[PHOTO: Alex Slitz]

Eric Cole was officially announced as a PGA Tour Rookie of the Year nominee on Monday. Unofficially, he’s already wrapped up the grinder of the year award in pro golf.

That’s because Cole can’t stop, won’t stop playing in golf tournaments. Even if they aren’t PGA Tour events. Even if they aren’t even close.

A day after Cole got the nomination for the Arnold Palmer Award (along with Ludvig Aberg, Nico Echavarria and Vincent Norrman) he was putting his golf shoes on in the carpark at Abacoa Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, to compete in the Minor League Golf Tour Championship. Those in the field are playing for a $US10,000 first-place prize – or more than 500 times less than the $US5.5 million Cole earned on the PGA Tour this season.

The 35-year-old played in 40(!) events this past season (over 15 months) and led the tour in rounds played. And that didn’t include him driving more than seven hours overnight the day after playing in the Travelers Championship in order to play in the Frank B. Fuhrer Jnr Championship, where he won an additional $US20,000.

Cole played in that small event this year out of respect for a tournament that helped him financially when he was struggling to make it to the PGA Tour. But the guy also just loves to play. And after taking 13 years as a pro to make it to the big time, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.

“It’s part of my DNA. I just like it,” said Cole, the son of former PGA Tour pro Bobby Cole and LPGA player Laura Baugh, in an interview with the PGA Tour. “It will show how good a lot of guys out here are, that casual fans haven’t heard of.”

It’s also another chance to show how good Cole is. He fired an opening 62 to take an early three-shot lead.

“And if they end up beating me,” he added, “I hope they’ll realise how close to success they really are.”

That’s a pretty cool message. But it also looks like they’re going to have to play pretty well to beat him.