Hammer, Stevens share Western Amateur medal honors

Flavin advances; match-play begins Friday

Writing from Northfield (a.k.a. Birdieville), Illinois

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Here is how you shoot a 61 at Sunset Ridge Country Club: miss your six-foot sliding downhill putt for birdie at the last.

It could have been a 60, the round Cole Hammer punched out on Thursday morning. At 61, 10 under the usually-testing par of 71 for the layout, it was a course record by a stroke anyway and a career low for the Houston, Tex., teen by two strokes.

He’ll call Austin home within a month, when he starts his freshman year at Texas, and might carry a big trophy into the dorm. Hammer birdied 10 of the 18 holes to erase the course’s old mark of 62 and vault into the mid-day lead in the 116th Western Amateur. His total to that point, 19-under-par 194, earned him a two-stroke lead on the field.

By day’s end, Hammer had battered Sunset Ridge four times for 261 strokes, 23-under. That lofty standard, four strokes better than any previous Western Amateur medalist, was his alone for about 15 minutes, until Sam Stevens, just graduated from Oklahoma State, poured in a 51-foot putt from the front of the 18th green for a closing 65 and matching 261.

Perspective: That’s 10 strokes under the mark set by Jim Jamieson in the 1972 Western Open, a cold weekend in the era of persimmon and balata. In other words, when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

Thirteen of the 16 match-play qualifiers – this carnival is only half-over – scored 270 or lower, including Davis Riley, a Mississippi lad who four-putted the last and still made the Sweet Sixteen with three strokes to spare. A high qualifying score score of 11-under 273, a record by three strokes, forced six players into sudden-death for the last spot, won by Davis Shore on the third extra hole with a birdie 3.

The man-to-man battles begin Friday morning among the 16 match-play qualifiers. Expect birdies and eagles.

“I missed a 10-foot uphiller on the first hole this morning, and it was kind of off to the races from there,” Hammer said. “Then I made five birdies in six holes and just kept it going on the back.”

His afternoon 4-under 67 seemed ho-hum compared to the morning, except he birdied four of the last six holes to get there.

Hammer’s a player to conjure with, and not just because he beat the old record. His swing coach is Cameron McCormick – the same guy Jordan Spieth uses – and he played in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old, where Spieth won. Their practice round there together helped pave the way to Hammer’s becoming a Longhorn.

Not even Spieth made such a splash as Hammer has before college, his performance at 

Sunset Ridge being the latest example.

Stevens was two groups behind Hammer and saw the scoreboards going tilt.

“I was kind of keeping an eye on the leaderboards this afternoon to see what he was doing,” Stevens said. “I saw he was at 21-under with three holes to go, and I was at 21 and made a birdie (on No. 16) and thought I had a pretty good chance to at least tie. Then I got to the 18th green and saw he made two more birdies (for 23-under).”

Stevens called the tying birdie putt a 60-footer.

“I was trying to make it, but I was really just trying to two-putt,” Stevens said. “Finish second at worst. But I hit it a little too hard and it broke right in there. I got away with a few things, had a couple nice bounces and took advantage of the breaks I got.”

Hammer’s made 24 birdies and an eagle, against three bogeys – one in the last 44 holes – and is 16-under in his last 40 holes. Stevens has made 27 birdies and five bogeys. Both have shot 31 on the back nine.

Patrick Flavin, meanwhile, went about his business in stylishly workmanlike fashion, putting up his third straight 67 in the morning round and adding a 66 in the afternoon to easily qualify for the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in four Western Amateur starts.

Perfect timing, as the Miami (Ohio) graduate from Highwood, the lone Illinois player left, is turning pro for next week’s Illinois Open. As the defending champion, he would have made $15,250. This year? “I want the check,” Flavin said.

Flavin missed the cut in defending his Illinois Amateur title in Bloomington, and that taught him something.

“I was having trouble hitting the fairway off the tee,” Flavin said. “This week, I haven’t missed many fairways at all and I’ve been hitting a ton of drivers. There’s definitely a big mental aspect to it. If you’re hitting the ball right and left, it’s hard to step up and make a confident swing. When I missed the cut, I decided if I’m going to miss, I’m going to miss swinging aggressive. I didn’t putt very well (at the Illinois Amateur), but this week I’ve made maybe 100 feet of putts every round, maybe more.

“I’ve learned a ton from last summer,” Flavin said. I had an awesome run and won six of eight tournaments. This year, I’ve been battling my swing. It was tough, but really important for me to battle both ends of the spectrum as I turn pro. I felt I handled the winning very well and did my best at handling the not-winning very well. To come out here when it matters in the biggest amateur tournament means a ton.”

Friday’s Round of 16 matches start at 8 a.m., the afternoon quarterfinals start at about 1 p.m.

Tim Cronin

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