Cole Hammer (USGA photo)
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talking about his golf swing, his shot shape, what it takes to play at the next level or any number of golf-related topics, and you’ll realize that Hammer could wax poetic on all aspects of the game for as long as you both have the time. Hammer’s mind is clearly just as powerful as his go-to draw, which indicates that this one is going to be around awhile.
Hammer has spent the past few years climbing the rungs of amateur golf and checking off all the major experiences. Three years ago, he played his first U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old (back when all of Twitter was obsessed with making M.C. Hammer jokes). So far this year, the now 18-year-old has had three major wins: the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball with partner Garrett Barber, the Azalea Invitational and most recently, the Western Amateur.
Two of those three victories put a heavy premium on match play. The Western, in particular, required two grueling 36-hole days at Sunset Ridge Golf Club in Northfield, Ill. Consistency and experience make him a tough stroke-play opponent, but that also translates to head-to head strength.
“Marginally, I might be a little bit better in stroke play,” said Hammer, when asked his preference. “I think a little bit of that comes from the experience. Being a consistent player and not making really big numbers feeds into being a little more talented at match play.”
His match-play record this year is an impressive 13-1. The only loss came at the hands of Akshay Bhatia (two-time Junior PGA champion) in the semifinals of the U.S. Junior.
Each time Hammer makes headlines, he seems noticeably older. Crowd-related jitters are non-existent now after a U.S. Open start. Hammer’s final match against Davis Riley at the Western Amateur drew fans in the hundreds. The greens were surrounded, Hammer said, with crowds that were three bodies deep in some places.
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“Everybody realizes that having a great week at the Western can change your summer and your amateur career for the better,” Hammer said.
There couldn’t be a better time for a big win – let alone this win – than two weeks before the U.S. Amateur. Hammer is “beyond excited” to play Pebble Beach, a property he has never seen before.
“I was looking forward to this the whole year and I was just hoping that I would get into the tournament in some way,” he said.
Hammer got in courtesy of his top-50 position in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Good golf opens the door to more good golf. Before a third-round 9-under 61 at the Western Amateur – which was a new course record at Sunset Ridge – Hammer’s lowest round in competition had been a 63 at the Azalea Amateur. A year ago, it was 64.
“It’s cool to see yourself go low like that,” Hammer said. “It’s not easy because you start thinking about the score, but if you let yourself play the way you can and stroke the putter the way you know you can, you can really get it rolling.”
So what kind of game is Hammer playing to reach those low numbers? One that puts a premium on shaping shots – he’s “had a knack for it as long as I can remember.” There’s a natural athleticism about him that comes from growing up playing baseball. He has a creative eye for hitting different kinds of shots around the course, and a sense for what type of shot is required.
Hammer certainly falls at the end of the Tiger Woods generation, but even though he shares a swing coach (Cameron McCormick) with Jordan Spieth, he names Woods as his idol golfer.
“He just changed the game,” said Hammer, who will be a freshman at the University of Texas this fall – where Spieth spent two seasons.
For awhile, Hammer tried to pattern himself after Woods, but realized that he plays better when he plays to his own strengths.
Many top amateurs, upon dipping their toe into the next level – much like Hammer did at the 2015 U.S. Open – realize how strong they must be around the greens if they have a shot at transitioning to a successful professional career. Hammer learned that long ago from his cohorts at this level.
“Top amateur golfers are just as good putters as the guys on the PGA Tour,” Hammer observed, referencing World No. 1 amateur Braden Thornberry, who won the NCAA Championship in 2017 and finished T-4 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic later that summer.
When it comes right down to it, Hammer’s commitment to short game is the thing that vaulted him into the winner’s circle three times this year.
“It just comes down to putting. I’ve started making a lot more putts,” he said. “Found something this year and still rolling with it and it’s been great and really improved my success in tournaments."