On Sea Island, despite the bitter weather and howling wind, Cole Hammer would have been satisfied with pars. Thursday was the first day of The RSM Classic, and he finished with the lowest score to par after the first round with an 8-under 64, making him the low scorer overall.
Hammer remarked that it was “very nice” to see at the top of the scoreboard and see his surname there. “It was a great feeling.”
In a more literal sense, the field was cool, with temperatures in the 50s and a wind chill that made it feel even colder due to the proximity of the ocean. This was a day that called for mittens, wool caps, and multiple layers of long sleeves. That did not prevent the poor scoring that occurred throughout the tournament, as is typical for it.
Hammer, who received his degree from the University of Texas in May, tied for the low score with fellow Longhorn alum, Beau Hossler. Both players posted a 6-under 64 on the home course, Seaside, which was around two shots more difficult to par than the other courses.
When Hossler had concluded his round and Hammer was already 8 under par with three holes to play, Hossler remarked, “He’s making me look average.” Hammer had won the match.
Hammer’s impressive run came to an end when he made a poor swing, which put him into the trees to the right of the eighth par 5 fairway. He elected to take the penalty drop, which ultimately led to a bogey score for him.
In addition, Englishman Callum Tarren had a 64 on the Seaside course, while American Ben Griffin shot a 7-under 65 on the Plantation course. Before he played a terrible back nine in Bermuda three weeks ago, Griffin stood a good chance of winning the tournament there. It’s possible that he’ll win another one at the PGA TOUR’s season-ending event in 2022.
For Hammer, getting off to a strong start was just what he required.
He qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open in Chambers Bay while he was only 15 years old, giving him experience competing on major stages. He did not make the cut.
After he left Texas, he competed in a few rounds of the Korn Ferry Tour and fared well in all of them. The PGA Tour was a different story, as Hammer struggled with trying too hard and becoming impatient during the round. As a direct consequence, there were six failed cuts in a row.
When he started the Cadence Bank Houston Open, his home tournament, with a score of 74, he was worried that he was going to have another disappointing performance.
“I had a string of six consecutive misses. Hammer acknowledged that it was a fairly gloomy time. “I had the impression that my game was competitive enough. In the beginning of the competition, I was putting an excessive amount of pressure on myself. I repeated the process in Houston, and after that, I came out with a score of 65 to make the cutoff.
“That boosted my self-assurance to a whole new level.”
It carried over to The RSM Classic, and Hammer was granted a sponsor exemption because of it. Since he only has conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour, a solid week might take him a long way toward achieving full status. If not, the qualifying round or the drafting of the sponsor exemptions will take place on Monday.
He remarked, “I just completed off my communications degree in May, so perhaps my letter-writing talents will transfer over,” and he added that he had high hopes for this.
He is going to give himself the next three days to see what he is capable of accomplishing.
Another player who first came to public attention as a youngster while competing in the U.S. Open is Hossler. That happened at Olympic Club ten years ago, when he was only 17 years old and was only four strokes behind the leader going into the final round. He finished with a score of 76 on the final day, which wasn’t even good enough for low amateur. That was won by another young person from Texas named Jordan Spieth.
Even though he is into his sixth season on the PGA TOUR, Hossler has not yet won a tournament on the circuit. When he was a rookie, he competed in the Houston Open and lost in a playoff to Ian Poulter. That was the closest he got to winning.
Even more impressive than his score of 64 at Seaside amid the wind and cold was the fact that he did not make any bogeys during the round and had to scramble for par four times.
Even when there is no wind and the weather is acceptable, it is still a difficult course, according to Hossler. It was a great accomplishment to shoot the number that I did under these conditions.
On his route to a score of 67 (five strokes under par), Webb Simpson aced the second hole at Plantation with a 4-hybrid from a distance of 219 yards. At the beginning of this significant week, Harris English shot an opening round score of 68 that was four under par.
Because of hip surgery, English was out of commission for five months. He is now ranked 52nd in the world, and a strong week might push him into the top 50 before the end of the year, which would qualify him for an invitation to the Masters.
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