Seven years ago at Chambers Bay in Seattle, Cole Hammer had one of the great coming out parties in golf. Not only did he qualify for the 2015 US Open at age 15, the third youngest at 15 ever to do so, but he shot 77 in the first round and beat Tiger Woods by three strokes that day. With his boyish grin and precocious game, Hammer Time was born.
“I was a kid, I didn’t know what I was doing. It was like a circus. Walking out on the range with guys like Tiger, Rory and I was in complete awe. There was a few fairways I couldn’t reach. So it was just all about the experience,” he recalled. “When I was 15 I was like, you know, I could win this thing. But I think I quickly realized or now I do realize that I didn’t have a fighting chance.”
Despite lofty expectations, Hammer, 22, has achieved a decorated amateur career, including being awarded the Mark H. McCormack medal as the top amateur golfer in the world in 2019; a two-time US Walker Cupper; winner of the US Amateur Four-Ball (with Garrett Barber); Big-12 conference individual champion in 2021; and recently contributed to Texas winning the NCAA men’s team championship. He more than lived up to the hype.
Now it’s time for the next step in his burgeoning career. Hammer turned professional and is playing on a sponsor’s exemption this week at the Travelers Championship.
“I’ve been watching the PGA Tour on TV for a long time,” he said. “I mean it’s been my dream to one day compete out here and this is one of the earliest tournaments that I remember watching. I remember thinking, man, that golf course looks absolutely perfect. And the atmosphere, I mean somehow there’s always a dramatic finish here.”
Hammer played in the US Open three times as an amateur as well as the British Open once among a total of eight PGA Tour starts, including at the Vivint Houston Open, his hometown event, last fall. He made his professional debut last week on the Korn Ferry Tour at the Wichita Open and missed the cut. He started inauspiciously with a double bogey on his first hole but bounced back with a pair of birdies.
“I’m glad I got that start under my belt before coming here. I feel like I’ve gotten myself into a pressure situation now so I’m excited to use that experience,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself and how I need to prepare for tournaments. I’ve been in college for four years and basically been told how to prepare every week. And now that I’m on my own I need to, well last week was a good way for me to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t.”
Hammer is part of the second class of college seniors to earn status to play this summer through PGA Tour University. He finished fifth in the standings and earned Korn Ferry Tour status for the remainder of the season and is also exempt into the final stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament. Hammer said he felt pressure to finish in the top 5 to give himself more options at the outset of his pro career.
“I haven’t been in Q-School before but it felt like it was a little bit, considering I was jockeying with a few other guys at the NCAAs. Luckily I snuck into the top 5 and have those Korn Ferry starts,” he said. “It’s just so hard to get out on a tour and to have a place to play directly coming out of college is so nice. The Tour’s, I think this program is going to keep flourishing over the next few years and giving the top college players a place to play right away is incredible.”
Ready or not – he sure looks ready – it’s about to be Hammer Time.