TEQUESTA, FLORIDA | Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber were the two highest-ranked players in the field coming into the fourth U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. By end of play on Wednesday evening, everyone understood why.
The two 18-year-olds obliterated the competition at Jupiter Hills Golf Club, partnering to win 31 holes while losing just eight in the 72 holes they played in their five matches. They capped off the virtuoso performance Wednesday afternoon with a 4-and-3 dispatching of Florida mid-ams Marc Dull and Chip Brooke.
Hammer and Barber, who are a few months from attending the University of Texas and Louisiana State University, respectively, were so much better than their opponents that they decided to unofficially play matches against each other throughout the tournament. The result was a 37-under performance, given usual match-play concessions, while only trailing for two holes. They were even at a bit of a perceived disadvantage, carrying their own bags every round of the tournament while virtually every other team used caddies or push carts.
They simply overwhelmed competitors with their talent, often taking very little time to hit and dazzling fellow players with how effortless they made it all look.
“I think Cole shot 31 on his own ball on the front, and then Garrett hits driver, 4-iron on a 573-yard hole to 2 feet,” Brooke said in amazement after the round. “They’re just a lot better than we are. I mean, there’s no other way to say it.”
Afterward, Hammer and Barber watched while their phones were blowing up. Hammer had a video message from Jordan Spieth, Michael Greller and his coach Cameron McCormick, along with another 50 other text messages.
“Growing up watching U.S. Opens and U.S. Ams on TV, I’ve always known that being a USGA champion is something I desperately want,” Hammer said. “It feels as good if not better than I thought it would. And to do it with Garrett is something that is really cool.”
It was also a special week for Barber given how close he lives to Jupiter Hills. Barber will graduate this week from the Pine School in Stuart, a short drive from the course.
“I saw some of my friends from my club at home, which is only 45 minutes away,” Barber said. “Just having all of my family out here, that was really special.”
The two played together in alternate shot at the Junior Presidents Cup last fall, and their chemistry carried over. In the second round of stroke play, Hammer and Barber shot 7-under 28 on the first nine, a harbinger of what would come in the match-play portion where they never had to play beyond the 16th hole.
They started match play with a 7-and-6 drubbing of Delaware duo Ed Brown and Jay Whitby, leading to their round-of-16 match where they quickly jumped on Tug Maude and John Sawin to earn a 4-and-3 victory.
The toughest match of the week for Barber and Hammer came Tuesday afternoon when they collided with another team that had been pasting the competition, Texas duo Zach Atkinson and Brad Gibson. The match was all square through six holes, but Hammer and Barber won four of the next six holes and cruised the remainder of the way to win, 3 and 2.
The semifinal match against Carson Barry and Sam Tidd barely had a chance to get started before it was decided. Hammer and Barber were 4 under in the first seven holes and never were in danger.
In the final, they met Brooke and Dull, semifinalists in last year’s event at Pinehurst No. 2. After an exchange of chip-ins between the two teams early on – Hammer’s birdie chip-in from 30 feet on No. 3 was a pivotal momentum-saver – the two methodically added to their early 1-up lead. First came a birdie on No. 8, next was a winning par on No. 10 and finally the emphatic knockout blow on the par-5 13th when Barber sent a towering 4-iron from 235 yards to just a few feet, putting his team 4 up with five to play.
Hammer, best known for playing in the 2015 U.S. Open as a 15-year-old, put an exclamation point on the win by driving the green on the par-4 15th and calmly two-putting for birdie to secure the title.
Up next for Hammer and Barber are the Sunnehanna and Northeast amateurs. Both hope to earn their way to Pebble Beach for the U.S. Amateur in August.