For 16-year-old Cole Hammer, a sophomore at The Kinkaid School in Memorial, the school year started just like everyone else’s. Summer over, the gangly River Oaks kid got back into the routine, going from home to class to study hall to golf practice for his high school team, ad infinitum. But one thing separated Hammer from his peers: he made sports history over summer break, becoming the third youngest golfer to play in the US Open.
It all started back in June, at a qualifier for the Open in Dallas, which Hammer competed in expecting to gain some experience. “I had an opportunity at that tournament to get to the Open,” he said, with apparent nonchalance, “so I figured I’d give it a shot.” Surprising everyone, he landed the second seed at the qualifier, beating out 76 other golfers, and found himself on the way to the championship.
Less than two weeks later—Father’s Day weekend—he and his dad Gregg, who’s also his caddy, traveled to Chambers Bay near Tacoma, Washington, for the US Open. There, the teenager, who weighs in at around 125 pounds soaking wet, started with a rather pedestrian 77-84 in rounds 1 and 2; not the best score, but still three shots better than golf legend Tiger Woods. In the end, he didn’t advance beyond the second round, but the experience still turned out to be something straight out of a young golfer’s dreams: he stayed on as spectator, walking inside the ropes alongside his hero, fellow Texan—and eventual Open champion—Jordan Spieth.
“Maybe some kid watching at home right now will be walking inside the ropes when Hammer is leading this thing on a Saturday six years from now,” wrote Kyle Porter, CBS Sports’ golf writer, one of a number of sports journalists from around the country who took note of the kid from Houston holding his own among the pros.
The whole thing came as a surprise for the polo-clad sophomore, who seemed to think it just sorta happened. “I really didn’t expect to get into the Open,” he said. “I was just wanting to do well in the amateurs this summer…. You never know what’s going to happen.”
But it didn’t just sorta happen. Not really. Hammer’s parents, Gregg and mom Allison, are River Oaks Country Club golf champions. His dad got him on the fairway at age 2, hitting off plastic tees when his hands could barely wrap around plastic clubs. Then it was a bracket for 5-year-olds and, by age 10, lessons, although his dad emphasized that when he was younger, it was more about fun and less about technique. Then, in eighth grade, Hammer committed to attend UT on a golf scholarship, and for the last three summers, he’s been regularly competing in junior amateur tournaments to hone his skills.
Both father and son think participating in the Open has been a good thing for Hammer. “I think Cole has more focus on his game,” said Gregg. “Getting to the Open gave him a confidence boost.”
“I took so much from it,” added Hammer, “like, a lot of patience.”
Patience? we couldn’t help but ask. Not hopes for a sponsorship? Not dreams of a Wheaties box or a Buick commercial (when he gets his license)? Not the desire for a triumphant return to the next year’s Open?
“I mean, yeah, I would love to get back,” he said. “I was just happy to be there.”
There was no persuading the kid he was something of an anomaly. He was just trying to get A’s at school like any regular teenager, he told us, and during his free time, playing paintball, hunting and fishing.
Did he walk a little taller after his trip to the US Open? “No, not really,” he said. Was his swing the best amongst his peers? “There’s always room for improvement.”
The only change that Hammer’s legendary summer had brought on, it seemed, was some light ribbing from his teammates. “Ehhhhh,” he said, “yeah, they give me a hard time, but they’re just having fun.”