“I’VE GROWN UP A LOT”
On this Valentine’s Day weekend, we celebrate the new (rediscovered) love in the life of Latham’s Bailey Cocca – the game of golf.
“I’m so happy here; probably one of the best decisions I made,” Bailey Cocca told Capitalareagolf.com recently about her time at Coastal Carolina University. Her spring season is already underway after a “comeback” fall that saw her traveling to every event and getting her scoring average down to just under 75.
“I know I can do better but overall I put in a lot of hard work and so did the rest of my team so it kind of all paid off, especially the last couple of tournaments that we won,” she said.
In a one-day tournament on February 7 at the Lady Bulldog Invitational, Bailey Cocca T12 with matching rounds of 79. This weekend, the Chanticleers are in Tallahassee, FL for the FSU Match-Up.
Her teammates are “super nice,” she said, adding it’s a “way better experience” than her first years in college at UAlbany. Even her parents have said becoming a Chanticleer is “the best decision that I have made personally, ever.”
Growing up, Bailey Cocca was one of the most promising prospects the Capital Area had produced. She was competing at a high level in her early teens, leading the NENY PGA Junior circuit, playing in the Futures stop at Capital Hills @ Albany, plus NYSGA and IGJT events. But then came the teen years, family disagreements, game setbacks, wanting to just be a teenager and all the pressures that come with it.
That led to rebelliousness, visible arguments on the course with her father, Jim Cocca, who had been her caddie and coach, and other things that set her game, and her future, back. (Today, they are close. More below.) As young as 13, she had schools looking at her and by the time the Shaker H.S. student was getting set to look at college, word was she had a scholarship offer at Coastal Carolina.
But then a setback – both on and off the course. At age 16 she found a boyfriend (for 2 ½ years) that those in her circle weren’t sure about. While they wanted her to go south and get back in the groove, she thought she should stay in the area and looked at Siena College and UAlbany. (Privately, those close said she wouldn’t have the grades for Siena but she did go to UAlbany for a while but didn’t play.) She stepped away from the game “for personal reasons” before finally realizing that she needed to get out of New York State.
Why are things working now? “Well,” she paused, “I had no boy, I guess.”
Cocca admitted that finally, the adult in her came out: “Something kind of just clicked in my head, kind of like ‘What am I doing? I need to get back on track and I have something ahead of me and I shouldn’t be in Albany. I shouldn’t be there.’”
In June 2013, she had a meniscus transplant, in the middle of what would be a nearly three-year layoff from competitive golf.
“It was something that had to be done,” she said. The surgery was followed by one year of rehabilitation.
Cocca transferred to Coastal Carolina where the coach gave her the chance she needed and has even earned a partial scholarship, something she wasn’t sure she’d ever regain.
“My team and coaches are awesome,” she said. “They’re hard but he cares about us a lot.”
She was finally cleared to play the last three events for the Chanticleers in the spring of 2014 and then that carried into last fall. She uses a pull cart to protect that knee as much as she can and her grades are up, too.
“I’m still kind of recovering but I’m pretty much back now,” she said. “It got to a point that the doctor said if I waited any longer it would start causing arthritis and my cartilage was already wearing down so I had to this time.”
Because it’s not her own meniscus, it will last somewhere between 10-15 years and then she’ll need another one down the fairway.
“It’s not the last surgery, I know that,” she said.
In late October at Kiawah Island, the Chanticleers won their second straight tournament to end the fall semester when they took the Palmetto Intercollegiate hosted by College of Charleston. It was played at Kiawah Island, SC’s Turtle Point Golf Course.
“Something clicked with all of us and we just came together,” Cocca said. “Each of us had rounds that could have been better but as a team everything just worked out…we’re a pretty close team.”
She was struggling with her driver at Palmetto and said she didn’t hit it once in last two rounds of that tournament. She lost seven shots on the first day so used her 3W for the final two rounds.
“That’s something me and my dad are going to work on,” she said.
Knowing the past, we explored that a bit further and Bailey said when she was ready to make the move south she called her dad, who has a home in South Carolina, not far from the CCU campus. They “talked about everything” and she figured out what was in her best interest.
“I think (we) are probably closer than we were before,” Bailey said, adding “I’ve grown up a lot…My family is so happy” and has seen a change in her attitude and as a player.
She lives in a apartment across from campus and during the past few months, she’s been working out three times a week with one team practice session per week, too.
“My putting is better than it’s ever been right now,” she said.
The college junior, who is majoring in Communications, turns 21 in April.
“I have a lot of work to do,” Bailey admitted. “I’m still coming back…I still have a lot of work to do to catch up to everybody else if I want to get there than I have a lot more to work on.”