Following a year in which he rose to the top of the world amateur golf rankings, won numerous national honors and shot the lowest score for an amateur at the 2011 US Open, UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay faces a seemingly difficult challenge: improving.
For starters, Cantlay will be entering at least two of the PGA Tour’s four major tournaments.
In the first week of April, Cantlay will travel to Augusta, Ga., to join the field for the Masters Tournament. Then in July, he will travel across the Atlantic to Lancashire, England, to participate in the British Open.
“Anytime you get a chance to play a PGA Tour event, it’s going to help your game,” said UCLA men’s golf assistant coach Jason Sigler. “You get to play against the best players in the world, on the best types of courses. So you get to see where your game measures up against the best.”
While it is a significant accomplishment to qualify for these PGA Tour majors, and play well in them as Cantlay did last year, his coaches see the tournaments as a valuable learning experience individually as well as for the team.
“Pat is only 19 years old; he’s going to get better each time he puts himself in a position under that type of pressure on that type of course,” Sigler said. “He just sees where his game needs to develop. (Playing in the majors) can only be helpful as he moves into next season.”
The last six weeks have been hectic for junior Pontus Widegren, who has been around the globe working to improve his golf game on top of finishing up finals for fall quarter at UCLA.
The weekend preceding Thanksgiving break, Widegren participated in the College All-America Golf Classic in El Paso, Texas, where he finished 18th out of 27 competitors, shooting seven over par.
“The tournament was a great time. I didn’t play very well, but the tournament is great and it’s a fun way to end the season for the All-Americans,” Widegren said.
Immediately following the tournament in El Paso, Widegren flew to Orlando, Fla., where he met with coaches and teammates of the Swedish national golf team to work on improving in preparation for upcoming events.
Training varied from medical tests with doctors to work on the course.
Finally, over winter break, the Swedish international returned home to both rest and continue his training.
“This time of year is the time when you get the most technical, look at your swing and work on your technique,” Widegren said. “For me, it works well like that because when I’m back home in Sweden, there’s snow on the ground and I can’t play golf.”
While he spent much of his time working to improve his game, Widegren enjoyed the time he got to rest at home.
“(Break) was great, but went by too fast. It’s a short, sweet break,” Widegren said.
After finishing his first quarter at UCLA, freshman golfer Jay Hwang went home to San Diego to relax, but later this month, he will return for business as he plays in the Farmers Insurance Open.
The tournament, which is a PGA Tour event, will be held at Hwang’s home course, Torrey Pines Golf Course, from Jan. 26-29.
Although Hwang may have had to adjust to college life, he hasn’t missed a beat on the golf course, playing at a high level on a team full of talented golfers.
“You’re starting to see freshmen that aren’t afraid to play extremely well in big-time competition, whether it be collegiate or professional events. These freshmen come in and look to play well,” Sigler said.
The Bruins coaching staff expects Hwang to both experience success and improve his game during his participation in the PGA Tour event.
“No matter what happens, it’s going to be a great learning experience and I think he’ll be able to take away a lot of confidence knowing that his game is probably right up there with the best players in the world,” Sigler said. “He’ll go through the process to improve no matter what happens.”
Compiled by Steven Covella, Bruin Sports contributor.