A 21st-place finish at the U.S. Open did nothing to make Patrick Cantlay a household name. And his is not a name that likely will be mentioned often at this week’s Travelers Championship, where he is playing on a sponsor’s exemption.
But Cantlay might be someone worth remembering for future reference.
Two weeks ago, Cantlay was studying for the last final exam of his freshman year at UCLA. On Sunday, he stood on Congressional Country Club’s 18th green with champion Rory McIlroy during the awards presentation. Cantlay, 19, had authored an even-par 284 score that tied him for 21st and earned him low amateur honors.
“It means so much because there’s so much history,” he said. “Obviously it’s my first U.S. Open, so it means a lot to me that I was able to compete well in my first one. It’s just exciting and it makes me feel good. It hasn’t really digested yet, but it feels great.”
Cantlay’s 284 was the third lowest score by an amateur in the U.S. Open’s 111-year history. Jack Nicklaus set the standard when he shot 282 and finished second at Cherry Hills Country Club in 1960. Had Cantlay been playing as a professional, his finish would have earned him a check for $97,242.
Cantlay is rapidly making a name for himself in the amateur ranks. In August, he lost in the U.S. Amateur Championship semifinals to eventual winner Peter Uihlein. In his freshman season for the Bruins, Cantlay won four of his 12 starts and totaled nine top-10 finishes to win national collegiate freshman and player of the year honors.
Despite his ascension, Cantlay is in no hurry to turn professional. He said on several occasions last week at the U.S. Open that he will wait to play for pay until after graduating.
“I think it’s important to get an education,” said Cantlay, of Los Alamitos, Calif. “Plus I can play golf as a professional for the next 25-30 years, so what is the rush?”
What motivates Cantlay at the moment is another run at the U.S. Amateur title and earning a spot on the USA Walker Cup team that faces Great Britain and Ireland at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland in September.
Plus, Cantlay does not believe his game is quite tour-ready.
“I can work on everything,” he said. “My attitude can improve. I get down on myself sometimes. And definitely my short game can improve. I think that’s the weakest part of my game, and I think this week showed it.
“I had some spots where I could have gotten up-and-down and I unfortunately didn’t. But you know, I think everything can improve just with your mental aspect and with the more experience you get.”
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.