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Andes Central's Cooney having early success on golf course

PICKSTOWN — Golf is not work or even a game for the Cooneys, but a time to spend together.

Mom Deb, father Tom, and brothers Ryan and J.J. have spent many Sundays on the golf course competing against each other and having fun.

Some of J.J.’s earliest memories of playing were those Sunday morning rounds at Randall Hills Golf Course in Pickstown, which the family lives on.

“I can remember going out with my family at age 5 and that is when I fell in love with golf,” J.J. said. “It always makes it much more fun when you play golf with people you know. We want to beat each other, but spending time with each other is always great, too.”

This season, J.J. has claimed individual titles at the Mount Vernon/Plankinton Invite and the South Eastern South Dakota Small Schools golf tournament. He shot a 74 to win the SESDSS tournament and a 75 to claim the MVP Invite.

J.J., a sophomore, also recorded a second-place finish this season. He took runner-up to Bon Homme’s Alec Johnson at the Scotland/Avon Invite Thursday. J.J. and Johnson each finished with an 80, but Johnson won the tiebreaker because he had a better score on the back nine.

J.J. sees each of the tournaments as preparation for his goal of finishing in the top five at the Class B state tournament May 19-20 at Wild Oak Golf Club in Mitchell. Another goal is to help the Andes Central boys golf team reach the state tournament for the first time in school history.

J.J. finished 14th at the Class B state tournament last season, carding a 164 at the two-day event. In 2012 as an eighth-grader, J.J. finished 22nd.

“I know he wants to be an all-state golfer,” Tom said. “I think the biggest difference for J.J. this year is that his decision making and consistency has improved. He is not making the mental errors, which cost you a stroke here and a stroke there. He is also consistently striking the ball and keeping it out of the water and trees.”

Tom and Ryan have been driving forces behind J.J.’s push to be the state’s top Class B golfer. Ryan also golfed at Andes Central, qualifying for the state tournament four years. His peak performance at state came as a senior in 2010, when he finished 13th.

As for Tom, he enjoys working with his son and coaching him through the season.

“My dad definitely pushed me and my brother to become great,” J.J. said. “He cares about how we do in school and how we do on the course, and he definitely goes the extra mile with us. Sometimes he will spend sunup to sundown with us on the golf course.”

J.J.’s dreams of playing golf don’t end with a high school state championship, as he wants to take his talents to the next level, whether it be college or professional someday. In preparation for the recent golf season and future, he spends countless hours on the golf course in the summer and works with PGA golf instructor Todd Kolb a couple times a month.

Cooney and the Eagles compete in the Burke/Platte tournament Friday.