Pretty quickly in his life, it became apparent that Cole Hammer would be an extremely good golfer.
At age 5, his parents entered him in one of those mini-junior tournaments.
And, on his first hole on a shortened, kid-friendly course, he took out a driver and whacked the ball 120 yards onto the green. Par for the juniors on that hole was 5, and little Cole sank the putt.
That’s right, an eagle in his first competitive hole.
The good times on golf courses just keep coming for Hammer, including his winning the prestigious South Beach International Amateur in late December. Hammer, now 21 and a University of Texas student who committed to playing for the Longhorns as a 14-year-old, won the South Beach by a comfortable five strokes at Miami Beach and Normandy Shores golf clubs.
“I am so proud, and I couldn’t be happier for him. I started crying on No. 18.”
The five-shot victory, largest in the 10 years the tournament has been played, boosted Hammer to No. 22 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. He peaked at No. 1 for eight weeks in 2019.
“I knew I was in the lead,” Hammer said of the final three holes, “but I was not sure by how much.” Thus, he played smartly as he finished the round. One of the final holes, No. 16, is a dangerous 347-yard par-4 with water. Many players were tempted to drive the green off the tee by going directly over the water
Quite a few did not make it.
By the time Hammer reached the 16th there was a 25-minute (or more) wait to tee off because so many players were hitting into the water and having to take a drop.
What were Hammer’s thoughts? He was honest. “Yes, the hole can be driven but no way was I going over that water,” he said. “I knew I was in pretty good shape as far as score.”
So, Hammer – who has his eyes on a second invitation to the Walker Cup, to be played in May at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach – played it safely, bailing out to the left to protect his lead.
Although the pandemic limited spectators, Hammer had one special fan on his side. His mom, Allison, followed him every step of the way of the four-round tournament.
“It meant the world to me she was here by my side,” Hammer said.
The feeling was mutual.
“I am so proud, and I couldn’t be happier for him,” Allison said. “I started crying on No. 18.”
Hammer shot 67-69-62-69–267 for a tournament record total of 16 under. France’s Pierre Viallaneix (71-66-65-70–272) took second and Americans Kelly Chin and Zack Taylor were tied for third, another two strokes back.
Brigitte Thibault of Canada engineered a comeback that went far beyond “great” and into the unbelievable category at the women’s Dixie Amateur.
Thibault, 22, started the final round of the four-round tournament at Palm Aire Country Club in Pompano Beach six strokes behind. Then she made bogey with a six on the first hole followed by a double-bogey with another six on the second hole.
With that stumbling start, Thibault, 22, was eight strokes back and apparently had no shot.
Thibault birdied three of the remaining seven holes on the front and added four more birdies on the back to shoot a 3-under-69 for a four-round total of 6-under 282.
That was good enough to beat England’s Ellen Hume (University of Mississippi) by two strokes. Megha Ganne (New Jersey) and Taylor Roberts (Parkland) tied for third at 287.
“It didn’t look like the day was going my way,” Thibault said of her start in the final round. “This wouldn’t be possible without my coaching team.”
Asked about the rest of 2021, Thibault laughed and said, “Comin’ at ya!”
In the men’s competition at Eagle Trace Golf Club in Coral Springs, Larry Blatt, 33, of Chicago shot a final round of 2-under 70 to finish at minus-5 for the tournament at 70-74-72-67–283. Ohioan Luke Wells took second at 72-72-69-72–285 and Plantation’s Marc France was third on 75-72-70-69–286.
“Ideally, I can take this win to bigger and better things,” Blatt said following his triumph.
JUNIOR ORANGE BOWL
Sebastian Moss of Texas won the boys’ division and Emily Zhu of Canada captured the girls’ title, both winning by three shots at the Biltmore Golf Course in Coral Gables.
Moss (62-69-68-73–272) was 12 under, while Zhu (69-66-71-71–277) finished 7 under.
“It’s my best golf that I’ve ever played,” said Moss, who built a lead so large it survived a quadruple bogey on No. 17 of the final round.
Zhu took a less dramatic route to the girls’ title, holding off Chile’s Antonia Matte. The victory ended a string of 17 months without a tournament win for Zhu.
“I hadn’t won a tournament in a while, so it’s really nice … a great way to start 2021.”
This tournament always has been and always will be about the kids.
Of all the holiday amateur tournaments in South Florida, it offered the widest range of age in golfers going from 4-year-olds to teenagers who have college and pro careers as their aspirations. Helping those dreams come true is the First Tee of Miami.
This year’s tournament, produced by The First Tee of Miami out of Melreese-International Golf Course, was its 39th year of existence.
Entrants in the past included Rory McIlroy, who won the 8-9 age division in 1998. Later in life, as one of the PGA’s top players and a World No. 1, McIlroy looked back and donated his golf bag – with autograph – to the First Tee. At the time, he called his win in the Doral Publix as an 8-year-old his “first major.”
This year’s tournament featured many kids running around here, there and everywhere at Trump National Doral. Some 600 of them.
Seemingly, many of them wanting to be the next Rory.
Girls’ division winners: 16-18 – Kate Bibby (United Kingdom); 14-15 – Maria Jose Marin Negrete (Colombia); 12-13 – Kate Barber (Savannah, GA); 10-11 – Sophie Cao (McLean, Va.); 8-9 – Alexandra Phung (Forest Hills, NY); 7-and-under – Rayah Chaijirawat (Melbourne).
Boys’ division winners: 16-18 – Gustavo Rangel (Puerto Rico); 14-15 – Hans Risvaer (Miami); 12-13 – Phillip Dunham (Ponte Vedra Beach); 10-11 – Sarp Gurdogan (Palm Beach Gardens); 8-9 – Axel Monssoh (Miami); 7-and-under – Sergio Simon (Mexico).