Column: Cantlay's past shows why the future is promising
By DOUG FERGUSON AP Golf Writer
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — To the victor go the social media requests.
This proved far more difficult for Patrick Cantlay than his 64 at Muirfield Village, the lowest final round by a winner in 44 years of the Memorial and a performance that suggested his move to No. 8 in the world had more to do with any mathematical formula.
Cantlay looked at the phone as the PGA Tour social media team tried to explain what it wanted — a short video saying what this victory meant to him. He stretched his arm and struggled to get the right angle while still being able to start the video. Finally, a tour employee held it for him. Cantlay smiled and said all the right things.
“First selfie?” someone cracked as he walked off the stage.
Cantlay rolled his eyes.
He doesn’t do social media. Cantlay appears to be anti-social on the golf course, which is misleading.
In the absence of cameras and microphones, the 27-year-old from California is smart, honest and insightful with an occasional needle. On the golf course, he has a cold focus with no apologies. He knows how he comes across because when he arrived at Muirfield Village on Sunday, someone jokingly said, “It can’t be that bad, can it?”
Cantlay could easily fit the description of an old soul on young shoulders — except for his back.
It was a stress fracture in his back that kept him out of golf for the better part of three years — two straight years without playing one tournament — and kept him from the pace set by others from his own age group.
Jordan Spieth saw it coming.
Neither of them had PGA Tour status when Spieth and Cantlay were paired together in the opening two rounds of the 2013 Puerto Rico Open. Spieth got him by one shot each round and went on to tie for second, the important step that led to a PGA Tour card — and victory — later that year.
Cantlay, who had won the week before in Colombia on the Web.com Tour, was two months away from one swing that nearly ended his career, a pain he described as a knife in his back. That was the start of back trouble so severe there was no guarantee he would ever return.
He was 20 when he turned pro. He was 25 for his official rookie season in 2017 on the PGA Tour. Trying to manage his schedule after not having competed for two straight years, Cantlay played 11 times and still made it to the Tour Championship.
“If he had the full year this year, I would imagine he’d have been on the Presidents Cup team, no question,” Spieth said at the TPC Boston that year. “He’s extremely talented, and he’s going to work his way up into the top 10 in the world, in my opinion.”
And here he is.
Predictions are never easy in golf — Cantlay knows that better than anyone — and so where he goes remains a work in progress. It’s where he has been that explains why his victory Sunday got so much attention, even if it wasn’t worthy of the front of sports pages.
Anyone who saw Cantlay play in Ohio eight years ago would have expected a performance like this.
His time at Muirfield Village was short. Cantlay received the Jack Nicklaus Award as the best player in college — as a freshman at UCLA — and posed for photos with Nicklaus, then got ready for U.S. Open qualifying at the sectional site filled with PGA Tour players. Cantlay was the only amateur to get one of the 16 spots.
Two weeks later, he was low amateur in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, his first tournament against the best in the world. The following week, he set a PGA Tour record for amateurs with a 60 in the second round of the Travelers Championship. He was low amateur at the Masters in 2012. He made the cut at the U.S. Open again at Olympic Club (Spieth was low amateur that year).
Much like Spieth, he had a knack for delivering.
It was a tournament Cantlay did not win that might be the most revealing.
After the stabbing pain he felt at Colonial in 2013, he didn’t play for three months as his status on the Web.com Tour money list kept dropping. Cantlay tried to play two more events to stay in the top 25 to earn a PGA Tour card and missed the cut in both, finishing 29th.
His last chance was a four-tournament series with a special money list. Cantlay played the first one and finished one shot behind Trevor Immelman. It was enough to get his card, and then he couldn’t play again for nearly nine months.
Cantlay has been through a lot, but he is still relatively new considering he had to start over.
“It really is my third year on tour,” he said. “It’s just taken me seven years to do it.”
He ended that first full year with a victory in Las Vegas, and Cantlay was mildly irritated that more wins didn’t follow.
“Being out for so long and to come back and play really well and win within a year … I didn’t think it would take me this long,” he said. “But I’ve played a lot of really good golf, a lot of really solid golf. And so I think I was closer than it seems. So maybe this one will do it.”