Hammer thrown for loss in Western Am

Writing from Millburg, Michigan

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

It was easy to tell how much missing the 36-hole cut in the Western Amateur meant to Cole Hammer.

The defending champion sank, his knees almost touching the tender turf of Point O’Woods Golf and Country Club’s ninth green, when his downhill-sidehill sliding 35-foot putt came within an inch of tumbling into the cup late on a perfect Wednesday afternoon.

He needed that deuce on the formidable 192-yard hole to advance to Thursday’s 36-hole dash for the Sweet Sixteen. Instead, his par 3 for 1-under-par 69 settled him at 1-over 141 for the first two qualifying rounds, one more than the maximum needed.

Last year, at 18 and about to enter Texas, he was the co-medalist, then went to the 18th hole or beyond en route to capturing this most testing championship format in golf, professional or amateur.

This year, at 19, it was hats off and handshakes with playing partners Chan An Yu and Isaiah Salinda, a signed scorecard, a longing look across the green at the scoreboard to see how close he’d come while his dutiful caddie mom packed up his Texas-logoed bag and carried it to the parking lot.

But he already knew. He had fought his way back from an opening 72 – par for this classic Robert Trent Jones design normally but 2-over in championship configuration – to get back to even for the first 31 holes thanks to birdies on the Point’s third and fourth holes, his 12th and 13th of the day.

After a par on No. 5 came a wild swing on the sixth tee, an off-line shot that landed well in the rough and led to a bogey on what is now the Point’s No. 1 handicap hole. The killer bogey, as it turned out.

That dropped him back to 1-over, and with the cut line holding steady, a birdie was needed down the stretch. Last year at Sunset Ridge, a good but short member-friendly course in Chicago’s north suburbs, birdies were plentiful. You could pick up a bushel on any given nine.

Not at the Point, where length doesn’t mean anything. Western Golf Association officials didn’t want extra-long rough, and decided the greens shouldn’t be faster than 12.5 on the Stimpmeter – slower than they were the last time the Western Am visited in 2008. But the course has stood the test after 36 holes, with 64 the low single-round score and the 6-under 134 totals of Daniel Wetterich and David Laskin the best aggregate numbers.

Hammer could vouch for the difficulty. He parred the seventh and eighth, and was a half-club long at the ninth, his shot sailing right over the flagstick. Two putts later, it was back on Interstate 94 for the next stop on the amateur circuit.

The Point was long when it opened in 1958 but, at 7,071 yards, is nearly a pitch and putt course today. Take, for instance, the 14th hole, a narrow ribbon of a par-4. It was once a driver-wedge into the prevailing southwest wind and thus at least a bit of a challenge at 360 yards. Today, the kids bash their drives over the tree overhanging the fairway and are within 30 yards of the green. Smack it in the middle of the fairway, and you can putt from there.

So why aren’t the scores silly low, given the quality of the field and the worthiness of the prize at stake? It is likely the greens, which undulate like an angry ocean and are a challenge whether fast or slow. The ninth, which Hammer nearly birdied, is an excellent example. It features a slope from right to left that begins gradually, then tilts more severely, then almost flattens out – but not quite. Throw in late-afternoon shadows and the presence of a chasm in front of the green from which there is no escape, and nobody has an easy putt. His line was almost along the edge where the slope lessens, which made the assignment easier, but not easy.

Chick Evans, the legendary amateur who won this title eight times and is the friend of caddie-scholars everywhere, called the course “the peerless Point” shortly after it opened. It hosted the Western Amateur 40 times, including every year from 1971 to 2008, before declining revenue – the place was packed when everyone from Tom Weiskopf to Ben Crenshaw to Curtis Strange to Phil Mickelson to Tiger Woods was lifting the George Thorne Trophy – caused club brass and the WGA to call a halt to the annual visit.

A new clubhouse and new blood within the club, plus the realization that the publicity could attract more members, has brought the parties back together. The Western Amateur at the Point is championship golf in a comfortable setting, a mix that is not often seen in this day of corporate crush. Next year, when Cole Hammer is 20, the Western Am will be played at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., twice the site of the BMW Championship (nee Western Open), as well as a PGA Championship and a U.S. Women’s Open. It’ll surely come back to the Point again in a few years – many members volunteered as spotters and scorers – but Cole Hammer will be a professional by then, playing for millions along with glory and able to buy anything. Anything except the putt he really needed through the light and shadows of a perfect Wednesday afternoon to join the 53 others who will play on Friday.

Around the Point

Nobody from the Illinois contingent made the cup. Varun Chopra scored 142 and missed by two, Tommy Kuhl of Morton was at 143, Jeff Doty of Carmel was at 144, Wisconsin standout Jordan Hahn of Spring Grove scored 145, and Andrew Price of Lake Bluff and Trent Wallace of Joliet totaled 146. Brendan O’Reilly of Hinsdale was high man among Illinoisans at 148. … Match play on Friday features the Sweet Sixteen in the morning and the quarterfinals in the afternoon, with the semifinals and championship match on Saturday. … There’s no online telecast of match play this year, as there was at Sunset Ridge, but WSJM-AM (1400) in nearby St. Joseph plans to revive the radio broadcast of the Western Amateur. It’s also available as

Tim Cronin


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