Eric Cole was 14 years old when he met and befriended Sam Saunders, whose grandfather you may know – Arnold Palmer.
Cole and Saunders were two promising junior golfers who played in many of the same tournaments. Seeing the talent in each other, the two quickly bonded and formed a friendship. That friendship lead to what for many of us would be a bucket list experience – playing golf with the King, Mr. Palmer.
Palmer won seven major championships over his storied career, including the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club where he orchestrated the largest comeback in U.S. Open history, erasing a seven-stroke deficit to begin the final round. He was 30 years old and in the prime of his illustrious career.
PGA Rookie, Eric Cole, looks to contend in just his 3rd start in a Major.
When Eric Cole tees it up on Thursday at the 123rd U.S. Open at LACC, he will be 34 years old and making just his third major championship start. Oh, and did I forget to mention that he’s a PGA Tour rookie?
For some golfers, the road to the highest level of the game, the PGA Tour, appears almost predestined. You hear their name bandied about as the next big thing. For others, the journey to get to the PGA Tour fails to happen. And for some, like Eric Cole, that road to the Tour just takes a few extra turns to finally reach its destination.
Cole could have been one whose golf trajectory seemed preordained. He has the pedigree for it, as both his father and mother played golf professionally. Bobby Cole was a member of the PGA Tour and won the 1977 Buick Open at Warwick Hills C.C. in Grand Blanc, MI. Cole’s mom, Laura Baugh, played on the LPGA Tour for 25 years, garnering Rookie of the Year honors in 1973.
But things don’t always go as planned. No matter what level of golf you play, from professional to recreational, the game is extremely hard, and success is often fleeting. That’s not to say Cole didn’t experience success. He had a legendary career on the Minor League Golf Tour, winning 12 times including just this past April at the Palm Beach County Open while he was an active member of the PGA Tour.
As Cole continued to grind and work on his game, more signs of success began to materialize. In 2022, Cole spent most of his time on the Korn Ferry Tour, just a step below the PGA Tour. Although he didn’t win a KFT event, Cole had five Top-10s which included two 3rd place finishes. In the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship, Cole finished in a tie for third to earn his PGA Tour card for the 2022-23 season.
Presumably making up for lost time, Cole set an ambitious schedule as he sought to take advantage of his new status. In fact, this week will mark his 9th consecutive start on the PGA Tour. And in those eight previous starts, Cole has a T5 finish at the Mexico Open at Vidanta, a T15 finish at the PGA Championship, and most recently, a T6 finish at the RBC Canadian Open. In February, Cole lost in a playoff to Chris Kirk at The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
Those high finishes on difficult courses show that Cole has the game to compete this week at what should be a rigorous U.S. Open setup. Although he isn’t one of the longer hitters on Tour, Cole’s putting this season is world-class, ranking 2nd in Overall Putting Average and 20th in SG: Putting.
He has the longest current streak on Tour without a 3-putt at 331 attempts. That streak is almost guaranteed to come to an end this week on the tricky, undulating greens of LACC. But if Cole can keep it in the short grass and chip and putt his way around LACC, Mr. Palmer may just be smiling down as he watches his friend compete to win the United States Open.
Eric Cole tees it up Thursday at 12:37 PM PT (3:37 PM EDT) with Thriston Lawrence and Adam Schenk.