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Hammer holds off Riley to win Western Amateur title

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Cole Hammer completed a wire-to-wire week at the Western Amateur.

Hammer, who was the co-medalist after shooting a tournament-record 23 under in stroke-play qualifying, led throughout his championship match against Davis Riley to capture one of the most prestigious titles in amateur golf.

"Biggest day in my golf career, no question," he said afterward. "It was a really special week from start to finish."

Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, broke onto the scene in 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open as a 15-year-old. He’s blossomed into a standout amateur, winning the Azalea Invitational earlier this year, taking the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and reaching the U.S. Junior semifinals.

After going low in stroke play, Hammer won by a 1-up margin in each of his previous three matches at Sunset Ridge in Northfield, Ill., and he was again taken the distance by Riley, a senior All-American at Alabama.

Hammer jumped out to a 4-up lead at the turn, but he saw his lead dwindle over the back nine. Riley won the 11th with the par, the 12th with a birdie and the 16th with a birdie to cut the deficit to one hole. Hammer held on to win by the same margin as his previous matches – 1 up.

His 76 holes in four rounds of match play tied a tournament record for most holes played. 

It’s a significant victory for Hammer, No. 33 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He’ll be one of the players to beat in two weeks at the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, and the favorite to earn NCAA Freshman of the Year honors this season for Texas.

The Longhorns have enjoyed a nice run of impact players, from Jordan Spieth to Brandon Stone to Beau Hossler to Doug Ghim. It appears now that it’s Hammer time.