ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — Laura Baugh waited outside the entrance to the men’s locker room at Sea Island Resort to hug and kiss her son, Eric Cole, on the cheek and congratulate him on a fast start Thursday at the RSM Classic. Baugh, who was the 1973 LPGA’s Rookie of the Year, smiled and said, “Good playing, honey.”
Fifty years after his mother won her award, Cole is one of the top contenders for Rookie of the Year honors on the PGA Tour. Of the chances of their being two award winners in the same family, he said, “I think it would be very cool. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before, so it’s something that would be really special and something that it would be a cool thing to share with her.”
Cole’s dream rookie season on the Tour is off to a good start for a happy ending. He made eight birdies during the rain-delayed opening round to shoot 6-under 66 at Sea Island Golf Club’s Plantation Course as he seeks his first Tour title at the final of 54 events during the 2022-23 wraparound season.
Cole, whose father, Bobby, played on the Tour in the 1970s and won one time, didn’t make it to the Tour until this season at age 35. He even took a break from competitive golf for a while, teaching and caddying occasionally for friend Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer.
“When I was teaching I realized like if I don’t ever make it to the PGA Tour and have success, then my life is still going to be OK, it’s no big deal,” he said. “So it almost took a little pressure off me taking a step away and being like if I make it, great, but if I don’t, my life will still be OK.”
Last year, Cole graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour, where he earned $221,637, by finishing in the top 25 on the season-long points list. He has made up for lost time, earning nearly $5 million in his rookie campaign while recording 13 top-25 finishes. Cole nearly won in February at the Honda Classic, losing in a playoff, and has three top 4s in his last four starts.
Cole has been a birdie machine this season. He already has set a record for circles on his card in a single season, increasing his total to 534 on Thursday.
“I think I tend to play pretty aggressively, so I make a decent amount of birdies, and then I’m just trying to not make too many bogeys,” he explained.
In the first round, he limited the bogeys to two – at Nos. 4 and 17 – but finished with birdies on four of his final five holes to share the early lead with Cameron Young and…