After unorthodox path to PGA Tour, rookie Eric Cole nearly wins Honda Classic in playoff
Even though Eric Cole didn’t come away with the win, a moment like this has been a long time coming.
The 34-year-old PGA Tour rookie, in his 15th Tour start, fell to Chris Kirk at the Honda Classic — Cole’s hometown tournament — on the first playoff hole. But considering all the Delray Beach resident has been through, he’s dreamed of a week like this.
“If you would have given me a chance to win the tournament in a playoff on Wednesday night, I think I would have taken that, obviously,” Cole said Sunday night at PGA National. “It’s overall a positive. There’s a lot that I can learn from it.”
Cole is the son of PGA Tour and British Amateur winner Bobby Cole and former LPGA pro Laura Baugh, who won the 1971 U.S. Women’s Amateur at age 16.
Eric Cole always wanted to be like his parents, though at times he wasn’t sure if he’d ever rise to their competitive levels. And while he played with both of them beginning at a young age, he took a peculiar interest in his mom’s game.
“Spent a little more time playing with her growing up,” Cole said after Round 2 of the Honda Classic. “But they’ve both helped a lot. Like at a younger age, as a junior, I played more with my mom and we kind of hit it similar distances. It’s kind of like I learned a little bit more from her because of that.”
Cole went on to play collegiately at Nova Southeastern University. However, during his freshman year in 2006, he mysteriously started losing weight and received a harrowing diagnosis — he had type 1 diabetes and Addison’s disease.
Cole lost 120 pounds, but still claimed freshman of the year honors in the Sunshine State Conference.
He left college in 2008 to play on the Minor League Golf Tour in South Florida and developed into a mini-tour legend, amassing 50 professional victories. But he never lost sight of playing at the highest level.
Cole eventually rode a few Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifiers to earning status for the 2020-21 season, which then formulated into him earning full status for the 2022 KFT season. With a T-3 at the ’22 Korn Ferry Tour Championship, he finally earned his PGA Tour card.
“It’s a long road,” Cole said. “Even before Korn Ferry Tour, I played a lot of tournaments all over the place. But yeah, it’s one of those things where if you play good golf, it kind of takes care of itself.”
Cole missed his first four cuts to start his rookie campaign, but then made five straight and recorded a T-15 at Pebble Beach, his most recent start before the Honda Classic, where he almost added his name to an illustrious list of father-son duos to win on Tour.
“I was talking to [Cole], being a rookie on the Tour and as young looking as he is, I just kind of assumed he was 24 like every other rookie on Tour,” Kirk said after the final round. “He’s actually 34 and has had quite a journey, it sounds like, to get to this level. I think he’ll stick for quite a while. He’s got a really great game. I was impressed by the way he hit it.”
It will be a quick turnaround for Cole. He received a sponsor’s exemption into the upcoming Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill — a place he’s quite familiar with.
His mother re-married to a man who had a membership at Bay Hill, and in the early 2000s, she caddied for Cole at a club championship there, in which Cole won by a wide margin.
Cole is also best friends with Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson. Cole coached Saunders until 2020 when he notched Korn Ferry Tour status.
If Cole can avenge his Honda Classic loss quickly, Arnie’s Place would be the perfect setting for his maiden Tour win.