When will it be Hammer’s time to turn pro?
October 09, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Cole Hammer on playing home event at Houston Open
HOUSTON – Asked about the decision to verbally commit – as an eighth grader in 2013 -- to playing golf for the University of Texas, Cole Hammer laughs at the memory.
“Funny thing,” he said Wednesday prior to his practice round at the Houston Open. “I knew where I was going to college before I knew where I was going to high school.”
Hammer was about to graduate from middle school and was trying to decide between two Houston high schools, Kinkaid or Episcopal; he eventually opted for Kinkaid. The choice of Texas, meanwhile, had been much easier. He grew up a Longhorns fan, his dad had gone to school in Austin, and the legacy of Texas golf – Crenshaw, Kite, Leonard, Spieth – had left an indelible mark. He wanted to be a part of it.
Now he is. In 11 events in his 2018-19 freshman season, Hammer was tabbed No. 1 in the lineup by longtime Longhorns coach John Fields, including all three postseason events. UT eventually reached the NCAA Championship match play finals, thanks to beating Oklahoma State in the semifinals – with Hammer knocking off Matthew Wolff 4 and 3. "Almost perfect golf," Hammer said afterwards..
The season ended with UT losing to Stanford in the finals, but it was a stellar first year for Hammer, who currently ranks as the world’s No. 2 amateur. He’s fulfilling the promise of that braces-wearing eighth grader who would qualify for the U.S. Open as a 15-year-old.
But now the 20-year-old Hammer may soon face another decision about his golf future, and this one will not be as easy as his choice to attend Texas.
Should he stay in college or turn pro?
“Obviously there’s a temptation to turn pro,” said Hammer, making his second career PGA TOUR start while playing this week on a sponsor exemption. “I’ve seen so many guys do it in front of me. But there’s guys like Ollie Schneiderjans, Maverick McNealy, who stuck it out and stayed for four years, and it’s worked out for them as well.
“It’s not in the cards for me to turn pro anytime soon. I haven’t really put a whole lot of thought into it. I’m just kind of taking it one step at a time right now. … But I would be lying if I said I’ve never thought about turning pro before. I’ve put myself in a position to where I potentially could, but like I said, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
Even so, seeing someone like Wolff winning the 3M Open last season in just his third professional start is hard for Hammer to ignore, especially given that head-to-head result in the NCAAs. It’s proof that Hammer can compete against tournament-winning TOUR pros. Depending on how he plays this week, he might get another incentive to make the leap.
But give him credit for doing his due diligence. Hammer has reached out to McNealy and a few others to pick their brain on how their decisions were made.
“They just told me it’s a personal preference,” Hammer said. “If it feels like it’s in the cards, pull the trigger. But if not, you’re not doing yourself any disfavors by staying in school. It’s kind of hit-or-miss on what they’re saying. Everybody’s in a different situation. The majority seem to agree that staying in college is not a bad thing.”
Kramer Hickok also played at Texas. Unlike his good friend Spieth, who turned pro in the middle of his sophomore season, Hickok stayed all four years in Texas. From his perspective, it was a pretty easy decision.
“For me, playing in PGA TOUR events and pro events while in college, I realized I wasn’t good enough,” said Hickok, who earned his TOUR card this season via the Korn Ferry Tour. “That was the biggest thing for me and that’s what was different with Jordan.
“He had played in the U.S. Open, finished top 20 in the Byron Nelson when he was 16. So he had the experience that he knew when he jumped out of college that he was already good enough to play against the pros.
“For me, I realized I needed to get better and I need those extra three years. I think that’s all that matters. If you come out here and feel like you are good enough to compete instantly, then you don’t need college. What is that for? But I looked at college as four years to get my game ready for the pros.
“Some guys may feel like they’re ready – and they may be ready. But we’ve also seen in the past guys who have turned pro too soon and that kind of diminished their career in a way. So it’s kind of a tricky question.”
Despite their UT ties, Hickok has only meant Hammer once, at a Texas get-together prior to a college event a year ago at Colonial Country Club, with Fields asking Hickok to speak to the team. But Hickok, Spieth and Hammer all share the same coach – Cameron McCormick, who was at the Golf Club of Houston on Wednesday watching Hammer during his pro-am round.
“He’s in really good hands,” Hickok said. “Plus he has a great supportive family around him to make sure to help him make the right decision, whatever that may be. But if he ever needs to pick my brain, I’m here for him.”
So, if Hammer were to pick Hickok’s brain, what advice would he offer?
“I think he can come out here and compete right away, but that doesn’t mean he can’t use the next few years to get better,” Hickok said. “Also, once you leave college, you never get that back. Just the experience of college, having that camaraderie with your teammates – it really makes you appreciate the game of golf on a different level.
“I know I got better every single year and I think Cole can certainly do the same. I think he’s going to be a guy who’s going to be competing out here week in and week out once he is out here. Really, it’s just going to be up to him to decide when he’s ready. Mentally, if he knows he’s ready and he’s already prove to himself he can compete, think I think he’ll be ready (to turn pro).
“But more time in college is always great. If I was going to sway him in any direction, I’d say, hey, man, there’s not rush.”
Cole Hammer doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to give up the college experience, but the allure of turning pro and competing against the world’s best golfers can be a powerful draw. If he makes some noise this week in his hometown event, it will be even more difficult to resist.
“It’s fun to have this opportunity to make this decision,” Hammer said. “It’s a great spot to be in. But like I said, college is a blast. I’m only a sophomore – I’ve got plenty of time left. Just trying to figure it out as I go.”