How this relatively short and crooked hitter has excelled on PGA Tour

eric cole hits a tee shot during the 2024 waste management phoenix open

Eric Cole is not among the longest hitters in golf, but he's still got some serious game.

Getty Images

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Bombers fill the Riviera Country Club driving range ahead of the Genesis Invitational.

There’s Rory McIlroy, sending high draws into the sky with excess of 180 mph of ball speed, and his fellow masher, Wyndham Clark, too. The defending U.S. Open champion averaged 186 mph of ball speed last season, tops on the PGA Tour. Ludvig Aberg and Nicolai Højgaard — the new kids of the Tour — are pounding drivers as well, eliciting oohs and aahs from those watching in the stands.

All the while, equipment reps from the various OEMs (TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist, Ping, etc.) scurry back and forth between their trucks and the range. In their hands are all sorts of new toys for the pros to test. The goal is simple: Optimize the players’ club setups to give them the best chance to perform well come Thursday.

In this era of pro golf, optimization means speed. More speed means more yards off the tee. And more yards off the tee means shorter clubs into greens, which means a closer average proximity to the hole and more birdies. At the conclusion of 2023, 60 percent of the top 50 players in the OWGR beat Tour average ball speed (172.8 mph).

Of course, there are outliers.

Brian Harman, golf’s newest major champ, averaged just 166.6 mph of ball speed last year, while fellow major winner Collin Morikawa averaged just over 170 mph. Another pro lacking in the distance department? The 5-foot-8 Eric Cole.

The 2022-23 season was life changing for the 35-year-old journeyman. After a decade-plus of toiling on the mini tours (he’s won over 50 times on the Minor League Golf Tour), Cole arrived on the biggest stage and made his name known. In his rookie campaign, he registered 14 top 25s, seven top 10s and a pair of runner-ups, good for $5.4 million and Rookie of the Year honors.

Cole accomplished all of this while being below average in the distance department, ranking 113th at 299 yards, and hitting the ball all over the yard. His mark of 54 percent of fairways hit was 163rd on Tour. Over the course of the season, Cole lost .268 strokes per round off the tee.

Short and crooked is not supposed to be a winning combination, but Cole makes it work.

“I just don’t get tied up with what other guys do,” Cole told “It’s pretty impressive what other people can do as far as hitting it long and high and stuff like that. I just stick to my game.”

eric cole's stats from 2022-23
Eric Cole’s stats from the 2022-23 season. PGA Tour

That game starts with — you guessed it — elite play around the greens. Cole ranked in the top 20 in SG: Putting and SG: Around the Green in 2023, helping make up for his lack of power.

“I believe that shots get more important the closer you get to the hole,” Cole said. “So I just play that style of golf.”

That’s not to say Cole isn’t proficient approaching the greens, though. He’s quite the sniper with irons in his hands — particularly from long distance. He ranked 19th in SG: Approach during his rookie season, and his proximity from 200+ yards ranked 9th on Tour. If you’re going to be a long ways from the hole, it pays to be one of the best long-iron players in the world.

It’s certainly an unconventional skill set for a Tour player, but it’s one that has Cole inside the top 40 in the OWGR and playing in Signature Events and major championships.

As the old saying goes, it’s not about how, it’s about how many.

Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at