Representing His Family Roots BY alyssa haduck

At the Raintree Country Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, a 9-year-old David Kocher lined up his shot. Just a few feet separated him from victory against his toughest opponent: his dad, John. Earlier that day, the young golfer had played exceptionally well on his hometown course while his father faltered. David, who had learned the game from his father, grandfather, and uncle, was finally going to triumph over his teacher.

As David’s ball rolled past the hole, he broke down in tears.

“Trying to beat [my grandfather], trying to beat my dad, and trying to beat my uncle were always my biggest goals growing up,” David explained of his early golf aspirations. Because these men exemplified the finest of the sport to the young player, he wanted nothing more than to beat them.

After accepting defeat on that fateful day at Raintree, David vowed that he would never again lose to his father. A decade later, he still hasn’t.

With a combination of natural talent and fierce determination, David quickly became the best golfer in his family and is now one of the best amateur golfers in the nation. As a stand-out member of the University of Maryland’s golf team, the senior has traveled across the country earning two collegiate individual titles, three individual NCAA Regionals bids, and multiple Big Ten honors.

While Kocher’s skills have taken him beyond his North Carolina roots, they have also brought him back to his home state. As the 2016 and 2017 champion of the North Carolina Open, he has found success when returning home, each time reminded of his love for golf and of the people who have made the entire journey so special.

For the Kocher clan, golf has always been a family affair.

“My grandparents had a house in Pinehurst, North Carolina, which is the ‘Home of Golf for the United States,’” David said. “It’s only about two hours away from my house [in Charlotte], so every weekend we’d usually go over there [and] I kind of picked up golf right away.

“I’ve played all of the Pinehurst courses, all of the surrounding courses and everything, so I kind of grew up right in the middle of it.”

The pedigree of North Carolina golf was not, however, the only factor that drove David’s pursuit of the sport.

“My grandfather was one of the biggest reasons I played golf just because he was so fun to be around,” he said. “I wanted to be around him so much that I always wanted to be at the golf course with him.”

“David just gravitated toward golf. You could tell when he was young, even when he was really young, 3 or 4 years old; he’d have a plastic golf club and he just enjoyed walking around with it, swinging it. That’s always been what he’s done... He’s kind of always had a natural golf swing.” - John Kocher, David's father.

John also inherited a love for golf from his father, David’s grandfather, who became involved in the sport from his father, David’s great grandfather. Passed down from generation to generation, the Kochers’ interest in golf seems to have reached an apex in David, who John recalls has always had a special aptitude for the activity.

“David just gravitated toward golf. You could tell when he was young, even when he was really young, 3 or 4 years old; he’d have a plastic golf club and he just enjoyed walking around with it, swinging it. That’s always been what he’s done... He’s kind of always had a natural golf swing.”

It wasn’t long before David joined his father, grandfather, and uncle as a true competitor on the North Carolina golf courses where the quad spent most summer weekends. Eventually, though, David realized that that he had to face opponents outside of his family in order to reach his full potential.

“There’s all kinds of tournaments at Pinehurst, so I used to play tournaments year-round,” he explained. “North Carolina golf surrounds around Pinehurst, so that’s kind of how I got my start in big-time North Carolina golf.”

David has played countless rounds of golf, both casual and competitive, at his hometown courses, and has even won some of the world’s most prestigious golf events on these greens.

“The summer before I came to college I won the North & South Junior in Pinehurst, which is probably a Top 20 junior event in the world, but I won it, and so every year I still play in the North & South Amateur which is a Top 20 event in the world also. That’s on the U.S. Open course too, so it’s always a lot of fun.”

Beyond being the background for David’s victories, these North Carolina courses have also served as the scene for the development of some of his strongest relationships.

“I met all of my really good friends from playing tournaments in Pinehurst and playing tournaments in Raleigh, which is only an hour away from Pinehurst,” he explained.

“That’s kind of how you meet some of your best friends because people don’t really understand playing tournament golf,” he continued. “It’s hard to make those close relationships, but when you go out to golf tournaments, everyone’s going through the same thing as you – playing the same tournaments, traveling the same amount of time – so you form those really tight bonds.”

David's love for golf started early and has never waned.

David’s relationship with William Rainey, a graduate from the College of Charleston and a 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship Individual Finalist, is just one of these friendships that has grown on the golf course. Also a Charlotte native, Rainey joined David to compete in the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, which was held at Pinehurst that year. As two locals returning to their hometown course, David and Rainey knew that playing at Pinehurst together again would be a memorable experience.

“When I found out that the U.S. Four-Ball was going to Pinehurst, me and my buddy Will were like, ‘We have to play in it, we’re definitely good enough to win,’” David said. “It’s a USGA event, and USGA events are the best events in the world, so playing in those are always a lot of fun.”

Though the duo fell in the quarterfinals, they enjoyed competing together with the support of their families.

“Being two hours from our house, our families came out, and we had an unbelievable time," he said.

Win or lose, family is constantly present at all of David’s competitions.

“My parents come to every event I play in, or at least one of them does,” David explained. “They come to every college tournament.”

Though David’s grandfather has passed away, his grandmother has rooted for him from Pinehurst, and his aunt and uncle, based in Chicago, have supported him as well.

“We travel together, we stay together, and they come to my really big tournaments. Every tournament I can play in, one of my family [members] is going to be there, which is really cool,” David said.

“It’s a neat family bond over the years,” John added. "There’s nothing else to do when you’re playing golf but spend time together for four hours at a time, and there aren’t a lot of times in life when you get to do that.”

