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The Remarkable Journey of 35 Year Old PGA Tour Rookie Eric Cole

By: | Mon 20 Nov 2023

In the latest in our series looking at the world’s best golfers, Derek Clements profiles Eric Cole, a breakthrough star at the age of 35.

Eric Cole is in the running to be named PGA Tour rookie of the year. Normally, such an honour goes to a bright young thing, but it is no exaggeration to say that Cole is no overnight success. At the age of 35, how could he be?

He is the classic example of a sportsman who has refused to give up on his dream. He spent years playing on the mini tours and enjoyed success but there must have been times when he wondered if he would ever make it to the PGA Tour. He now finds himself in the top 50 in the world and heading to all four of next year’s majors.

It has been quite a season for the American, and it all started with him missing his first four cuts. There was no sign of what was to come but Cole was determined that, having made it to the PGA Tour, he was going to enjoy every single moment.

And that goes some way to explaining why he has played in 37 tournaments. It has been a gruelling schedule and from those unpromising beginnings, it has all come right for Cole, the son of South African golfer Bobby Cole and former LPGA star Laura Baugh.

It has been quite a journey.

Cole has actually won 56 times on something called the Minor League Golf Tour, winning the tour championship in 2009 and 2021 and claiming the money list in 2019. 

He earned a Korn Ferry Tour card in 2017 but failed to retain his playing rights. But in 2022 he was back, making 31 starts and enjoying two third places, including the Korn Ferry Tour Championship. It was good enough to get him to the PGA Tour.

So he knows how to get the job done.

In a golf season that has been anything but conventional, Cole took one of the year’s strangest journeys – an overnight 480-mile drive from Connecticut to western Pennsylvania to play (and win) the final Frank B. Fuhrer Jr. Invitational, an event that once kept his career afloat.

The following week he was teeing it up on the PGA Tour again.

With a positive COVID test at the Fortinet Championship 12 months ago and stolen clubs at the Shriners Children’s Open, he missed the cut in his first four starts and had to wait until February for his first top-25 start.

Fast forward to the spring, where he played 10 consecutive weeks, recording six top-25 results. His run was highlighted with a T5 finish at the Mexico Open and two major starts - a T15 at the PGA Championship and a T39 at the U.S. Open. This all came after finishing runner-up at The Honda Classic in February.

“It’s one thing to be playing well,” Cole said, “but to have that feeling of being comfortable on the PGA Tour and on the big stage is something that’s not as easy to get. But as you start to play better, it almost creates a scenario where you’re playing better, so your confidence is higher and you’re more comfortable. So they’re kind of all connected.”

After finishing T24 at the Travelers, Cole embarked on a seven-and-a-half-hour journey to play the Frank B. Fuhrer Jr. Invitational, a mini-tour event with significance for Cole.

Back in 2014, Fuhrer Jr. gave Cole a spot in the field. At the time, Cole was a struggling mini-tour player without much status to speak of. He paid the tournament entry fee on a credit card. He won.

The $40,000 winner’s check provided a catalyst for his professional career. He paid off the entry fee and suddenly had a cushion for subsequent entry fees and the typical expenses of a mini-tour pro. Essentially, it allowed him to keep going.

This marked the final edition of the event. Cole had played it every year since, and he was intent on seeing the streak through.

“Mr. Fuhrer passed away last year … this was the last year of his tournament, so I felt it was a really important thing for me to be there and play in it,” Cole said. “It was cool to be part of the last edition of his tournament. To be there, one, and then to win the last edition of his tournament was awesome.”

Two years after winning the 2014 Frank Fuhrer, Cole earned Korn Ferry Tour status for the first time. Last September, he earned his first PGA Tour card through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, and now he’s proving to the golf world that he has what it takes to compete at the highest level.

But that doesn’t mean he has forgotten his roots.

After travel delays that necessitated an overnight drive from Connecticut to western Pennsylvania to make his tee time, Cole won the Frank B. Fuhrer Jr. Invitational by nine strokes over David Bradshaw, with an 11-under 269 that included an opening-round, course-record 63. He then admirably donated all $20,000 of his prize money back to the Fuhrer family, to be directed toward charitable causes.

After enduring the challenges and sacrifices that came with his journey on the mini-tours and Korn Ferry Tour, his hard-earned success is even sweeter.

Baugh was one of the sweetest swingers the women’s game has ever seen. And Cole also swings the club effortlessly.

He is the first to admit that he still turns to his mother for advice. He says: “She’s given me a lot of advice but the best is probably what she says about tempo. So not to get out of rhythm when you’re on the course in different situations, just to kind of stick to your rhythm and don’t try and do too much, just stay in sequence.”

Cole said he’s long admired his mother’s easy tempo, and the fact that her swing has remained fairly unchanged. “If your swing is in a good spot, then you just try and keep it there for as long as possible,” he said.

Cole said he’s also received valuable advice from his mother on how to deal with the rigors of Tour life.

“She’s big on resting,” he said. “So when you’re at the course, work hard, and at the gym make sure that you’re working hard, but as soon as you leave the course, kind of prioritize being rested and ready to go for whether it’s the next day or the next week and get away from golf as much as possible.

“So although I like to play a lot, as soon as I leave the course I try and focus on leaving my thinking about golf at the course,” he continued. That’s probably the best advice.”

He finished the season in wonderful fashion with a fourth place at the Fortinet, tied third at the Shriners, tied second at the Zoo and tied third at the RSM. He started the season in 429th place in the world rankings. He ends it in 41st place.

He will probably miss out to Ludvig Aberg as Rookie of the Year but when it comes to consistency over the entire season, NOBODY has done it better.

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Tags: PGA Tour FedEx Cup

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