Cooper Hrabak isn’t afraid of competition. The Highland junior golfer embraces it. Growing up with four siblings has developed the attitude, and Hrabak never stops working to make sure he stays ahead.
That is the secret for the Gazette MVP. Hrabak refused to give into the perception that the Hornets wouldn’t repeat as Suburban League American Conference champions after graduating five seniors, especially considering Hrabak and Nathan Fousek were only part-time starters.
All Hrabak did was power Highland to a come-from-behind championship — no other school has won in four years since the SL split into conferences — and sixth consecutive berth to the Pine Hills Division I District.
So much for a rebuilding year.
“For him, it was just like, ‘Bring it on,”’ seventh-year Hornets coach Andrew Dutt said. “That’s how he is. He never complained about it. He never said, ‘Hey, guys, I need some help.’ He was like, ‘OK, I’m going to out there and shoot this score.’
“He had some bad days, and they were still good for us. He wants to be the best player on the course, so he’s willing to carry everyone because his ultimate goal is to go Division I. He really looks up to high school golfers around here, and that’s the role he’s taken.”
Most of those high school golfers can now look up to Hrabak after a rewarding breakthrough season.
Hrabak first took private lessons at the age of 9 and immediately fell in love with the work-reward aspect of the game. Chasing perfection is an addiction that, while unobtainable, always produces noticeable improvements.
Hrabak practices nearly every day at Weymouth Country Club. When Mother Nature says otherwise, he fires up a simulator in an office at his home. Famous courses can be downloaded to play — Hrabak enjoys Oakmont Country Club and Trump National Doral Miami — but most of the time Hrabak has the machine take him through custom scenarios such as hitting over water.
There is little that catches him off guard in the real world as a result.
“In a round you want to know where trouble is and where you can’t miss, so I think sometimes — there are a couple holes at (J.E.) Good Park (Golf Course) and whatnot — you know not to take your driver and hit another club,” he said. “From there, you’re going to get into easier shots, and that’s where I make up some strokes.”
Hrabak has surprising power given his 5-foot-10, 135-pound frame with a driver that pushes 280-to-300 yards. He doesn’t think about that much and instead recognizes what iron or wedge he’s comfortable with and makes sure to hit his tee shot within range of that club.
Playing just 171 holes as a sophomore, Hrabak stepped up to a level that put him among the best in Northeast Ohio this fall. His 38.7 average led Medina County by 0.6 strokes, and in a seven-day stretch he shot a 4-under-par 68 and 3-under 33 at Pine Hills.
More importantly, Hrabak averaged 38.1 in eight SL American events and earned player of the year. The Hornets finished behind Kent Roosevelt and Revere at the preseason tournament but went undefeated in match play and won the postseason tournament by five strokes.
Hrabak had help from younger brother Griffin, along with Fousek and newcomers Joey Alcini, Blake Zuro and Jack Hoynes, but everyone knew Highland wouldn’t have been able to contend without its star.
The season ended with an 11th-place finish at districts, where Hrabak fell five strokes shy of state. That didn’t diminish what he had accomplished because there was tremendous growth in his game.
Let the addiction live on.
“To be honest, I wasn’t looking at Gazette Player of the Year,” he said. “I was focused on trying to make it to states and trying to perform as a team. That didn’t happen, however, but I was happy with how I performed.
“We did lose five seniors, so I didn’t think anyone thought we were going to be a threat. For as much as we work at it — we’re a close team — we put together decent rounds. We didn’t do great in preseason, but in dual meets we really picked up our slack.”