SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Early in his back nine Sunday at the NCAA Championship, Texas junior Cole Hammer took one glance at the leaderboard and knew his season was over. The Longhorns had essentially ejected themselves with a string of big numbers down the stretch, and the final few holes in the blistering Arizona heat only added insult to injury.
By the time Texas had finally gotten it in the clubhouse, the score wasn’t pretty. The Longhorns, playing without junior Pierceson Coody because of illness for a second straight day, carded the second-worst third round in the field (22-over 302) and ended its week early at 46 over, 14 shots back of the top-15 cutoff.
“We would’ve never saw this coming,” Hammer said. “We’ve had a pretty solid last few months, and I’m just kind of in shock right now. We just totally laid an egg.”
Texas entered nationals as one of the favorites, having just won a regional, but was dealt an early blow when Coody became sick and labored through an opening 79 before being subbed out for senior Hunter Ostrom. Travis Vick was the only Longhorn to shoot better than 10 over in 54 holes, though his 80 on Sunday dropped him to 8 over.
Hammer, who last month won the Big 12 Championship, shot 15 over for the abbreviated week, making just eight birdies.
“Man, it was tough; I didn’t help the team at all,” Hammer said. “I needed to play well today, yesterday and the day before, and for some reason I put a lot of pressure on myself and wasn’t able to perform. It’s something that I’m going to learn from.”
In Hammer’s defense, it’s been a busy stretch of golf. After conference, he spent a week at the Walker Cup. He then went straight to the AT&T Byron Nelson, teeing it up in the PGA Tour event before flying to regionals. Hammer admitted he’s struggled to sustain strength and energy during this demanding run, and he added that he’s lost 10 pounds in the past few weeks.
“I need to get my body in better shape to be able to handle all that,” Hammer said, “because when I take the next step, I’m going to be playing even more golf.”
So, when is Hammer taking that next step?
“After this week it’s a lot of motivation to come back,” said Hammer, who is remaining amateur and returning to Texas for his senior year.
That doesn't mean he won't cut his teeth in pro events this summer. He has U.S. Open sectionals in a little over a week followed by a start in the PGA Tour’s Palmetto Championship the week before Torrey Pines. He’ll then take a few much-needed weeks off to recharge before teeing it up in the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in July.
But he's got unfinished business in college. He wants to earn his degree and, just as importantly, win an NCAA Championship.
Despite this week’s performance, the Longhorns, who were national runners-up in Hammer's freshman year, figure to be one of the teams to beat next season. Texas is returning all five starters, including Hammer, both Coody twins, Vick and Mason Nome, who has experienced a resurgent sophomore season.
“I love these guys,” Hammer said. “We’ve got a lot to be thankful for and be excited about for next year. I’m happy to be on this team; I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, and you know what? Bad weeks happen, and we’ll move on.”