- Scott Halleran/USGA photo
Like many other student-athletes, University of Texas junior standout and Walker Cup hero Cole Hammer
experienced the ebbs and flows of the pandemic year. One aspect that rarely gets a pass in Hammer’s life is golf, and over the years, his extraordinary results have always matched his high-reaching goals.
Hammer’s “time” came in 2015 when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay at the age of 15
. If it was unexpected, it wasn't for Hammer. He spent the rest of his junior golf career inside the top 10 in AJGA Golf rankings. Even before stepping foot on a college campus, Hammer had already won a USGA Championship
(the U.S. Four-Ball), the Azalea Invitational
, the Western Amateur
and had made a semifinal run
at the U.S. Amateur.
So as Hammer arrived at the University of Texas in 2018, the Houston native looked assured to make an immediate impact, and he delivered. After three tournament victories his freshman year (including NCAA Regionals), he won the Mark H. McCormack Medal
as the world's top-ranked amateur.
But Hammer cooled off in his sophomore year, and as his junior season came around, he turned cold. His scoring average after his first 10 rounds (four events) of the season was 74. His was an experience that most college athletes faced through the COVID-19 pandemic—balancing full days of academics and practice. At the same time, the virus could jeopardize the next competitive event without warning.
“The hardest thing to adapt to has been the unknowns. The unknown of where we’ll play next, the unknown of the repercussions of a positive COVID-19 test. Everything has just seemed up in the air, so it’s nice to be back to a little bit more normal of a schedule,” Hammer told AmateurGolf.com.
After going winless for year-and-a-half, Hammer broke through late in 2020, winning the prestigious South Beach International Amateur
Back at Texas, Hammer closed with a 66 and finished T3 at the George Hannon Collegiate in March. It was the boost Hammer needed after his slow start to the season. His season shifted in the right direction, Hammer went on a tear that included four top-10 finishes and an individual victory at the Big 12 Championship
last month. His torrid run heading into the Walker Cup and NCAA Regionals saw his average score drop to 70.4. That’s more like it.
Hammer’s hot streak continued last weekend at 48th Walker Cup. His 3-0-1 record and his elevated role as team leader sparked the United States to a 14-12 victory
over Great Britain and Ireland.
Hammer will next head to the PGA Tour AT&T Byron Nelson before leading the Longhorns on what he hope to be another deep postseason run. Then, a busy summer awaits, with big events like the British Open
, Western Amateur
, Northeast Amateur
and U.S. Amateur
already on schedule.
Now ranked 7th in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com World Amateur Ranking
, Hammer spoke with Will Doctor of AmateurGolf.com to discuss his comeback victory at the Big 12 Championship, his rollercoaster ride of a season, and the advances he made during his second trip to the Walker Cup.
How were you able to personally improve on your second Walker Cup trip?
The experience I had in Liverpool (2019) was huge for me this time. I felt much more comfortable this go-around and was able to stay much more patient, which allowed me to slow everything down and make good decisions.
You join an incredible group of University of Texas golfers that has won the Big 12 Championship. How does it feel to finally add this one to the trophy case, especially after years of battling for the title?
Winning the Big 12 is pretty unique, especially at Prairie Dunes
. I’ve played the course probably 40-50 times through the years, and I absolutely love the place. I feel very comfortable out there, and it was nice to see myself close the deal at the end. Winning the conference tournament is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and to be able to have done it this year is something I’ll never forget.
It wasn’t flawless golf from start to finish at the conference tournament. Did the course get the better of you in the opening rounds?
The first two days were brutal, weather-wise. It was blowing 30-40 mph, so the course played pretty difficult. I was extremely happy with how I played in those conditions, but unfortunately finished my second round with bogey, double, double. It was a tough way to end an otherwise solid day, but I think it motivated me to make some birdies the following rounds.
Fast forward to the weekend. You shoot 65-67 at Prairie Dunes. What gave you the firepower to go out there and take it low?
- Texas Men's Golf photo
I have played the course so many times that I knew where to miss it, when to stay conservative, and when to attack it. I just told myself that I had the ability to go out and take it low, I just needed to let myself do it. After making a couple of birdies early in the 3rd round, I was freed up and let myself get in the flow. From there, I was able to stay in a good rhythm for the rest of the event.
You were one of two players to play the par 4’s under par. How challenging a feat is that at Prairie Dunes and was that part of the game plan?
I wish I could say that was the game plan, and I wish I could say that was a goal of mine. I actually didn’t even realize that I had done that. The majority of the course consisted of par 4’s, and whoever played those the best had a good chance of coming out on top. To finish the par 4’s under par is something I’m proud of because it shows that I was able to keep myself in the tournament and didn’t make too many big numbers.
What do you and the crew need to do at the NCAA National Championship in Scottsdale to bring a title back to Austin?
We need to really trust in ourselves and our games and above all, we need to be positive as a group. When our team truly believes in themselves, I like our chances. We are just going to need to stay patient and have the utmost belief that we have the talent to get it done.
What was your pandemic activity?
You recently received a sponsor exemption to the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas. How exciting is it to have that opportunity?
I am beyond excited to play in the Byron Nelson. I’ve always wanted to play in it as it’s a stalwart on the Texas swing. Playing on the PGA Tour has been the biggest goal of mine since I can remember, so I am looking forward to the opportunity to compete as an amateur. I’ve heard great things about TPC Craig Ranch, and I’m just really excited to get going next week.
What would you tell kids who want similar path playing at the highest levels?
I would just say to keep your head down and play your own game. I know that is very cliché, but I have found that it is only destructive to copy other people or be jealous about something they have that you do not. Become great at what you know you are good at, and just have confidence that what you are doing will bring you to the top. And have some fun!