Patrick Cantlay has had quite the month. Just a few weeks ago, he was a member of the UCLA golf team competing for the national title. Today, he’s now looked at as one of the top amateur golfers in the world.
“It takes a lot of personal dedication and personal awareness of what you are and what you can do well to play at his level,” men’s golf coach Derek Freeman said. “He just understands how things work at a young age that most players take years to grasp. That’s what makes him so special.”
At the NCAA Tournament, Cantlay led UCLA to the final eight where UCLA earned the No. 1 seed but fell to No. 8 Duke in the first round of match play. Cantlay, a rising sophomore, was not at fault.
“He’s extremely competitive, he doesn’t care what he’s competing in,” Freeman said. “He fights till the very end in everything and that’s what he did at the NCAAs. I was really proud of how he played.”
The Golf Coaches Association of America National Player of the Year performed beautifully in stroke play where he finished second overall by one stroke to LSU senior John Peterson. This was just the beginning of a month-long stretch that has had vaulted Cantlay into the national spotlight.
Within three days of his performance at the NCAA Tournament, Cantlay stopped off in Columbus, Ohio for the U.S. Open sectional qualifier and traveled to Connecticut to compete in the Palmer Cup.
“It has been a great experience for him being on the road,” Freeman said. “Learning how to deal with the media, deal with travel, not sleeping in the same bed every night. He’s getting a good taste of what it’s like being a pro golfer.”
The Palmer Cup, named for Arnold Palmer, is a collegiate competition in which eight golfers from American universities compete against eight golfers from Europe. Cantlay helped the United States claim the cup for the second year in a row by winning his head-to-head matchup against Nick MacAndrew.
Just to make sure he wouldn’t get too rusty, Cantlay then competed at the U.S. Open in Bethesda, Md. As strange as it may sound, considering he was the top golfer in the NCAA in his freshman year, this was a coming-out party of sorts for Cantlay, who showed no fatigue or nerves at the major tournament.
“He’s a very mature golfer, he understands how to play the game the right way,” Freeman said. “He knows his game extremely well and then plays to his strengths.”
After shooting a 75 in the first round, Cantlay responded by shooting a 67 in the second round, which was tied for the second overall score on the day. This score ended up being the best out of any score posted during the tournament by an amateur.
Cantlay didn’t slow down after that either, as he finished off the tournament by shooting a 70 and 72 in his final rounds to place him at even for the tournament, tied for 21st overall and first amongst the amateur field.
“It’s been a lot of fun watching him out there competing with some of the best players in the world,” junior Gregor Main said. “It’s fun watching him on TV and in interviews and we’re all rooting for him to do the best that he can.”
Following the tournament, Cantlay was bombarded by the media with questions about his amateur status and how long he will stay in school. To much surprise, he emphatically stated that he will not go pro until he graduates from UCLA.
“I just think that it’s important to get a degree, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Cantlay said in a press conference. “There’s no rush for me to turn pro. You can play a lot of great amateur golf, and I can still mature my game while I’m at college, and I can get better and get physically better, mentally better and at the same time earn a degree.”
To many, this is a questionable decision at best, considering Cantlay would have made $76,455 alone this past week after his performance at the U.S. Open. There’s a high percentage of UCLA students who would accept that for a yearly salary, which Cantlay understands but chooses to pass on.
“I can play on the tour for 25 years if I wait six years to turn pro. So you know, playing amateur golf is really fun,” Cantlay said. “I’d love to play on a couple Walker Cup teams. I’ve heard that’s just fantastic. I’d like to play well in the U.S. Amateur and try and win that one. That would mean a lot to me.”
Cantlay’s recent tear didn’t stop at the U.S. Open, as he then played in the PGA Traveler’s Championship in Connecticut and maintained his elite level of play as he shot a 63 and 60 in the first two rounds, respectively. Cantlay was the only amateur to even make the cut and his second round score was the lowest score in the entire field after three rounds. He sat tied for 10th place after the third round.
This is the kind of golf that should be seen for the next few years at UCLA; Cantlay has no intentions of leaving any time soon.
“He loves UCLA, he loves the golf program and he still has a lot to learn ““ he can get better,” Freeman said. “Instead of being out in the pros where he has to improve while dealing with the pressure of having to make the cut or keep his tour card, he can stay in school and improve and leave with one heck of a degree.”