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Back for more: USF’s Cooney confident heading into NSIC tourney

SIOUX FALLS--It's JJ Cooney's turn. The University of Sioux Falls junior golfer isn't shy about his goals for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament on April 18-20 in Kansas City, Missouri. Cooney wants more than a third top-10 fi...

University of Sioux Falls junior golfer JJ Cooney admires his shot during the Polar Vortex Triangular on March 8 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (USF Sports Info)
University of Sioux Falls junior golfer JJ Cooney admires his shot during the Polar Vortex Triangular on March 8 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (USF Sports Info)

SIOUX FALLS-It's JJ Cooney's turn.

The University of Sioux Falls junior golfer isn't shy about his goals for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament on April 18-20 in Kansas City, Missouri. Cooney wants more than a third top-10 finish and all-NSIC selection.

He wants to win.

And after finishing sixth last year-five strokes off first-his improved short game and still consistent driving has again put him among the conference's top golfers this season.

"I think there's an opportunity for him to win the conference," USF Director of Golf and first-year men's coach Sam Vosler said. "I think he's probably one of five or six people who have a good chance of winning conference or be a top-three finisher."
If the NSIC Preview on April 5-6 is any indication, then Cooney has a chance. His 10th-place finish was highlighted by a season-best round (70 strokes) and career-high two-round score (145). It gave him his 13th round of 75 strokes or better this season.

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Along with building momentum, seeing the course beforehand works especially in Cooney's favor, as he said the back 9, "caught me off guard a couple of times."

"He's able to very quickly problem solve and think, 'What went really well and what do I need to improve on,' " Vosler said. "Those are some of the skills outside of his golf swing that he's more advanced than most of our team and the conference."

Cooney credits that to his father, Tom, who JJ won two Class B state titles under in 2015 and 2016 at Andes Central/Dakota Christian.

"I learned from an early age how to practice and perform, and what it takes to become a top-tier golfer," JJ Cooney said.

Cooney's preparation and mental toughness stand out, but so does his ability.

Vosler called Cooney's driver his, "confidence club," as it sets up the rest of his game when he's able to land on the fairway. Although, his biggest improvement this season came on the green.

Cooney making his putting the most consistent part of his game, Vosler said, is due to him doing a better job reading putts and an improved process. It also took long hours on the green.

"(My short game) definitely saves me rounds more times than not," Cooney said. "... I just spent quite a few hours on the putting green working on different drills, having a couple of tools and alignment aids to help myself stay put more on the green to have a more consistent stroke."
His consistency from tournament to tournament has helped him be USF's top golfer for a third straight season, with younger golfers following his lead. The Cougars haven't had a senior on the team for the past two seasons, so Cooney-one of three juniors-has embraced the leadership role.

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"He's someone who has the ability to lead by action and not just by words," Vosler said. "The guys have definitely followed his suit. He doesn't do it with the rah-rah stuff, but he definitely has the ability to lead and lead by example."

Cooney will lead USF into the conference tournament, possibly battling Mother Nature. However, when he's forced to take on the elements during spring season, he reverts to the memories and feelings of his high school and junior high days to help.

Whether Cooney has to deal with imperfect conditions is yet to be seen. But he will enter with plenty of confidence, knowing he'll be in the running if he shows the most "grit and mental toughness."

"I feel like this year it's definitely my turn to be competing for a chance to win the tournament," Cooney said. "I think my skill level is just as good as anybody else's out there. Essentially winning the tournament is the end goal, but being in the top three would be the overall goal."

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