U.S. AMATEUR
Hammer’s Quest for 2nd USGA Win of Year Off to Solid Start August 14, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By Dave Shedloski

Cole Hammer fired a pair of solid rounds during stroke to firmly establish himself as a player to watch as match play begins. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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Cole Hammer already has enjoyed a memorable year on the golf course. He appears poised to make it even better after his performance the first two days in the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship.

With a 4-under-par 68 Tuesday at Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Hammer tied for medalist honors in stroke play at 6-under 137, equaling the total posted by Daniel Hillier of New Zealand. Hammer, 18, of Houston, described his bogey-free effort as “pretty perfect,” and it put him in position to earn medalist honors for the second time in as many outings in stroke play.

Less than two weeks ago, Hammer won the Western Amateur at Sunset Ridge Country Club, in Northfield, Ill., winning four rounds of match play after posting a record 23-under-par 261 in the 72-hole qualifying stage. Included in that effort was a course-record 61 in the second round.

Spyglass Hill is considerably more difficult, yet Hammer handled it just fine on Tuesday. “To make no bogeys out here on a tough golf course is definitely a positive,” he said.

His season has been full of positives, starting in May when he teamed with fellow 18-year-old Garrett Barber to capture the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Jupiter Hills in Tequesta, Fla. At the time, Hammer said that winning a USGA title was something “he desperately wanted,” he said.

Could he win two in one year? He nearly did it last month at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship before falling to Akshay Bhatia of Wake Forest, N.C.

Hammer, who was the third-youngest qualifier in the U.S. Open history when he made it in 2015 at Chambers Bay, credits improved ball-striking for his higher quality of play these past few months. He works with instructor Cameron McCormick, the swing coach for Jordan Spieth, the 2015 U.S. Open champion and two-time winner of the U.S. Junior Amateur.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” he said. “Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots has become really a strength in my game.”

And there’s more. “I've really kind of turned the putter on this year, and I'm seeing the lines and kind of matching the line with the speed really well,” he said.

The last piece to the puzzle has been his mental approach. Maturity helps. And input from sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella has only boosted this aspect of his game.

“He just kind of changed my outlook on the game,” Hammer said of Rotella. “It’s paid dividends, that’s for sure. I made match play in 2015 at Olympia Fields, but I was nowhere near the … mental strength that I am now.”

Perhaps that’s why he overcame slow starts in each of his two rounds. On Tuesday, he gave himself several birdie opportunities. He didn’t get frustrated. And after knocking in a 6-footer for birdie at No. 7, he could breathe a bit easier. He went on to birdie 10, 15 and 16.

“Yesterday got off to a little bit of a shaky start, but pulled it back together nicely. Bogeyed my last hole but still shot 2-under, and to kind of continue that momentum into today was nice.”

His summer has been nothing but momentum. He’d like it to last five more days so he can add an individual USGA title to his resume.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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