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Cole Hammer playing Valero on final sponsor exemption as non-member

3 Min Read


Needs top-19 finish to earn Special Temporary Membership, gain ability to accept unlimited sponsor exemptions

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    It has been a season of learning for University of Texas alum Cole Hammer, who finished No. 5 on the 2022 PGA TOUR University Ranking.

    Now it’s time to put those lessons to good use.

    Hammer is playing this week’s Valero Texas Open on a sponsor exemption, his seventh sponsor exemption of the 2022-23 PGA TOUR season. Non-members, like Hammer, can utilize up to seven sponsor exemptions in a season before reaching Special Temporary Membership – if the STM threshold is not met, the player cannot accept any more sponsor exemptions in that season.

    Hammer needs to finish solo 19th or better at the Valero to cross the STM threshold and preserve his ability to accept unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season. After a lengthy fog delay Thursday morning, he’s set to begin his opening round at TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course) at 6:51 p.m. ET.

    This season’s threshold for Special Temporary Membership is 175.228 non-member FedExCup points (Dylan Wu; No. 150 on last year’s FedExCup standings). Akshay Bhatia, who secured Special Temporary Membership earlier this season on the strength of a runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open, is competing at the Valero on a sponsor exemption.

    Players who secure Special Temporary Membership also earn a spot in a conditional category on the 2023 TOUR Priority Ranking. This category reshuffles a combination of TOUR members including past champions (beyond their exemption) and veteran members (150 or more career cuts made). The next reshuffle will occur on the Monday after the Valero Texas Open.

    Also in contention to secure Special Temporary Membership this week are Ryan Gerard (needs a solo 68th or better) and Nicolai Hojgaard (two-way T46 or better).

    Hammer began the Valero with 129.17 non-member FedExCup points this season, on the strength of a T5 at The RSM Classic in November. He also accrued points with a T27 at the Cadence Bank Houston Open, T61 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and T65 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.

    Cole Hammer throws a dart to set up birdie at The RSM Classic

    Non-members are allowed 12 total TOUR starts in a season, not inclusive of open qualifying or special invitations into major championships. Hammer played the Sanderson Farms Championship as an open qualifier and the Sony Open in Hawaii via his top-10 at The RSM Classic; the Valero marks his ninth TOUR start of the season.

    (Starts earned via a top-10 from a prior event do apply toward the 12 maximum starts, so this week marks Hammer’s eighth counting start toward the 12.)

    If Hammer is to fall short of Special Temporary Membership this week, he can either pursue open qualifiers or return to the Korn Ferry Tour. He currently holds conditional Korn Ferry Tour membership after finishing T59 at Final Stage of Q-School last fall. He has made one Korn Ferry Tour start this season, missing the cut at The Panama Championship; he can improve his position on the Priority Ranking by making a cut and accruing points.

    But those scenarios are for a later date. The time is now to finish top-19 and join Bhatia in the TOUR ranks for the remainder of the season.

    Let that education kick in.

    “I don’t know if I’m 100% there yet, but I’m close and I’ve definitely learned my lessons the hard way,” said Hammer. “It’s been a fun journey, but I’ve definitely gotten to the point where I know most of the guys out here, and they’ve been great to me.

    “I've played this course (TPC San Antonio) a couple times in college and I've really enjoyed it. It's definitely a driver's paradise. If you can put it in play, then you can really attack it. I'm looking forward to that challenge.”

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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