Cole Hammer’s trophy display is mighty impressive: Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, U.S. Amateur medal, Walker Cup, McCormack Medal, NCAA regional…
And after Tuesday, Hammer can add the South Beach International Amateur to his collection.
The 21-year-old Texas standout shot 16 under over 72 holes at the winter’s premier amateur tournament and won by five shots over France’s Pierre Viallaneix.
“I can confidently say that this is the biggest win of my career,” Hammer told GolfChannel.com on Wednesday, shortly after arriving back home in Houston.
Say what?! The Western Amateur?! USGA events?! What about those three college wins as a freshman?!
Let Hammer explain: “Just based on the circumstances because the last year, year and a half, it has been a struggle. … To kind of, not come full circle, but to get it back to where I was, it feels incredible.”
It wasn’t long ago that Hammer was on top of the amateur golf world. Literally. He received the 2019 McCormack Medal as the world’s top-ranked amateur. As a freshman, he won three times, including the NCAA Austin Regional, and led the Longhorns to a runner-up finish at the 2019 NCAA Championship. And who could forget the summer of 2018, when Hammer won the Azalea Invitational, U.S. Amateur Four-Ball (with partner Garrett Barber) and the Western Amateur before reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.
But before Hammer won this week’s South Beach title, he had gone more than a year and a half since winning. Even worse, during that span he had recorded just three top-10s, with his T-9 showing two months ago in Texas’ fall stroke-play finale at Maridoe snapping more than a yearlong top-10-less streak.
The culprit? A confused swing. Things started coming apart just before the 2019 Walker Cup, and they got worse during an abbreviated sophomore season.
“My swing got really steep on way down and I didn’t really know how to fix it,” Hammer said at the East Lake Cup in October after months of practicing tirelessly to turn things around. “I was really stuck and didn’t really know where it was going. It was a two-way miss, and I felt like I had to hold onto it to not hook it, and then I’d hold onto it too much and block it. … I’ve honestly just had to tell myself to pick a target and just swing it free to the target.
“It’s not all the way there, but it’s close.”
It got closer earlier this month at the Maridoe Amateur, where Hammer, who had several finals that week, made match play in miserable weather conditions. And even closer during last week’s Walker Cup practice session in Orlando, where Hammer tested his game in friendly-but-ultra-competitive matches with 15 of the best amateurs in the country.
“Even though Walker Cup practice isn’t a tournament, it’s still competitive and you want to play well, and I think that kind of got my competitive juices flowing a little bit, and so I went into the South Beach a little more relaxed than I usually would’ve,” said Hammer, who hadn’t played a winter-season tournament since the 2017 Jones Cup, where he finished third after returning from elbow surgery. “I had seen myself play some decent golf, and I carried that over into the first couple of rounds and kept it rolling from there.”
Hammer got himself in the mix with a 67-69 start in Miami, and a 9-under 62 in the third round gave him a nice cushion entering the final round. Even with two early bogeys on Tuesday, Hammer led handily by the time he reached the event’s final nine holes. He closed with a two-birdie, bogey-free closing nine to shoot 69.
“I was having a hard time not getting ahead of myself thinking about what this would mean,” said Hammer, who had dropped to 28th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and desperately needed to improve his resume if he wanted to qualify for May’s Walker Cup at Seminole. And boy does Hammer want to qualify for another team; that’s goal No. 1 as he enters 2021.
“It was fairly emotional for me because I felt like I had put in a lot of hard work and I hadn’t seen any positive results. To have it all click this week, at a time when I really needed it – because I was undoubtedly on the outside looking in for the Walker Cup (I don’t know where I’ll stand after this, but it can only help) and I felt like I needed to do something special either here or at Jones Cup – this is a very special win for me.”
You can bet U.S. Walker Cup captain Nathaniel Crosby was paying close attention – and checking his watch.
Yes, all you pun lovers, it’s Hammer Time once again.