Friday
Aug032018

Hammer into Western Am semifinals

Flavin ousted in Round of 16

Writing from Northfield, Illinois

Friday, August 3, 2018

“It was a fight,” Cole Hammer said after his 18-hole Western Amateur quarterfinal bout with Spencer Ralston on Friday afternoon at Sunset Ridge Country Club.

Hammer, down two holes with five to play, got off the green canvas of Sunset Ridge’s expertly manicured fairways for a 1 up victory partly via his own game and partly because of a bad break that befell Ralston when he stood 2-up and had belted a drive within 140 yards of the cup on the par-4 14th hole. Hammer was five yards ahead.

Hammer’s drive was on the carpet. Ralston’s sat down in a divot.

“It was an unfortunate break but I still thought I could get a club on it,” Ralston said.

He tried to, but the Georgia junior’s wedge sailed off to the right near a tree, and left him with a bad angle to the green.

“The fairways were getting kinda firm and it came off the hosel a little bit,” Ralston said.

Hammer, conversely, dropped his wedge within eight feet and sank the putt for a birdie, his first of the round, to close within a hole.

“Turning point,” Hammer said, who nonetheless felt for Ralston. “He got so unlucky a couple times today. He tried to get on top of it and it came off the heel a little bit.”

Hammer told his mother and caddie Allison, “Might be an opening,” when he saw Ralston’s ball in the divot. Then he took advantage with the close-in wedge and birdie putt.

“It gave me some momentum,” Hammer said. He would follow up by winning the par-3 15th hole with a par to square the match, take the par-5 16th to go 1-up via a brilliant second shot to about 18 feet for a two-putt birdie, and match Ralston with a bogey on the treacherous par-3 17th and a with par 4 on the 18th, the latter with a baby-soft chip from the rough to within three inches of the cup. Ralston’s bid to square and extend the match, a 12-foot putt, edged the lip on the left side and stayed out.

“I thought it was in,” Ralston said.

Hammer’s 1-up victory advanced him to Saturday’s 8 a.m. semifinal against Brandon Wu, who outlasted John Augenstein in 19 holes. In the other match, it’ll be Tyler Strafaci, the grandson of 1953 Western Amateur medalist Frank Strafaci, against Davis Riley. Strafaci beat Kaiwen Lio, 2 up, while Riley knocked off Hayden Springer 5 and 3.

“We didn’t play great golf for a while, and then, middle of the back nine, we started to play like ourselves,” Hammer said. “The course was firmer and it was windier this afternoon, and the greens were faster, but I think we were a little bit tired after 36 holes yesterday, finishing late, having the dinner that lasted until 9:30 and then getting up this morning. I think that was a little bit of a factor.”

Hammer had gone 2-up with a long two-putt birdie on the par-5 13th, leaving a 60-foot putt 10 feet short but sinking that putt to win the hole after Hammer had driven his tee shot next to the lip of a fairway bunker and had to wedge out.

“I felt didn’t have a whole lot of energy out there on 13,” Hammer said. “Him making birdie sucked some more out of me and I told myself, ‘Man, you cannot do this. You’re still in this. Fight!’ ”

Hammer may be 18, but with a U.S. Open appearance in 2015 and a U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title in his pocket from earlier this year, the Texas-bound teen from Houston has plenty of experience to draw on. And he has the spunky attitude of the former shortstop that he is.

At that point, however, Ralston, a 20-year-old Gainesville, Ga., native, looked and felt in control.

“I was pretty positive there, like, ‘Get on a roll.’ Then I drove it in a divot,” Ralston said. “I think him kind of seeing that before I even hit kinda changed his mindset a little bit.

“It’s a funny game we play.”

It is, but Ralston, whose next stop is the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, enhanced his reputation with excellent play all week.

“It’s one of the best fields in the world in amateur tournaments,” Ralston said. “It kind of proves to yourself you belong. There’s a lot of positives. You can’t hang your head.”

In the morning, Hammer needed 20 holes and scored only even par but advanced to the quarterfinals of the 116th Western Amateur on Friday, beating Davis Shore.

Hammer, the Houston teen who’ll enter Texas later this month, saw Shore square the match with a par on the par-3 17th, but birdied the second extra hole – only his third birdie of the round after 24 in the 72-hole stroke play competition – to advance to Friday afternoon’s quarterfinal match against Ralston.

Ralston knocked off local favorite Patrick Flavin of Highwood 3 and 2 after trailing 2 up at the turn. Ralston strung together four straight birdies beginning at the 10th to take a 1-up lead, then watched Flavin bogey the 14th to take a 2-up edge. Flavin’s three bogeys on the back nine helped seal his fate in his final amateur start. He’ll turn pro for next week’s Illinois Open.

Sam Stevens, whose 51-foot birdie putt Thursday night tied him with Hammer for the stroke-play medal, was run over by 15th-seeded Liu in his match. Liu was 5-under, including the usual concessions, over 14 holes.

The Round of 16 matches:

Cole Hammer d. Davis Shore, 20 holes

Spencer Ralston d. Patrick Flavin, 3 and 2

John Augenstein d. Collin Morikawa, 4 and 2

Brandon Wu d. Kyle Michel, 6 and 5

Kaiwen Liu d. Sam Stevens, 5 and 4

Tyler Strafaci d. Isaac Merry, 1 up

Hayden Springer d. Isaiah Salinda, 2 up

Davis Riley d. Min Woo Lee, 4 and 3

The Quarterfinals:

Hammer d. Ralston, 1 up

Wu d. Augenstein, 19 holes

Strafaci d. Lio, 2 up

Riley d. Springer, 5 and 3

Tim Cronin

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