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Austin Eckroat quiets Monday pressure, wins maiden TOUR title at Cognizant Classic

6 Min Read


Austin Eckroat quiets Monday pressure, wins maiden TOUR title at Cognizant Classic

    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Steve Eckroat knew his son Austin could handle an opportunity like Monday because of a moment 13 years ago.

    Austin was contending in the final round of a junior tournament in Waco, Texas, with Steve on the bag. Austin, then 12 years old, put a ball in the water on No. 16. Steve, an admitted hothead, lost his cool, “a little bit.” As they sat down in their golf cart in 110-degree heat, Austin looked at Steve and patted him on the back.

    “Dad, it's going to be okay,” Austin said. “I got this.”

    “I was like, wow,” Steve recalled. “It was an epiphany for me.”

    Mild-mannered and soft-spoken, Austin Eckroat has excelled at every level. He won two individual high school state championships, set the lowest career stroke-play scoring average at the U.S. Junior Amateur Golf Championship and won his second collegiate start. He went undefeated in the 2021 Walker Cup, earned his Korn Ferry Tour card through PGA TOUR University and secured his TOUR card the following season. Eckroat had the requisite talent to match all those accolades, but his biggest asset was between his ears.

    “He's got the best mental makeup of any player that I've ever coached,” Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton said.

    He needed it to withstand a wild week at the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches, which extended into Monday because of inclement weather. Eckroat navigated the extra night in the spotlight, a congested leaderboard, and one of the scariest closing stretches in golf at PGA National to shoot a final-round 67 and win the Cognizant Classic by three strokes, his maiden PGA TOUR victory.

    “He was solid as a rock,” Steve said greenside at the 18th hole, moments before Eckroat tapped in for par.

    Austin Eckroat's family reacts to his win at Cognizant Classic

    As he always is. That’s been Eckroat at every stage and every age – from junior tournaments in 110-degree heat to the PGA TOUR.

    The first sign that Eckroat had the goods to hold up under PGA TOUR contention came at last year’s THE CJ CUP Byron Nelson. Then, as a rookie on TOUR, Eckroat slept on a 54-hole lead and shot a bogey-free 6-under 65 – good enough to win most tournaments, but not that one. He was bested by Jason Day, who shot 9-under on Sunday to clip Eckroat by one.

    “We didn’t lose. We got beat,” Eckroat’s caddie Stone Coburn said.

    But the seed was planted that day. Eckroat, just needed one result to believe all his talent would translate on the biggest stage in the biggest moments. It was a common point of reflection for Eckroat in the media and during his rounds with Coburn this week: do what he did on that Sunday in Texas, and he would win way more tournaments than he’d lose. Oh, and never get comfortable. There’s always a charge to withstand.

    It was a charge that began Sunday at PGA National before Eckroat even made it to the practice grounds. Erik van Rooyen birdied eight of his first 10 holes to take the solo lead, still 90 minutes before Eckroat was set to tee off. Eckroat was without the lead for longer than expected as inclement weather set in and caused a three-hour delay. By the time he teed off, it was 5 p.m. ET. He played seven holes in 2-under, unbothered by the suspect weather conditions and tightening leaderboard. When play was suspended, Eckroat was back in the lead at 15-under. How did he spend the rest of his evening? He and his wife Sally stopped at Jimmy John’s on the way home, where they ate dinner every night this week. Eckroat played Sudoku all night until they went to bed.

    Eckroat was inevitably tested again when play began at 8 a.m. Monday. He parred his first two holes and made the turn at 14-under. But he failed to take advantage of the par-5 10th, the easiest hole of the week. Meanwhile, Min Woo Lee birdied the par-4 ninth and eagled the 10th to get within one shot. Elsewhere, Andrew Novak strung together four straight birdies to get within two.

    “One of the most important things about a golfer is when you make mistakes to have a short memory, and he's very much that way,” Bratton said. “Austin was clearly prepared for a charge.”

    Eckroat parred the 11th, then stuck his approach on the par-4 12th to 7 feet. He holed the birdie, then added another birdie on No. 13 to stretch his lead to its biggest all afternoon. A bogey on the par-4 14th momentarily let the field back into it, with Lee just two shots back, but Eckroat poured in another birdie on the par-4 16th to seal it. All that was left was maneuvering The Bear Trap's last leg. With water looming short of the par-3 17th, Eckroat safely landed his tee shot on the green, 30 feet above the hole. He finished par-par to cap a convincing victory.

    Austin Eckroat bounces back with birdie on No. 16 at Cognizant Classic

    “As a freshman in high school, (he) wasn't afraid to step up on a big stage. As a freshman in college, wasn't afraid to step up on a big stage. And then he's done the same on the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA TOUR,” Bratton said.

    It’s been an impressive and linear journey. While the sport has become inundated with phenoms who seemingly jump stages in the progression (think Collin Morikawa and Ludvig Åberg), Eckroat was a phenom who advanced at a consistent and formidable pace.

    He began going to the range with his dad, Steve, at age 2. It was the only way Steve, still playing high-level amateur events, could assuage his wife for extra practice time. By age 4, Austin was strong enough to swing a club and “loved it.” He was breaking par in nine-hole rounds by age 7. Steve has remained Eckroat’s swing coach since.

    “He's always talked about wanting to be a professional golfer. He played PGA National as a high-schooler and now he’s a champion at this place. It’s amazing,” Steve said.

    Eckroat became the first high school freshman to claim the Oklahoma Class 6A individual crown, taking the title in 2014 at Karsten Creek Golf Club. He won his second state title as a senior. He posted 41 top-10s and finished in the top three 28 times. A native of Edmond, Oklahoma, Eckroat never gave much consideration to going anywhere but Oklahoma State, despite no assurances of starting. That quickly went out the window when he won his second collegiate event, the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate.

    “He’s the second-best 17-year-old I ever played with,” said Scott Verplank, a member alongside Eckroat at Oak Tree National in Edmond. “The best was Rory McIlroy.”

    Eckroat was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma State. He earned his PGA TOUR card through the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Finals, a year after joining the Korn Ferry Tour via a No. 3 finish in the inaugural PGA TOUR University Class of 2021. He kept his card for 2024, finishing 80th in the FedExCup Fall.

    This was the latest progression, achieving his first win as a professional. It was the culmination of continued growth and a mental mindset destined to produce winning results. Eckroat admitted he was “shaking in my boots from the moment I got out here this morning,” but it didn’t show in his play. As he picked his ball out of the cup on the 18th green, Eckroat conjured a few muted fist pumps, waited for his playing partner to finish and hugged Sally and Steve as he walked off the green.

    If you expected an outburst of emotion, you don’t know Eckroat.

    “Never too high, never too low,” he said. “I think it's a blessing in golf.”

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