UNC prof's coaching helped Stewart focus for U.S. Open win
Posted June 10
Updated June 11
Pinehurst, N.C. — University of North Carolina Educational Psychology Professor Dr. Richard Coop has spent decades working as a consultant to athletes in the area of Mental Skills Training and Performance Enhancement.
In golf, he has helped Corey Pavin, Ben Crenshaw and Payne Stewart. Coop was right there with Stewart during the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
"One of the things we did, I had him write on his scorecard OTE, OTE, OTE, OTE. Four OTE's. What that stood for was opportunity to excel," said Coop. "When you hit a ball under a tree, that's an opportunity to excel rather than the worst break you have ever gotten in your golfing career."
With unwavering confidence and laser-ike focus, Stewart came to the 16th hole on the final day, tied for the lead with Phil Mickelson.
"Everybody remembers the highlights of one shining moment of the 18th hole, but if he hadn't pulled the shot off at 16 it wouldn't have made that much difference," said Coop.
Stewart had too much steam on his third shot at 16, blowing it 25 feet past the hole. That left a near-impossible putt for par.
"He never came close to making it in the practice rounds," said Coop.
It was one of those OTE moments, an opportunity to excel.
"What I thought was so impressive about it was when he made it, he didn't jump around, he didn't throw his cap in the air. He just matter-of-factly went," said Coop, "and we had worked on that. Don't lose your focus just because you made a great shot. Don't lose your concentration just because you made a bad shot."
"To be so organized and focused at a time when it was most necessary was probably one of my highlights of working with him."
Calm became chaos after Stewart dropped the final putt to win the Open. Late that night, Dr. Coop walked into Stewart's room as he prepared for an event the next day.
"Payne was ironing his knickers and his golf shirt. I said 'What are you doing?'" Coop recalled.
"He said, 'I have to be professional. I'm the U.S. Open champion,'" Coop said.