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McKeesport native finally finds rhythm

Mellow music and an unorthodox putting style helped Brian Cooper zoom toward the top of the leaderboard Thursday in the first round of the Quicksilver Golf Classic.

Cooper, a McKeesport native who now lives in Phoenix, shot a 3-under-par 69. That put him three strokes behind co-leaders Aaron Clark, of Springfield, Mo., and Grover Justice, of Lexington, Ky., who each shot 66.

Kevin Shields, of Mt. Lebanon, was the top local golfer with a 4-under 68. Justin Smith, a former PIAA champ at Moon Area High School, was among 11 players who shot 69.

As he played, Cooper rocked out with his iPod. Many of the 151 other entrants in the four-day tournament wore the digital music players on the practice putting green, but Cooper might have been the only one to use his during his round.

"I listen mostly to soothing sounds -- Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, David Gray," Cooper said. "It keeps my mind from wandering."

It's OK by the rulebook, so long as Cooper listens only to music and not instructional messages. Cooper competed with his iPod for the first time last week during a U.S. Open qualifier in Phoenix.

"I shot a 68 and got through," he said. "So, hey, if it ain't broke, I ain't fixing it."

Yesterday, Cooper began his round listening to "Babylon" by Gray. He birdied Nos. 1, 3, 12 and 13. He made a good save for par on 10, after he had buried a shot on the lip of the bunker.

By the time Cooper made the turn, U2 was delivering a more up-tempo beat. But when he three-putted on 16, Cooper worried he was slipping out of his rhythm.

Cooper thought back to the Open qualifier, when he kept replaying five songs by Gray.

"That's my rhythm spot, right there," Cooper said. "I probably should just download those songs over and over and have it as a shuffle."

With "Babylon" humming again in his ears, Cooper birdied 17 and made par on the final two holes. That kept him among the frontrunners for the $24,000 winner's paycheck.

Cooper is taming Quicksilver's 7,083-yard layout. Long drives have always been one of his strengths. Working this year with a new instructor in Phoenix, Cooper has straightened out his drive and has started hitting a lot more fairways and greens.

His sore spot has been putting. That changed after Cooper took a piece of advice from his financial sponsor, former Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace.

Now, Cooper looks at the hole -- not the ball -- as he putts.

"It's absolutely amazing," Cooper said. "I've had friends try it, and they can't do it. But it works for me."

Grace talked Cooper into changing his technique a few weeks ago, after they had finished playing 27 holes at Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, Ariz. In the clubhouse, Cooper was moaning about his troubles with the putter.

"Dude, I play a lot of golf with (Cubs pitcher) Greg Maddux," Grace said. "He putts looking at the hole, and he putts great."

Cooper and Grace finished their drinks, went out and played another round. Cooper, using the new putting technique, fired a 64.

"From that point on, I've been doing it, and it feels comfortable," Cooper said. "It's a little different. People look at me a little strange, but it works. Just because it's a little weird doesn't mean it's not a good thing."

Additional Information:

Leaderboard

Aaron Clark
Springfield, Mo.
66

Grover Justice
Lexington, Ky.
66

Matt Anderson
Edina, Minn.
67

Bryant MacKellar
Fair Hope, Ala.
67

Matt Gallant
Lebanon, Tenn.
67

Kevin Shields
Mt. Lebanon
68

Andrew Morse
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
68

Brian Stuard
Jackson, Miss.
68

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