Golf

Is it Hammer’s time? 15-year-old is third youngest to qualify for US Open

He’s 15. He looks like he’s 12.

His first memory of a U.S. Open all the way back — wait for it — to 2008, when Tiger Woods was pumping fists and winning at Torrey Pines.

He says his nickname is “Hammer Time.” But he has no idea who or what the original Hammer Time was. No idea that M.C. Hammer blew up in the 1980s.

That might as well be the Stone Age to Cole Hammer.

This Hammer is so young he makes Masters champion Jordan Spieth, all of 21, look old at the 115th U.S. Open.

Cole Hammer will be 15 years, 9 months and 21 days when he starts his tournament from Chambers Bay’s 10th tee at 9:12 a.m. Thursday. The ninth-grader from Texas will become the third-youngest competitor in U.S. Open history.

Already this week Hammer’s gotten advice from Webb Simpson, who told the kid to be patient and expect bogeys because everyone else will be making them. He’s shot off the practice tee with top-ranked Rory McIlroy.

All when he should be ending classes at the Kincaid School in Houston.

“It was really cool being able to hit balls next to the No. 1 player in the world,” Hammer said. “I never thought that I'd be able to do that.”

Andy Zhang was 14 years, six months when he played in the 2012 U.S. Open. Tadd Fujikawa was 15 years, five months and seven days in 2006.

After kneeling and praying over the ball before the start of his rounds two weekends ago, Hammer shot 64 and 68 at a sectional qualifier in Dallas. He birdied four of his last five holes to make this 156-player field.

He is one of 16 amateurs playing this week at Chambers Bay. That’s the most since the 1981 U.S. Open, when 18 played.

The others: Denny McCarthy, Brian Campbell and the world’s top-ranked amateur Oliver Schniederjans, all 22; 21-year olds Bryson DeChambeau (the 2015 NCAA individual champion), Jake Knapp, Kyle Jones, Lee McCoy, Matthew NeSmith and 2014 U.S. Amateur champion Gunn Yang; 20-year olds Jack Maguire and Beau Hossler; Bradley Neil and Nick Hardy, both 19; Davis Riley and Englishman Sam Horsfield, both 18.

They are all big brothers to Hammer, who recently added four inches and 15 pounds to become 5-foot-9 and 125 pounds.

“Yeah, so I was supposed to play in the Western Junior Amateur this week, but I qualified for this. So I didn't go to that,” Hammer said, drawing laughter inside a full media tent at Chambers Bay.

“I didn't really expect for this to happen.”

A dozen amateurs were in last year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst. One made the 36-hole cut, which is Hammer’s goal at Chambers. The highest amateur finisher in the last 35 years is Spencer Levin. He finished tied for 13th in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills, New York.

Hammer arrived Friday with his little sister and their parents. His father Greg is caddying for him this week. His mother has won three local club championships back home, two more than dad. Mom was trailing behind Cole on the practice tee and green Tuesday before his second practice round, proudly capturing her son among the pros on her smart phone.

Cole played nine holes of Chambers Bay Friday, 18 over the weekend and nine more Monday before he spoke Tuesday at 9 a.m. – way too early for a teenager to be formal or in a press conference.

“At first I played the first hole and I was in a bit of shock, I've never seen anything like it,” he said of the first U.S. Open played on a links-style course. “But then as I got more used to it, I kind of like – I really like it now. I think it kind of suits my game. A lot of the short-game shots I really like around the greens.

“I really can't wait to get started. I really like the course.”

His next pre-tournament thrill: welcoming eight of his teen buddies later this week in from Texas.

“When they first found out (I made the U.S. Open), they couldn't believe it. They're like, ‘No way!’ ” Hammer said.

“That will probably calm me down a little bit. Lighten the mood, I guess.”

But how normal can a golf prodigy playing with Woods, McIlroy, Spieth, Phil Mickelson and the world’s best 140 professional golfers be a normal 15-year old?

Hammer, who has already committed to play for the University of Texas, says he is one.

“Our (prep) school is from about 8:30 to 3:00 on most days,” he said. “So I'm there all day and then I'll go practice afterwards. But school is very important to me.”

Good to know he’s playing video games and such…

“No,” Hammer said, “I don't like video games.

“I don't have any extracurricular activities other than golf. It's just golf after school.”

Hammer isn’t too concerned with that, or anything beyond his here-and-now.

No wonder. His here-and-now isn’t half bad.

“School-wise, am I OK with it? Yeah, I really like my school,” Hammer Time Junior said. “It's been a blast this year.”

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