Erin, Wis. – So much for icing.
All summer the 19-year-old Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos, Calif., has been playing a brand of golf with which most amateurs are just not familiar. He not only qualified for the U.S. Open amid a Columbus, Ohio, sectional filled with PGA Tour professionals, but he also went on to finish as low amateur.
That tie for 21st at muggy Congressional Country Club spurred a run of four straight top-25 finishes in PGA Tour events. In that remarkable stretch, Cantlay shot a second-round 60 in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands, a record for an amateur, and tied for ninth at the Canadian Open.
Prior to the Open, he contributed to the U.S. victory in the Palmer Cup at The Stanwich Club.
But a major solo title – he did win the Southern California Golf Association Amateur – eluded the talented UCLA sophomore throughout. It was all that was missing.
Many observers figured that he appeared destined to break through at the 111th U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills, especially when he orchestrated several amazing escapes on the way to Sunday’s 36-hole final against Southern Methodist University’s Kelly Kraft, 22, whose eligibility expired last season but still has a few classes remaining to earn his sociology degree.
It was simply not to be.
Rallying from as many as 4 down, Cantlay nosed ahead through 32 holes only to suffer a series of uncharacteristic errors in the closing stretch. Kraft, of Denton, Texas, took advantage of the opening, won three of the last four holes, and registered a surprising 2-up triumph over the game’s top-ranked amateur (according to the World Amateur Golf Ranking supported by the USGA and The R&A).
I made back-to-back-to-back-to-back mental errors out there, and combine that with some poor physical shots, and I threw away the golf tournament on 15 and 16, and wasn’t able to recover, said Cantlay, summing up his loss. Kelly played solid … he obviously played better than me, but I feel like I threw away the golf tournament, yeah.
After forging a 1-up lead with an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-5 14th hole, Cantlay tried to lay up short of the bunkers at the drivable par-4 15th, but pulled his 8-iron into a pot bunker. His second flew the green, and he couldn’t get up and down for par. At the 16th, after Kraft missed his 20-foot birdie try, Cantlay, from just off the edge, knocked his birdie attempt 8 feet by and couldn’t convert coming back to give Kraft the lead for good.
Cantlay couldn’t make up the deficit on the final two holes where he had saved his championship hopes twice. He won both holes in the morning 18 to go into lunch with a two-hole deficit.
It was a good week [but] it’s hard not to think about what just happened, said Cantlay, who will compete again in two weeks at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland as a member of the USA Walker Cup Team. I went 5 and 1 this week; I think that’s not too bad. Going into the Walker Cup, I feel confident about my game and feel really good about the team we have.
It’s meant a lot, Cantlay added about his summer of fun. I’m only going to take positives from it looking forward. … I played well this week overall, but you don’t come to a golf tournament to finish second.
He’s had an amazing summer, but this is going to sting for a while, added Jamie Mulligan, Cantlay’s swing coach. He’s a young, young golfer with a bright future, and he’s going to learn a ton from this, I guarantee you. He’s the kind of kid who always seems to learn something every time he plays. I see nothing but good things ahead for him.
What Cantlay learned after Sunday’s play was over was that he’s a bit of a star now. After his post-championship press conference and an interview with the Golf Channel, Cantlay tried to make his way back to the clubhouse. About two-dozen fans seeking his autograph delayed him.
He signed them all and then went on his way, knowing the icing will have to wait, but also left to chew on this: he has earned a likely invitation to the 2012 Masters Tournament, and an exemption into the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
His future does look bright, even through the cloud of disappointment.