outreach and with the Department of Parks and Recreation, where he hopes to develop golf and other programs for the city. “I see myself as a bridge from what I have been given to what I can get done now to bring new people of all kinds to golf, whether it’s minorities or women or seniors,” he says. “The game needs to grow, and we need to reach people we aren’t reaching or haven’t reached yet.”
For Earl Cooper, the world is way bigger than 18 holes.