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Why TOUR Rookie Eric Cole Drove Overnight to Play (and Win) a Mini-Tour Event

Cole returns to the John Deere Classic after driving overnight to play (and win) a mini-tour event

PGA TOUR rookie Eric Cole has earned nearly $3 million this season.

But it’s perhaps a $20,000 winner’s check that means the most.

In a golf season that has been anything but conventional, Cole took one of the year’s most unconventional 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.

It was a microcosm of his career arc to reach this point.

Cole, 35, who played golf for Nova Southeastern University (a Division II university in Fort Lauderdale, to save you the Google search), enters this week’s John Deere Classic at No. 40 on the FedExCup standings. He’s an increasing favorite for Rookie of the Year, well positioned to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs and next season’s Designated events – which would open a new matrix of competitive stages and financial opportunities.

All while playing one of the TOUR’s busiest schedules, characterized by incredible generosity, exceptional performance on the course, and some ill-timed misfortune along the way.

Cole’s rookie season began under inauspicious terms. With a positive COVID test at the Fortinet Championship and stolen clubs at the Shriners Children’s Open, he missed the cut in his first four TOUR starts as a member. He went until February without a top-25 finish.

Turns out, Cole was simply working through a learning curve. Fast forward to this spring, where he played TOUR events in 10 consecutive weeks, recording six top-25 results. His run was highlighted with a T5 finish at the Mexico Open at Vidanta and two major starts – a T15 at the PGA Championship (earning a late spot via TOUR merit) and a T39 at the U.S. Open (earning a spot via Final Qualifying). This all after bursting onto the scene with a runner-up finish 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.”

But his on-course performance, impressive as it is, takes a backseat to his commitment and generosity off-course. After finishing T24 at the Travelers, his 10th straight week on TOUR, Cole embarked on a seven-and-a-half-hour journey to play the Frank B. Fuhrer Jr. Invitational, a mini-tour event with significance that dates to his time in golf’s hinterlands.

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 like 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 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.

As the 35-year-old rookie continues to compete against the TOUR’s deep fields, he’ll be propelled by his unwavering tenacity and positivity. The longtime grind made him realize it would be OK if he never earned a TOUR card – which in turn has allowed him to approach the game with a newfound sense of freedom.

Now he’s on the verge of a FedExCup Playoffs berth, where a top-50 finish on the standings would provide access to next season’s Designated events.

“There’s a level of, you know, if I didn’t (make it), it wasn’t going to be the end of the world. My life was going to be okay,” Cole said this week. “Sometimes when you’re younger, golf seems so important … if it wouldn’t have worked out, that would be fine, too, and I think that might’ve even helped me play better.”

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.

Cole will tee it up again this week alongside a talented batch of up-and-coming rising TOUR stars at the John Deere Classic. Here’s how to watch him this weekend at TPC Deere Run.

Source : PGA Tour