Southern Hills head professional Cary Cozby ready for 'major' opportunity
Life works in mysterious ways, and Cary Cozby knows that intimately.
Just before he was set to tee it up at a sectional qualifier for last year’s KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, Cozby – who is the head professional at Southern Hills Country Club – lost his father. A fellow PGA Professional of the Year, Jerry Cozby passed away August 23, 2020.
About six months later, Cozby ended up with a spot in the field anyway.
The 24-year member of the PGA of America had a compelling case to earn a special invitation into the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, and that invite was extended in March.
Now the long-time Southern Hills pro gets to tee it up alongside a number of golfers he’s idolized his whole life.
“Unbelievable, really,” says Cozby. “I’m excited to play, obviously. I want to do my best. I get to play my home course in front of our membership. My son is going to be on the bag, which is crazy. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Representatives from the PGA of America, including Kerry Haigh, the Chief Championship Officer, visited Southern Hills in March of 2020 for a site visit – as not only will the iconic Oklahoma layout host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, but the 2022 PGA Championship as well – but Cozby was on a Spring Break trip with his family at the time. He wasn’t around for a dinner hosted by a number of the members while the PGA was in town. But the club’s superintendent, Russ Myers, made a toast on Cozby’s behalf.
In the toast, Myers mentioned how much of an honor it would have been to see Cozby tee it up alongside the game’s legends at the Championship itself.
A letter was sent, and the request was granted.
“I didn’t even know that was a possibility,” admits Cozby.
After his father passed away Cozby was just hoping that after the cut was made at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship there would be an odd number of golfers to find the weekend, so he could go out as a marker. He wanted his 13-year-old golf-obsessed son, Banks, to be on his bag.
“I thought that would be a fun consolation prize, so to speak. And then this happened,” says Cozby, “it’s just crazy how things turn out.”
Cozby started his career at Southern Hills in 1995 (he’s a University of Oklahoma alum) but spent 15 years at the Wichita Country Club before returning home in 2015. But, he has teed it up only twice in professional events – about 20 years ago on the Korn Ferry Tour. He tried chasing mini tours and played in a number of State Open events right out of college and has played the U.S. Amateur.
While the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship will by far be the biggest stage he’s competed on, he might be more excited for his son.
“I’m excited about him having an inside-the-arena look for a kid who loves to play golf and loves to play tournament golf and see his excitement level. It’ll probably be off the chain,” says Cozby.
If Cozby didn’t grow up watching most of the competitors (there are 30 major champions in the field, for example) then he played against them in college, like Jim Furyk. He told his son that they could sneak out during a practice round to watch Jose Maria Olazabal chip, since Seve Ballesteros was one of his favorite players when he was a kid, and Olazabal, inspired by Ballesteros, has one of the best short games of all time, he says.
“It’s going to be neat to be on the golf course with (the Championship competitors). I’m going to try to not think about too much of those things, but it’s going to be cool to see those guys rolling through,” says Cozby.
Regardless of the hype, the excitement, and the golden opportunity Cozby now has to compete amongst the world’s best golfers, he knows there is still a job to do on the golf course.
Funny enough, there will be another job to do soon enough as well.
“The following Saturday I’m going to be back on the tee shaking hands, coordinating things, and making sure people have a good time like golf professionals do,” says Cozby, with a laugh.
Cozby’s been practicing, he says, so then the nerves he’s feeling turn into something a little less impactful. He admits there is no pressure for him to play well other than he wants to play well, but it’s not lost on him how special an opportunity he’s got to compete on a big stage at a historic place. The golf club, he says, is the most historic in the state.
“It’s a win regardless because I get to play in a major event like this,” Cozby says. “To be able to play here in front of family and friends at the club with my kid on the bag, it’s going to be a special week and, kind of like Christmas morning, I need to slow it down and enjoy it.”