Light-Horse Harry Cooper

Harry Cooper is in many ways the forgotten man of professional golf. He never won the Masters, the PGA or the U.S. Open. But for three decades, beginning in the Twenties, he played some of the best, and fastest, rounds of golf on the PGA Tour, winning more than 30 tournaments, culminating in 1937, when he won nine times and was both the leading money winner ($14,000) and winner of the Vardon Trophy for the best scoring average.

Born in England in 1904, he moved when he was a child with his father, a golf pro, to Texas where he grew up to win the Texas PGA Championship in 1922 and 1923. His first big win, however, was the inaugural Los Angeles Open in 1926. It was here that he was nicknamed “Light-Horse” by the famous journalist and short story writer, Damon Runyon.

Damon wrote that he needed a racehorse to keep up with Harry Cooper. Runyon, and 5,000 other spectators, raced after Harry and George Von Elm in the final round. It was a round that took just two and a half hours to play.

Unable to make a decent living on tour, Harry became a home professional. First in Chicago in the late ‘30s, then Minneapolis, Honolulu at the close of the World War II, and returning to the mainland, at the Lakeside Golf Club in North Hollywood, where he gave lessons to the likes of Bob Hope and Bring Crosby.

I met Harry in 1990. He was teaching part-time at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, after having been the pro at nearby Metropolis Country Club for 26 years.  I was writing Playing With the Pros: Golf Tips from the Senior Tour (with photos by golf’s renowned photographer Jules Alexander) and Harry was kind enough to pen the Introduction for the instructional book.

In the process of talking with him about the senior tour book, I picked up a few valuable swing tips. Among them where these basic Six.

  1. “The golf swing is all about the hands. Your hands alone control the face of the club. If you can control the face of the club, you can control the direction of the ball.”
  2. “You don’t hit the ball with the backswing. Accelerate speed as you’re coming down, not going back. Hit from the bottom of the swing, not the top.”
  3. “When addressing the ball, first place the club face on the intended line, then take your stance either square to the line or slightly open.”
  4. “Don’t worry about keeping your eye on the ball. That doesn’t mean a thing. Learn to keep your head still is the important thing.”
  5. “Play for accuracy. I’d rather hit a 5 iron from the fairway than a wedge from the rough.”
  6. “Putt cross-handed, with the left hand lower on the shaft. Place two fingers of the right hand overlapping two fingers of the left hand.”

While Harry was famous for playing fast, we had the advantage of having “Light-Horse” around the world of golf for many years. He died on October 17, 2000, at the age of 96, after a long life of smooth fairways and gentle greens. As he famously said about the game of golf: “First, you’ve got to be good, then you’ve got to be lucky.”
For those of us who knew Harry; we were lucky.

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  • I had the pleasure to know Mr. Harry Cooper(and his wife Mrs. Emma Cooper) while caddying at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, NY. One day he asked me if I wanted to work in the pro-shop on weekd-ends. At the time I was attending college and it offered me the opportunity to make money and do my work for summer school. I was responsible for taking care the the member’s clubs and working the golf range. While working in the pro-shop Mr. Cooper taught me how to replace the grips and re-string the heads of the clubs. While at the same time having benefited from his free golf lessons that he gave me while on the range. Harry Cooper was also a great teacher. Often many other professionals (Roberto De Vincenzo, Champagne Tony Lema) and celebraties (Phil Rizzuto, Don Ho, Jesse Ownes) would seek him out for lessons. On many occassions I made additional money by doing things around his house. It was during these times that Mr. Cooper would tell me about his life. How he had lived a rich life (even though not having won any of the ‘great” tournaments), made the more richer by his love of his life, “Emma”. I am sad to read that Mr. Cooper passed away in 2000 and his wife Emma in 2002. I would have been present at both of their funerals. Perhaps I will visit their graves and pay my respects.

  • Hogan studied Mr. Cooper’s swing very closely. It’s a shame that Harry Cooper never wrote a book. Nor can I find any video footage.

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