At one point during the U.S. Open before there only became one story line someone trotted out the regrettable headline, “UCLA’s Cantlay Can Play.” Even though that bit of wordplay might cost you some brain cells, it is at its very core, true. Patrick Cantlay, despite the fact that you’ve likely never heard of him (even after last week), was freshman all-everything at UCLA. About the only thing missing on his resume is a USGA championship. Forget about Peter Uihlein, the more heralded Amateur champion for a moment, in a world where the next big thing seems to change by the month, Cantlay is lengthening his lead on the field with a possibly historic run at the Travelers Championship.
No one will confuse the Travelers with a premiere even on Tour, but it’s always been friendly to young players and amateurs, and Cantlay is repaying their generosity with a scorching 2nd round. He’s eight-under through 14 holes, 11-under overall and has a two-shot lead midway through a rain-delayed 2nd round. He’s got a long way to go, and the event will be a ruthless a birdie binge, but for some perspective, Cantlay could become just the third amateur in the last 60 years to win a PGA Tour event, joining Phil Mickelson and Scott Verplank. This isn’t Jordan Speith’s feel good top-20 lingering at his hometown track, Cantlay might actually take a run at closing this thing out.
If you did see the U.S. Open coverage you might remember either Johnny Miller’s effusive praise or the insistence that Cantlay was not interested in turning pro. He intends to get his degree, he intends to play on Walker Cup teams and continue building his amateur resume. It’s easy to say that when you are turning down relatively modest sums of money, but it would be hard to put a price on a two-year PGA Tour exemption. He said the Tour will always be there after school, but you could say the same thing for school being there after the Tour. I honestly don’t think he’s going to win, but it would be an amazing story if he did, and it would be one hell of a decision to make.
It’s hard to gauge these brief flashes of amateur brilliance. For every guy like Phil Mickelson (or even Verplank) there is an all-world amateur who never makes it. The phenom is something that has been missing from American golf. We want it to be Rickie Fowler, or we want it to be Anthony Kim, or Charles Howell and Bryce Molder before them, but more often than not it doesn’t work out. And now with Northern Ireland’s true phenom being forced down our throats as the next big thing, I have to say it’d be nice to see a teenage American player getting some attention that has been hogged by the likes of Rory and Ryo Ishikawa of late.
So, obviously in your right mind you would never turn on the Travelers Championship, but if you have that spare moment tomorrow afternoon maybe check in and see if Cantlay is holding it together. I hope that I am not putting any of my notorious poison on him with this post, but he’s made a couple of pars since I started writing it, so I’m going to stick with it.