Friday, May 25, 2018

Junior Achievement: Barber, Hammer win U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship

(Tequesta, Fla.) - Following four days of grey skies and rain, the sun finally made an appearance at Jupiter Hills Club on Wednesday.

Then again, the spotlight had been shining brightly on Cole Hammer, of Houston, Texas, and Garrett Barber, of Stuart since they arrived on the property late last week.

Wind, rain, grey skies, blue skies … it didn’t matter.

These two 18-year-old stalwarts weathered every challenge from the outset of the championship. It all culminated with a 4-and-3 victory over Floridians Marc Dull, 32, of Winter Park, and Chip Brooke, 42, of Altamonte Springs, in the 18-hole final.

“Growing up watching U.S. Opens and U.S. Amateurs on TV, I just knew being a USGA champion is something that I desperately wanted,” said Hammer, who qualified for a U.S. Open three years ago at 15. “And to finally do it, it feels incredible. It feels as good, if not better, than I thought it would. And especially being able to do it with Garrett. It’s really cool to share this moment, and I’m sure we’ll look back on this for a long time.”

Added Barber: “Pretty cool. I mean the USGA, everybody knows it’s a world-class organization, the best championships around the world. It means so much to be on that Wall [of Champions] in the [USGA] Museum [at Golf House]. I can’t really put it into words.”

Just how dominant were Hammer and Barber? In their five matches covering 71 holes, they only trailed for two holes – they lost No. 1 and halved No. 2 in their quarterfinal encounter against Texans Zach Atkinson and Brad Gibson – and shot the equivalent of 28 under par, with the usual match-play concessions. They also never played the 17th or 18th holes after stroke play, and they won 31 holes against eight losses.

The Nos. 52 (Hammer) and 57 (Barber) competitors in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ combined for 10 birdies and two eagles in their two victories on Wednesday. They were 7 under par in the championship match. During the two rounds of stroke play, which included a championship-record 28 on the outward nine of the Hills Course – Jupiter Hills’ Village Course was the stroke-play co-host – they posted 9-under 131 to earn the No. 3 seed.

Hammer and Barber also are the second consecutive tandem of juniors to win the title following Frankie Capan and Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong, who were both 17-year-olds last year at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. The duo said they were inspired by what their fellow juniors accomplished in 2017.

Unlike last year’s final when Capan and Wong had to rally to win, Hammer and Barber took control early. Although the sides split the first two holes – Brooke chipped in on No. 2 – the juniors slowly took control from No. 3 when Hammer, who shot the equivalent of 4-under 31 on the first, holed a 30-foot chip shot for a winning birdie. Dull said after the prize ceremony that the one shot he wanted back was the 12-foot birdie putt that stopped inches short to halve that hole.

Hammer continued his wizardry on No. 6, which was playing 285 yards with the tees moved up. Hitting his second shot from the pine straw, he perfectly judged a pitch, allowing his ball to go past the flagstick and then curl back from the sloping green to 3 feet for a conceded birdie that halved the hole. Two holes later, Hammer’s 6-iron uphill approach into the wind from 167 yards landed 3 feet from the hole for a winning birdie and a 2-up advantage.

“I tugged it a little bit,” said Hammer. “I didn’t think it was going to get there. That was big.”

Then on No. 13, Barber laced a towering 4-iron from 235 yards that stopped 3 feet from the flagstick for what became a conceded eagle-3 and a 4-up advantage.

“Cole didn’t want me to hit 4-iron,” said Barber. “He didn’t think I could get it there. I was like, ‘I got it.’ So I hit it hard, hit pretty much a perfect shot. It was a crazy shot.”

Two holes later and dormie-4, the final nail was struck by Hammer. With the tees moved up, he drove the green on the 370-yard, dogleg-left, par-4 and calmly two-putted for a birdie.

“Cole Hammer is a special player,” said Brooke. “He did some things that – obviously he’s going to Texas [and] I’m not saying he is Jordan Spieth, but there are certain things that he does.

“They’re just a lot better than we are. I mean, there’s no other way to say it. They’re phenomenal players. We had a couple putts that we almost made, and who knows, with two, three holes left with pressure, you never know. But they beat us today, and we tried as hard as we could.”

In the morning semifinals, a 40-yard holed flop shot for an eagle by Hammer on the par-5 fourth hole led to a comfortable 5-and-4 victory over fellow juniors and Idaho high school teammates Sam Tidd, 18, of Meridian, and Carson Barry, of Eagle. Hammer and Barber registered five birdies and the eagle, while their opponents’ two birdies came on the fourth (lost hole) and par-5 13th holes (halved).

Dull and Brooke eliminated former Seattle University teammates Kyle Cornett, 23, of Seattle, Wash., and Patrick Sato, 23, of Bellevue, Wash., 3 and 2.

- Barber and Hammer forged a friendship playing junior golf, but got a chance to know each other’s games better when they were teammates on the victorious 2017 USA Junior Presidents Cup Team. They prevailed, 3 and 2, in a foursomes (alternate-shot) match on Day 1 of the two-day event at Plainfield (N.J.) Country Club.
- Among the 50-plus texts that Hammer received following the win was from his instructor, Cameron McCormick, who also works with 2015 U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth as well as USGA champions Noah Goodwin, Philip Barbaree, Will Zalatoris and Shuai Ming Wong. McCormick sent a video of Spieth and his caddie, Michael Greller, congratulating him.
- This was the second runner-up showing for Marc Dull after coming up short in the championship match of the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Johns Island Club in nearby Vero Beach. Dull and Chip Brooke were semifinalists last year at Pinehurst. By reaching the final, the duo is exempt for the next three championships.
- Next year’s championship will be conducted at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes courses) in Bandon, Ore., from May 25-29. Registration is now open. To be eligible, each member of the side must have a USGA Handicap Index no greater than 5.4. To file an entry, click here. Entries close on Aug. 15, 2018 at 5 p.m. EDT.
- Semifinalists Sam Tidd and Carson Barry teamed up to help Rocky Mountain High School in Meridian, Idaho, win its third consecutive Idaho 5A title a week before coming to Jupiter Hills Club. Barry, headed to Oregon State this fall, is a two-time 5A individual champion (2016 and 2018), while Tidd, a 2018 University of Oklahoma signee, claimed the title last year.
- Now exempt into next year’s championship, semifinalist Patrick Sato said he’ll have a hard decision to make later this summer. Will he turn professional or wait until after the 2019 event at Bandon Dunes? His partner, Kyle Cornett, said he’s planning to play, and will qualify if necessary. Sides have to remain intact to keep the exemption.

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