Cole Hammer beat Matthew Wolff in impressive fashion at this year's NCAA Championship. Through 18 holes in Humble, Texas, Hammer has put himself in position to join Wolff as the second 20-year-old winner on the PGA Tour in 2019.
Hammer, who just began his sophomore season at the University of Texas, is currently three off the lead after a first-round 67 at the Houston Open.
“That’s not a bad start in my book,” Hammer said.
It was an inauspicious start for Hammer, No. 2 in the World Amateur rankings. Starting on the Golf Club of Houston's second nine, Hammer double bogeyed the par-4 11th after putting his tee shot in the water. That accuracy, or lack thereof, was an issue throughout the day; he hit just six fairways.
“I was a little bit nervous at the beginning of the round," Hammer said, "and then kind of settled down and was able to roll in some putts."
That's an understatement. Hammer's wayward driver was negated by a lights-out performance on the greens. Hammer made more than 118 feet of putts, ranking second in strokes gained/putting in the morning wave. The short game paved the way for eight birdies, second-most ever by an amateur on the PGA Tour since 1996 (Ty Tryon owns the record with nine at the 2001 B.C. Open).
A member of the United States Walker Cup team, Hammer, 20, is making his first regular PGA Tour start—he qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open as a 15-year-old—in friendly confines: Not only does he call Houston home, but he and his family once belonged to the Golf Club of Houston, which is serving as the tournament host for the final time this week.
"Every year before the tournament we would come out and play I would say probably two or three times leading up to the event," Hammer said on Wednesday. "It was fun for us to come out and see a PGA Tour setup with stands. I mean, we were probably 10, 11, 12 years old. I can't remember, we were probably playing like the ladies tees out here and looking back at the back tees thinking, man, how do they hit the ball so far? But that was a really special time for me."
A strong finish would add to those memories. However, if Hammer is feeling any pressure, he didn't express it after the round. His golf was secondary to a more pressing matter: tickets to the Astros' Game 5 battle against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I'm going to do everything I can to try to get to the stadium," Hammer said. "I think it's going to be a great atmosphere."
The same will be said for the Houston Open should Hammer hang around this weekend.