How miles of prep work help this on-course reporter stock up on insights
SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — Kay Cockerill does a lot of walking.
As an on-course reporter for Golf Channel and NBC, she walks with players during their practice rounds to earn their trust, and if there’s a player she doesn’t know, she walks right over and introduces herself.
She walks up and down the driving range, gathering intel from swing coaches and caddies.
And, before a single shot is hit in competition, she walks the whole course — fairways and greens and everywhere in between.
“I like to walk it to feel it under my feet,” she says.
That may sound like the kind of thing a bohemian on a spirit quest might say, but for someone in Cockerill’s role, it’s a sign of diligent prep work. The miles she logs — and things she learns along the way — are all part of the gig.
This week, she’s walking familiar ground.
Cockerill, 57, covered the U.S. Women’s Open the last time the ladies were in town in 2007. And, more recently, she competed in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles in 2019, after architect Kyle Franz gave the course a makeover.
“The greens, to me, are even more severe than they were before [the restoration],” Cockerill says. “There are literally one or two maybe 20-foot circles that you have to find, irrelevant of where the holes are located.”
Just as Donald Ross intended.
Observations like these are why Cockerill sees value in spending so much time walking the course in the days leading up to the championship. Fans get to hear her insights during the broadcasts each weekend, but most of the work is done before the opening tee ball is struck.
“I try to do as much as I can out on the golf course,” she says. “That’s where you learn the most. You see things, you watch shots, you see how the course is reacting.”
Cockerill is much like the players she covers in that regard. She approaches her duties as an on-course reporter with the same routine-oriented mindset that the top golfers in the world use — a remanent of her pre-broadcasting days when she competed on the LPGA Tour.
As Cockerill puts it, her game was a struggle in the mid-90s. She was good enough to play on tour, but not quite good enough to win — she finished her pro career with one win, on what would become the Epson Tour. The grind was wearing on her.
That’s when then-LPGA commissioner Charlie Meacham approached her with an interesting proposal. The Golf Channel was in its infancy, and they were looking for former players to become commentators. Would she be interested?
“I was smart enough to understand that it was a pretty cool opportunity,” Cockerill says. “I was at a crossroads, and it was an opportunity to take a different route in the golf world.”
Cockerill took the job, and it it didn’t take long for her to become hooked on her new career. She split her time between playing and broadcasting for a few years, but by the end of 1997, she’d fully transitioned to her on-air role.
“I just loved that I could stay in the golf world,” she says. “I could see things form a different perspective and use my knowledge in a less stressful manner.”
The way Cockerill describes her contributions to the Golf Channel team is a utility player. She’s said yes to as many opportunities as possible, and as a result she has a diverse skillset.
One day, she’ll be on the course, reporting on a feature group and providing analysis at a ground level. The next, she’s in the studio for one of Golf Channel’s many shows. Her diverse resume is perhaps her greatest asset — and it’s something she’s fiercely proud of.
“I’m not a superstar,” Cockerill admits. “But you can put me in a lot of different positions. We can’t all be David Fehertys and Dottie Peppers.”
Through it all, though, there remains a common theme — Cockerill always enjoys the walk. Especially late on Sundays.
“Now I always get to walk down the 72nd hole,” she says. “I didn’t often get to do that as a player.”