Despite separate schedules, the Kochers have used golf to maximize their time together. Though David could recall countless golf outings that illustrate the relationship between his family and the sport, one experience in particular stands out in showing just how much golf is infused into the Kochers’ lives.

In 2015, the U.S. Amateur was set to be held at David’s uncle’s home course: Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Illinois. Because of the prominence of the event and its proximity to the Kochers, David was determined to get there.

“Me and my dad were like, ‘We need to find a qualifying spot that I can get through,’” he explained.

As it turned out, David could compete at his father’s home course – Hop Meadow Country Club in Simsbury, Connecticut – to try to qualify for the event.

“I played awesome that week,” David reflected. “[My dad] caddied for me, and I had never been [to his hometown], so we drove around his old town, and I saw everything that he grew up doing. I happened to qualify for the U.S. Amateur there, being a medalist at the spot, and then I went out to Chicago to play my first U.S. Amateur at my uncle’s home course, so that was awesome. We had a great time.”

David Kocher placed fourth at the 2017 Big Ten Championships, marking his third top 10 finish at the conference championships.

Competing in his first U.S. Amateur highlighted David’s experience, but it was the connection to his family that made the journey meaningful. David has since qualified for two more U.S. Amateurs and continues to pursue the competition this year. Even though he continues to advance on a national scale, David has always looked to his father for golfing guidance.

“My dad’s definitely been the biggest influence in my life from a golf standpoint. He’s always caddied for me, he’s always helped me out, he always claims he’s my coach,” David said with a smile. “He’s been a great person to help me with my mental game, with my swing, with everything.”

While John acknowledges his role in his son’s development as a golfer, he also notes that the dynamics have shifted. At David’s current elite level of play, John acts more like an adviser than an instructor.

“When he was younger, it would be more of a father-son [relationship]; I’d be instructing him. But then he got to a level where I have not seen, so I don’t give him much advice anymore,” John explained.

“I’m there more of as a sounding board. It’s more of a confirmation process now.”

For as talented as David has become, though, John applauds his maturity and poise, noting that his son has handled his growing success admirably.

“If you went out there tomorrow, if he was in first place or if he was in last place, you wouldn’t be able to tell. That’s a real attribute for a golfer,” John said of David’s on-course demeanor. “He doesn’t get too high, but he doesn’t get too low. He doesn’t get upset on the course, but he doesn’t get out of control if he’s playing really well. He’s just got a really good, level head on the golf course and I’m really proud of him. Over all of these years, he is someone who you can be really proud of.”

As a senior in his final season at UMD, David plans to focus to his team. He hopes to utilize his performances to motivate and inspire his teammates as they pursue competition this spring.

“I’m trying to make it more competitive,” he explained of his plan to intensify the team’s dynamics. “I don’t want our team just not competing every day, because then you’re just not getting better.

“That’s kind of what I’ve learned throughout my whole life is that if you work hard every day, work harder than the next guy, you’ll improve. So that’s kind of what I try to do, just try to get better and just try to work all of the guys on my team, because if they see me working hard, they’re going to want to do the same. I’ve been trying to play really hard, set a good example, and hopefully it translates into good golf.”

So far, it has. Most recently, the Terps finished 5th out of 17 teams at Auburn's Tiger Invitational, with David leading the team by earning his second collegiate individual title. While this title stands as one of his top golf achievements, for David, any victory is sweet.

“I like winning, I’m not going to lie. Whether it’s winning a match against my teammates – just having the satisfaction of beating [them] – or winning a golf tournament, I find that awesome,” he said. “Winning at golf is so rare, but I’ve won once every year for the past 4 or 5 years, and I play 20 golf tournaments a year, so it just doesn’t happen very much. But winning, shooting the lowest round for the day, that’s pretty awesome, and you feel pretty good about yourself. That’s my favorite thing about golf – competing and having fun, just trying to go out there and beat everyone as bad as you can.”

David and the Terrapins are coming off of a strong fall performance and hope to continue this success throughout the rest of the spring season.

“My goal is to try to make [NCAA] regionals with our golf team in the spring. We haven’t done that in 10 years,” he explained. “I’ve been to the past three regionals as an individual, but I think the biggest goal is to try and get my team there. For me, that would be four straight regional appearances, but having played here for the last three years and being so close as a team, I think that would really be the coolest thing.”

"I like winning, I’m not going to lie." - David Kocher

After graduation, David will leave team play behind and pursue his ultimate goal of competing on the PGA Tour. While he understands the difficulty of this endeavor, David has already outlined a plan to make it happen.

“Right after I graduate, I can go up to Canada and play on the Canadian Tour and hopefully earn my Web.com Tour status through that and then play on the Web.com Tour next year. So in two years’ time, I want to be on the Web.com Tour. It’s going to be hard, but I think that’s my next big step.”

The Kochers already consider David to be an accomplished golfer, but John knows that his son’s career in the sport may only be beginning. He is honored to have been a part of David’s journey so far and looks forward wherever it will take them next.

“It’s been wonderful to be along for the ride,” he said. "David is a great guy to spend time with, because when you meet David, everybody’s drawn to him. He’s got an electric personality. He’s someone to be proud of.

“He’s really talented, and it’s been neat to go through the process with him. I remember his first junior tournaments, and all of those years ago just going out and hitting balls with him… To be along for the steps on the way has been really, really neat – a lot of great memories, and hopefully more in the future.”

Representing His Family Roots is a special presentation of umterps.com.

Alyssa Haduck is a senior majoring in communications and romance languages at the University of Maryland and is a contributing writer to umterps.com.

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