Northfield, Illinois (Aug. 4, 2018) ... Cole Hammer, of Houston, Texas, never doubted Saturday he would win the 116th Western Amateur at Sunset Ridge Country Club.
Neither did Davis Riley, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
The difference was Hammer, the tournament co-medalist, was the frontrunner nearly the entire championship match and was able to hold off Riley’s late charge to hoist the George R. Thorne Trophy. He’s the sixth 18-year-old champion, joining a group that includes 14-time major champion Tiger Woods and last year’s winner Norman Xiong.
“Surreal,” said Hammer, whose mother, Allison, served as his caddie all week. “Biggest day in my golf career, no question.”
A freshman at Texas, Hammer took the lead with a birdie at No. 3 and carried a 4-up advantage into the second nine. Riley won his first hole at No. 11 with a par, and then he went on a run. He trailed 1 down after his fourth birdie on the back nine on No. 16.
On the par-3 17th, Riley went first and hit it to 10 feet. Hammer also hit the green, but he was farther away. After Hammer missed his birdie putt, Riley’s match-tying effort slid past the hole.
The match ended when the two tied with pars on No. 18.
Even as Hammer’s lead shrunk, he remained confident in his chances. He called his 12-foot birdie putt on No. 13 that kept him 2 up a “huge momentum putt.”
“It gave me a big enough cushion, barely, to get it done,” he said.
Despite being down by as many as four holes on the first nine and three with four to play, Riley, a senior at Alabama, never counted himself out Saturday.
“I had faith in what I was doing,” he said. “I stayed patient, and I was good enough to make a charge. I knew I could do it. I hit some good shots and made some birdies.”
According to Riley, the momentum was on his side after his tee shot on No. 17, even though he was 1 down after 16 holes.
“I hit that shot, and anybody would get a little nervous,” he said. “If I could have made that putt, I was going to win it.”
Hammer’s 76 holes in four rounds of match play tied the record with Justin Leonard (1992) and David Chung (2010) for most holes played. He becomes the second consecutive player to earn medalist honors and win the overall title. Sam Stevens, of Wichita, Kansas, tied Hammer for medalist honors to qualify for the Sweet 16 before losing in the first round.
Five other Texas Longhorns have won the Western Amateur, including major champions Ben Crenshaw and Leonard. Beau Hossler was the most recent, winning the title in 2014 at Beverly Country Club in Chicago, Illinois. Doug Ghim, another Longhorn, was the medalist that year.
“It was a really special week from start to finish,” Hammer said.
Both Hammer and Riley will compete in the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California, on Aug. 13-19.