Cole Hammer finds himself at home with Texas Longhorns

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Cole Hammer finds himself at home with Texas Longhorns

College

Cole Hammer finds himself at home with Texas Longhorns

Cole Hammer was 13 years old when he first caught the attention of the University of Texas golf program. But Hammer didn’t just win the 2013 George Hannon Junior on the Longhorns’ home course, UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas. It was the way he did it, holing out for eagle on his final hole to shoot 64 and finish seven shots clear of the field.

An invite to tour Texas’ golf facilities quickly followed, and soon Hammer was looking at walls lined with All-America honorees and images of past Longhorn greats, names such as Crenshaw, Leonard and Spieth. Trophy cases were filled to capacity, including a piece of hardware that was relatively new: the 2012 NCAA title. Even Beau Hossler, then a highly touted freshman, was there.

The visit made a lasting impression on Hammer, a wide-eyed eighth-grader with braces. He made another unofficial visit to Austin later that year and was hooked. By the end of 2013, Hammer verbally committed to the Longhorns.

“I remember on one of his visits, we were walking around campus and I pulled him aside,” said Hammer’s mother, Allison. “I told him, ‘I know it seems crazy to think of going to college because you’re so young. But when the time comes you’ll be ready.’”

That time has come for Hammer, 18, who has begun his freshman year at Texas this fall. And after a tremendous season of amateur golf, highlighted by three landmark victories, he is undoubtedly ready.

“Time flies,” said Hammer’s father, Gregg. “He’s grown so much.”

Son of two club champions at River Oaks. Pupil of in-demand instructor Cameron McCormick and renowned sports psychologist Bob Rotella. Gifted with a catchy name.

Some might think it all came easy for the Houston-born prodigy. It didn’t.

Made U.S. Open splash at age 15

Hammer arrived on golf’s biggest stage quicker than most. At just 15, he shot 8 under in his U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Northwood Club in Dallas to punch his ticket to Chambers Bay. He played practice rounds with his idols, including Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. He had his own pre-championship press conference. And he stole the hearts of golf fans around the world when television cameras caught him, with tears in his eyes, praying on the first tee.

But after a missed cut, it suddenly was over. Somehow Hammer had to go back to playing junior golf, only with a mountain of expectations.

“I felt like I should win every tournament because I had just played with the pros,” Hammer said. “It was a little bit unnerving.”

Hammer still reached the Round of 16 at the U.S. Junior in 2016 and ’17, and was second at the 2016 AJGA Junior Players at TPC Sawgrass.

But it just wasn’t what Hammer expected of himself, and he grew increasingly frustrated. After all, he was supposed to be the next Texas great.

Then came the injury. A bothersome right elbow required surgery in September of 2016. Doctors took cartilage from Hammer’s knee and grafted it onto the injured elbow.

“That was scary, because you don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Gregg Hammer said.

Hammer was sidelined four months and returned in February 2017 to finish third at the prestigious Jones Cup. He played well enough last year to earn his way onto the U.S. Junior Presidents Cup team.

“That’s a great mark of someone that has good awareness of what they’re doing, to where time off doesn’t build up as rust and they can hit their stride pretty quickly,” McCormick said.

Hammer continued to gain momentum as he adopted the claw putting grip and added to his stable of influencers – Rotella and Dr. Troy Van Biezen, a personal trainer from Dallas. Rotella strengthened Hammer’s mind, helping unleash the confidence Hammer had always possessed.

Van Biezen helped build up Hammer’s lanky frame, adding muscle (more than 10 pounds since December) and nearly 10 mph in clubhead speed. Hammer went from the 5-foot-8, 125-pound kid at Chambers Bay to a 6-foot, 160-pound high-school senior who contemplated enrolling in college a semester early.

Finally, the victories start coming

One problem: He still hadn’t won a golf tournament.

That changed in March when Hammer won the Azalea Invitational at the Country Club of Charleston, where he lost a big lead on the back nine but didn’t break, prevailing in a playoff by sticking an approach shot to 2 feet and making birdie.

“I truly believe that was the biggest day of my golf career so far,” Hammer said.

Two months later, Hammer teamed up with LSU signee Garrett Barber to win the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. He then advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Junior and followed with the biggest win of his career at the Western Amateur, where he also medaled in stroke play.

“I felt like I had witnessed someone who had really matured,” said Allison Hammer, who caddied for her son at the Azalea and Western.

Hammer capped his summer with another stroke-play medal and semifinals trip, at the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, which helped him rise to 17th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He is one of just five players, including Bobby Jones, to medal at the U.S. Amateur and Western Amateur in the same year. He also earned a spot on the three-man U.S. squad for the World Amateur Team Championship in Ireland, though that means he’ll miss the Longhorns’ season opener in Minnesota.

Hammer is prepared to make an immediate impact for Texas.

“To finally win three times this summer, it’s huge for my confidence,” Hammer said. “The guys I’m going to be playing against in college, I know that I can compete and beat them. I’m excited to hit the ground running.”

Texas head coach John Fields said the last player to arrive in Austin with this much enthusiasm was Cody Gribble.

“Cody turned things around for us,” Fields said. “Cole has that same persona.”

Hammer is a golf nut. He doesn’t just have a practice putting and chipping area in his backyard, he had two golf holes drilled into the wood floor in his bedroom, complete with Texas flags. He also has more hats and golf shirts than a pro shop. Among the items on his bedroom walls: a picture of Ben Hogan, two flags signed by Spieth and a framed flag of Pine Valley’s fourth hole, where Hammer made his first hole-in-one.

He hopes to soon decorate the walls at UT Golf Club.

“It’s all up there for a reason,” Fields said. “What we want is for our players to visualize themselves up there and get up there as fast as they can.”

For the newest Texas star freshman, the clock starts now. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the September issue of Golfweek.)

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