Isaiah Salinda, Cole Hammer ride momentum in U.S. Amateur first round

Copyright USGA/Chris Keane

Isaiah Salinda, Cole Hammer ride momentum in U.S. Amateur first round

Amateur

Isaiah Salinda, Cole Hammer ride momentum in U.S. Amateur first round

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Among the threesomes for stroke-play qualifying at the U.S. Amateur is the group of Cole Hammer, Isaiah Salinda and Alex Smalley. That particular group, however, has a fourth: Big Mo.

Yes, the three amateurs were carrying quite the momentum when they arrived at Pebble Beach’s 10th hole at 1:06 p.m. Monday for their opening-round tee time.

Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, has won three big events this summer: the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball (with Garrett Barber), Azalea Amateur and most recently the Western Amateur, where he defeated Alabama’s Davis Riley in the final. Salinda, a rising senior at Stanford, won the Pacific Coast Amateur last month at Olympic Club, in his native San Francisco. And Smalley, a former stroke-play medalist at the U.S. Amateur (2016), captured the Sunnehanna Amateur in June.

“We were all riding hot streaks,” said Hammer, who opened with a 2-under 69, one shot more than Salinda’s 68. Smalley posted a 73.

(Trevor Phillips and Daniel Hillier share the lead at 4 under.)

“Being able to feed off each other, that’s something that you love to have in stroke play, because you can get paired with guys who are making bogeys and doubles, and it’s just really hard to make birdies. It was great seeing balls going into the hole.”

Added Salinda: “It was nice to have a good, comfortable pairing. We definitely fed off each other.”

While Salinda grew up in California, Hammer had only played a golf tournament in the Golden State twice before this week, so he’s not experienced on Poa annua greens. However, don’t think he isn’t comfortable on Pebble’s putting surfaces.

He finished fourth at the Sahalee Players last month, another tournament played on Poa greens.

“I don’t really know if you can figure out Poa annua, but you can get a good feel for it, and I feel like I have that,” Hammer said.

Despite lipping out a 5-footer for par at his final hole, the 522-yard par-4 ninth, Hammer was solid from inside of 5 feet on Monday. He turned in 1-over 37 with a birdie at the par-4 15th, but then began the front with birdie at the gettable par-4 first hole.

After four more pars, the fun started. Hammer two-putted for birdie at the par-5 sixth. He then knocked it to 12 feet at the short par-3 seventh and made that birdie putt, before hitting 7-iron from 184 yards to 8 feet and birdieing the difficult par-4 eighth.

“In the practice round I hit it to 15 feet on No. 7 and missed the putt,” Hammer said. “I was like, I need to birdie this hole at some point.”

Not a bad way to score on Pebble’s most iconic and picturesque holes.

Salinda got in on the fun during that stretch, too. He eagled No. 6, which he added to four birdies, including one at the par-5 18th hole, a byproduct of an improved putting stroke that has allowed Salinda to notch three other top-16 finishes in addition to his Pac Coast win and match-play appearance at the Western.

“I’ll remember that one for sure,” Salinda said of the eagle. “I don’t know how many more times I’ll play that hole.”

If he makes Sunday’s final, he’ll have had plenty more chances.

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