Viktor Hovland (right) shakes Cole Hammer's hand (USGA photo)
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Aug. 18, 2018) – Even the hottest of hot streaks eventually comes to an end. Cole Hammer’s
run ended Saturday in the U.S. Amateur semifinals but Hammer headlines are far from over.
Hammer, an 18-year-old headed to the University of Texas this fall, authored a head-turning week at Pebble Beach in his second U.S. Amateur. But in Saturday's semifinal, he went 2 down to Oklahoma State’s Viktor Hovland
after 3 holes and was behind the eight-ball from that point on.
Hovland made quick work of his last two opponents – needing only 12 holes to move on – but Hammer kept fighting. Hammer birdied Nos. 5 and 6 to get back to all square but immediately went down again when Hovland birdied No. 7.
On the back, Hammer birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 14 to stay within reach, but hit it in the bunker on No. 15 and made a bogey. When Hovland birdied No. 13, it was the beginning of the end.
“I'm not mad about the way I played,” Hammer said. “I'm just disappointed that I kind of ran into a buzz saw.”
The semifinals seem to have Hammer’s number. Last month’s U.S. Junior run ended in the semifinals, too. It stung a little, and Hammer wore a Baltusrol-logoed cap this week (Baltusrol hosted the U.S. Junior) to remind himself of that loss.
As for Hovland, from Norway, this is only his second start at the U.S. Amateur and his deepest run. Hovland said he has really only won one significant tournament in the U.S., and that was a college event. After winning his last two U.S. Amateur matches by a 7-and-6 margin, Hovland beat Hammer on the 16th hole.
Hovland made eight birdies on Saturday, and he needed every one.
“Cole was playing good golf and I knew that if I wanted to win holes, I needed to make some birdies,” he said. “The first birdie on 10, when I made a nice putt, kind of got the confidence up a little bit even though I missed a short putt on 11, I was able to bounce back with a birdie on 12. From there, I just felt really nice over the ball.”
Hovland will meet UCLA sophomore Devon Bling
in Sunday’s 36-hole final after Bling pulled a similar trick in the semifinals, defeating Isaiah Salinda
, 1 up. A Stanford senior, Salinda has been on a hot streak this summer after winning the Pacific Coast Amateur last month. He also advanced to the 16-man match-play bracket at the Western Amateur.
Bling had six birdies on Saturday, and went into No. 18 with a 1-up lead. He took the victory with a routine par.
Bling's mother died in 2013. The two always watched USGA events on TV, and Bling’s mother always offered encouragement that someday, he’d be there playing. He is playing in her memory this week.
“She was always positive, always kept me going,” he said Friday after his quarterfinal victory. “I know she's still in my heart and she's looking down on me and watching me. I'm just hoping to make her proud.”
Bling’s family is at Pebble Beach in force this week, supporting him. UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin came in Monday night to offer some guidance, too. Larkin picked up Bling's bag beginning in the second round of stroke play and kept his player calm mentally. It has helped Bling take it one step at a time.
“I think his confidence has grown every day, which has been really fun to watch as a coach,” Larkin said. “You can tell he’s gearing up to win.”
Bling entered college at 17 years old, and lacked some consistency. Larkin said that piece has come together. Larkin’s message is to not beat yourself – make your opponent beat you on any given hole. Bling has delivered. Should he win, Bling would be the first UCLA player to put his name on the Havemeyer Trophy.
No matter what happens on Sunday, Hovland and Bling already have a ticket to next year’s Masters. For Bling, about to enter his sophomore year at UCLA, it’s a lot to process.
“I’m still soaking it in,” he said. “I still can’t believe it’s happening, it’s going to be a little bit before I realize everything I’ve accomplished.”
The final piece could come on Sunday.
ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur
The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA
championship, was first played in 1895 at
Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The
which has no age restriction, is open to
with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is
of 14 national championships conducted
annually by the USGA, 10 of which are
for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent
competition in the world.
Applications are typically placed online in the spring
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