In Liz Cooper’s advancement through the golf industry, there’s never been a bad time or place to create something that will last.
Cooper, a 38-year-old who won last year’s national PGA Player Development Award, already has fashioned an enviable career that is cut from many pieces of cloth. The former Duquesne University swimmer who stumbled upon golf after graduating has spent considerable time as an assistant professional, membership marketing director, player development director, head professional and, now in her current role, the LPGA’s senior director of membership and events on the amateur side of its operation.
The central theme through each of those jobs has been Cooper’s relentless ambition to bring new golfers to the game. Each successful stint has led to another, putting her in position to influence more and more people.
“When you find your niche and you are able to create results from what you are doing, good opportunities find you and that’s what has happened to me,” Cooper said. “I’ve been really fortunate with the moves I’ve made because each one of them has really prepared me for the next.”
Cooper grew up in Massachusetts before spending most of her adult life in Virginia, and she had little relationship with golf outside of playing with her parents while on vacations. However, she moved to Florida after college and took a small job at a local golf course that piqued her interest in the game, so much so that she decided to attend the now-defunct Golf Academy of America in Orlando.
Of the more than 100 people in the Level 1 class who were aiming to earn PGA certification, only a handful of them were women. One was Marvol Barnard, an Alaskan who also found golf later in life, who would go on to become the LPGA’s national teacher of the year in 2016 as well as the national president of LPGA Professionals. Barnard and Cooper remain close friends as they work in separate but overlapping departments within the LPGA, their bond having started with those introductory courses.
“The word I’ve always used to describe her is ‘driven,’ ” Barnard said of Cooper. “She was young and crazy, but she was focused. It’s no surprise that each step of her career has dovetailed from the last. Liz never looks at a job like it’s to benefit herself; it’s always to better the organization she’s a part of.”
Upon becoming a PGA member, Cooper moved back to Virginia where she got her start as an assistant golf professional at Mount Vernon Country Club. She kept that role for four years before transitioning to a membership marketing role at the same club, although she continued to teach and participate in player development initiatives.
“What gets me excited is providing opportunities for people to get into the game who don’t even think about it. Whether it’s a little girl or a lady who has never picked up a club or a minority, someone who has never had that experience gets me excited.”
In 10 years at Mount Vernon, Cooper went from determined and inexperienced to a seasoned professional who understood that a club needs to have engaging programming options available for men, women and kids. The days of the husband coming to the club and joining on his own had long ended, and Cooper saw that as an opportunity.
It didn’t come easily, as she had to learn much of the golf industry from scratch.
“When I hired her, she didn’t know anything about the business,” said Pete Van Pelt, the longtime general manager at Mount Vernon. “She didn’t even know how to bet on the golf course. … But when she started private lessons at a club like ours that has a very strong women’s program, she started getting a lot of lessons and valuable experience. She had a great loyalty to me and to the club.”
Setting a foundation at Mount Vernon enabled Cooper to make several quick and powerful career moves. She joined the Middle Atlantic PGA Section in 2015 as player development coordinator, working closely with the PGA of America’s national office and conducting 13 town-hall gatherings throughout the section. A year later she became director of player development at Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia.
Cooper left an indelible mark on the private club’s programming. She conducted a survey early in her tenure and discovered that 60 percent of the Army Navy membership played golf primarily for the social component. Soon after she developed happy hours on the range, a Golf 101 class for women and an all-girls PGA Junior League. That year, Cooper spearheaded the only all-girl division of PGA Junior League in the country.
“What gets me excited is providing opportunities for people to get into the game who don’t even think about it,” Cooper said. “Whether it’s a little girl or a lady who has never picked up a club or a minority, someone who has never had that experience gets me excited.”
After three successful years at Army Navy, Cooper took a head professional job at Springfield (Va.) Golf & Country Club. She implemented many of the same programs – one called Wine, Women and Wedges became a hit that increased female participation.
“I think when you set out in golf, the head pro position is the ultimate place to land,” Cooper said. “I had some proven numbers and they came to me and asked. It was really a great experience, but then I got another phone call with another way to do this.”
That call was from the LPGA. Although she hadn’t been at Springfield long, the chance to connect with 13,000 people at once was too good to pass up.
Cooper describes this role as similar to what she has done from a player development perspective in the past, only now on a much larger scale. She took the job in February and has been transitioning during the height of the pandemic, moving to Florida this summer.
“Like everyone else, it’s been crazy,” Cooper said. “We cancel more things than we do and we are just trying to figure out how to function in the new normal.”
Despite a lack of in-person activity at the moment, Barnard describes Cooper as the exact type of “boots-on-the-ground” person the LPGA needs. Beyond Cooper’s strong track record in player development, her ability to overcome adversity is cited by Barnard. She tells a story of caddying for Cooper in the LPGA Teachers and Club Professionals National Championship where that tenacity was on display.
“We were in the last round and she had just a really horrific front nine,” Barnard said. “I was stressed and racking my brain trying to think of what to do to help her. But on the back nine, she birdied two holes and parred everything else. She came roaring back.
“And what I saw in her … that’s her. When she has adversity in her life, she doesn’t complain about it or wallow in it.”
What she has done is put together an impressive résumé full of proven, real impact wherever she has gone.
Cooper is one of the rare PGA professionals who has accomplished a great deal and has decades ahead to do even more. Because of that, the golf industry is lucky to have her.