Player Pursuits News

Eric Cole: From Journeyman to PGA Championship Leader

Eric Coloe at PGA Championship
Photo by Aaron Josefczyk, UPI

Eric Cole is not a household name in the golf world. He has never won a PGA Tour event, and he has spent most of his career bouncing between the Korn Ferry Tour and the mini-tours. But on Thursday, he showed that he belongs among the best players in the game, as he sits on 5-under-par through 14 holes of the first round, and found himself atop the leaderboard of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club when play was ended due to dwindling light.

Cole, 34, is the son of two former professional golfers, Bobby Cole and Laura Baugh. He grew up playing golf in Florida, and attended Nova Southeastern University, where he won two Division II national championships. He turned pro in 2009, but struggled to find consistency and success on the various tours. But Cole never gave up on his dream of playing on the PGA Tour full-time. He kept grinding on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he finally earned his PGA Tour card for the 2022-23 season. In March, he almost claimed his first PGA Tour title at The Honda Classic before agonizingly losing to Chris Kirk in a playoff.

Cole entered the PGA Championship as a fifth alternate and a 500-1 long shot, but he proved that he can compete with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. He started his round on the back nine, and made three birdies and a bogey to turn in 33. He added three straight birdies on holes 2, 3, and 4, and will finish his final 4 holes on Friday morning.

“It was a good day — 5-under through the holes that I played was good,” Cole told reporters after play was suspended “Whenever you play, you want to compete to win. That’s the spot I like to see my name at, and hopefully it is there more often.”

Cole said he was inspired by his parents, who both played in majors before. His father Bobby won the South African Open in ’74 and ’80 and finished third at the 1974 British Open. His mother Laura was the LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1973 and had 10 top-10 finishes in majors.

“They’ve been very supportive of me throughout my career,” Cole said. “They know how hard it is to play this game at this level. They’ve given me a lot of advice and encouragement.”

He will face a tough challenge to maintain his lead over the next three days, as he will have to contend with a strong field of major champions and world-class players. He will also have to deal with the pressure of being in unfamiliar territory, as he has never been in contention at a major before.

But Cole said he is ready for whatever comes his way, and he is confident in his game. And after his performance on Thursday, it’s easy to wee why.

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