The eyes of the world were focused on UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay. Augusta chairman Billy Payne recognized a seemingly endless amount of international golf organizations, but his attention finally turned to the 20-year-old golfer standing to his left.
Before the green jacket would be handed to Masters champion Bubba Watson, Cantlay would be awarded the Silver Cup for being the lowest scoring amateur at what may be the most prestigious event in golf.
“(Playing in the Masters) is something that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid,” Cantlay said. “It was like a dream come true for me to play, and to finish as the low amateur is a bonus.”
Although it’s not the PGA Tour’s oldest major tournament, the Masters has a certain mystique about it.
Maybe it’s the mythology of the course ““ its holes so famous even they have names ““ or maybe the golfing legends that have walked Augusta National Golf Club’s grounds over the years. Whatever it is, the gravity of the course and tournament wasn’t lost on Cantlay.
“There’s so much history there and they run the tournament so well. They make it seem like time stands still on that property,” said Cantlay, who made history of his own over the weekend, becoming the first UCLA amateur to ever win the Silver Cup. “They really are the history of the game, letting amateurs play. It’s a special place.”
One of the many, and most glaring, differences between a typical college event and a tournament such as the Masters is the size and intensity of the crowd. Cantlay, who isn’t a stranger to performing in major atmospheres after winning the low amateur title at the 2011 U.S. Open, took the pressure in stride and even enjoyed it at points.
“When I holed my shot on the seventh hole and the crowd went crazy it was pretty cool to be in that environment where fans scream and go nuts for your golf,” said Cantlay, referring to his eagle which contributed to his 72 (E) final round score.
Cantlay’s final round was filled with highs and lows, including an eagle, a quadruple bogey and almost everything in between.
At the end of the first round, Cantlay’s 71 (-1) had him tied in 12th place, his highest position of the weekend.
In the end, aside from a second round score of 78 ( 6), he shot consistently, leading to his overall score of 295 ( 7).
Matching the grandiosity of the course and tournament were the players that Cantlay had the chance to play alongside throughout the weekend. Always focused on the game, though, he seemed more enamored with their skills than their stardom.
“Zach Johnson was cool to play with. His wedge game was really impressive,” Cantlay said of the 2007 Masters winner.
Among the national audience watching the action unfold from home were Cantlay’s coaches and teammates back in Westwood, who were proud to witness their Bruin representative’s success.
“(The Masters) is really the one tournament of the year that you follow Monday through Sunday,” said Cantlay’s UCLA teammate, junior Pontus Widegren. “It was really cool to see Patrick in that tournament along with all those world class players, and he hit some great shots, too.”
Not only was the experience a first for Cantlay, but for his coach as well.
“I’ve never had a player go through something like that before, so it’s very exciting,” coach Derek Freeman said. “I think the neatest part about it is that it’s something he’ll remember forever. … That’s something you can’t put a price tag on.”
Before leaving, Freeman emphasized his one piece of advice to Cantlay: Have fun. Cantlay obliged, soaking in his week at Augusta amid the competitiveness of the major.
“I don’t know if I could highlight one single memory,” Cantlay said. “It was a special experience. I’m definitely going to remember the whole week and being there with my family and my friends.”
In a tournament with golf icons such as Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, Cantlay was one of the last faces viewers saw.
While he was met with much fanfare and spotlight during his time at the Masters, Cantlay’s return to Westwood marks a return to normalcy in the company of his teammates.
“Everyone just treats him like a teammate,” Freeman said. “Guys are like “˜Congrats, good job,’ but more than anything they see him as one of their buddies and a great teammate, and he sees them as part of his comfort zone.”