CAMDEN, Maine — After a freshman year that began with a Class A golf individual state championship and concluded last month with a New England junior title, Cole Anderson might be hard-pressed to come up with an appropriate encore now that he’s a grizzled sophomore at Camden Hills Regional High School.
But the 15-year-old doesn’t see himself needing to match or one-up previous accomplishments — his competitive goals are geared toward achieving high-end staying power in the game.
“I ask myself after every tournament what I can do to keep advancing,” said the 5-foot-11, 150-pound Anderson, who is working on gaining strength, muscle stability and balance. “And mentally there are always things you can do, anything that requires an extended amount of attention or focus is always good for your golf game.
“But my biggest goal is to play professionally on tour. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t set big goals then you have no chance to reach anything really big.”
Those who know Anderson best see a developing combination of physical talent, an insatiable thirst for self-improvement and a demeanor designed to cope with the most stressful of moments on the course.
“You just have to keep improving at all parts of the game,” he said.
“I’ve played with guys on [the PGA] Tour, I’ve played in Tour events, been to Tour school, caddied for friends of mine at Tour school, so I’ve seen players that are on the PGA Tour now, on the seniors [Champions] Tour and on the Web.com Tour,” said Jeff Seavey, assistant golf pro and director of instruction at the Samoset Resort in Rockport and Anderson’s personal coach since 2013.
“Cole can hit shots that those guys hit. He just can’t do it every time yet, and that’s the difference right now,” he added.
An early start
Anderson’s first round of golf at age 10 was a little more hurried than his typical round today. His father was also his Little League baseball coach, and it was game day.
“I remember arguing with my dad about playing 18 instead of nine because I had a Little League game in 2½ hours,” he said. “We pulled up to the game literally as the first pitch was happening.
“But we got our 18 in.”
Anderson continues to play baseball — he gave up hockey a couple of years ago — but it wasn’t long before golf became his primary focus.
By 12 he was playing every day in the summer, often at nearby Goose River Golf Club in Rockport with several other future Camden Hills competitors.
“They weren’t all that busy at the golf course so I’d just play the nine holes over and over and over again,” he said.
“I’d typically play an average of 27 holes but there was a group of us … we had days when we would play 54 holes or more. We’d get there as the sun was coming up and would leave around dinnertime after basically playing golf all day.”
Anderson credits his rapid development to competing against those more experienced friends.
“I’d basically get tired of getting beaten so badly and I wanted to play at their level, so I’d stay a half-hour after they left, and with that extra time the idea was that I’d slowly catch up,” he said.
Anderson joined the Camden Hills Middle School golf team as a fifth-grader. He became a student of the game, often watching PGA tournaments on television and then attempting to add elements of what he saw from the world’s top players to his own arsenal.
“When he started playing on that fifth-grade team I’d see him out in the yard a lot swinging the club or he’d stand on the deck and look at his reflection off the window and work on his swing technique,” said his father, Derek Anderson. “I realized he was smitten with it.”
By 2013 Cole Anderson turned to a formal coach, and Seavey quickly saw the potential in the youngster’s physical game.
“But the thing that truly impressed me,” said Seavey, “was as we were playing I was asking him about the different holes and we got to a par 5 and I asked him what his thought was there and he said, ‘I can’t reach the green in two so I’m just going to hit it down the right side off the tee so I don’t get it close to the water, then I’m just going to lay up with a 5-iron so I have a perfect wedge layup of 175 yards. That’s a good number for me.’
“So here’s a kid at 12 years of age that’s thinking the same way I see mini-tour players and Tour players thinking. He already played the game far more mature than his age.”
Anderson was becoming active in midcoast junior tournaments, and he competed in his first large, out-of-state event in Florida around Christmas 2013.
“I think I came in 19th of about 40 kids,” he recalled, “but I knew right away that I loved the tournament feel of a bigger event like that. Just being as competitive as I am, there aren’t a whole lot of things that are quite like the feeling of competing at the level where you’re on the range with a kid from China who’s come over here specifically for this event. It’s cool.”
Anderson and his family have crafted an annual golf schedule that includes a mix of in-state, regional and national-level tournaments. A Christmas trip to his grandparents’ Florida home provides additional offseason opportunities.
With stepped-up competition has come continued improvement. It was rewarded with a first championship last fall when the freshman shot even-par 72 at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro to win the Class A individual state championship. His score was the lowest of the day regardless of class.
“I went in knowing I had the game to do it, I just needed to play well,” he said. “The conditions were not easy, really cold and really windy, but I got off to a good start and just played decent the rest of the way.”
Golf took a back seat to baseball last spring as Anderson saw playing time at every position except first base and center field on the Camden Hills varsity squad coached by Paul MacDonald, who also also is the Windjammers’ golf coach.
But the respite was brief, as Anderson participated in nine tournaments over 10 weeks during the summer, including five straight events at one point.
“That fifth straight week was the Maine Junior Amateur and I didn’t play well,” he said. “I was tired, but the week off paid off because I had an awesome end to my summer.”
That late run was highlighted by his seven-stroke victory at the New England Junior Amateur Invitational in Dover, New Hampshire, in mid-August.
Anderson dominated from the outset, completing an opening-round 65 with a 130-yard eagle and shooting another 5-under-par 65 later in the day that included six birdies on his first eight holes.
“In the second round I just kind of caught fire,” he said. “I was hitting it close so I didn’t have to make any real birdie putts of significant length.”
Anderson shot an even-par 70 in the final round the next morning — also the day’s lowest score.
“The kid who came in second, Patrick Welch, I’ve played in multiple tournaments when he’s just blown everybody away,” said Anderson. “It’s nice to be on the other side of it where you’re the best player that week.”
Anderson followed up that victory by tying for third at the American Junior Golf Association tournament at Sugarloaf Golf Course in Carrabassett Valley.
“We call the AJGA the PGA Tour of junior golf, basically,” he said. “There are a lot of international players and it’s pretty great competition.
“To finish in third was a great way to finish the summer.”
Anderson now is back in the classroom, where the honor roll student also has led the Camden Hills golf team to a fast start.
He’s already in contact with numerous Division I college golf programs, and that phase of his career may be when he takes his game to a more southern climate in pursuit of his ultimate goals.
For now, remaining in Maine with his family — parents Derek and Tia and 11-year-old sister Kyra — is a priority.
“Being from up here it’s definitely more difficult just in the sense that it’s a shorter season,” he said, “but so far every year we’ve seen improvement so I don’t really feel the need to think about moving south right now.”
Continued efforts at improvement for Anderson likely will include increasing his strength and developing more consistency.
“I’m in some ways a perfectionist so I’m always looking for ways to get better. I think that’s always helped me a bunch, not being complacent with where I’m at,” Anderson said. “You just have to put in the work and you just have to become comfortable in big situations, those are the two big things. You have to want it, really.”