Travelers Championship officials had to be giddy Sunday as Patrick Cantlay rallied for his second PGA Tour victory in the Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus, a major inspiration in his career.
Cantlay shot a closing 8-under-par 64 for a 72-hole total of 19-under 269 and a two-stroke victory over Adam Scott. Cantlay made an 8-foot putt to save par from a bunker on the 18th hole to complete a bogey-free round that was the lowest by a winner in the history of the tournament that began in 1976 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.
When Cantlay made his Memorial debut in 2017, he sought the advice of Nicklaus on how to play the course during a visit to Jack’s house on the property. As usual, Nicklaus was more than happy to oblige for 90 minutes, and then gave Cantlay some mental advice on how to respond on big-time stages before each of the final two rounds this week.
“I’ve always been a fan of Patrick’s,” Nicklaus said during the winner’s press conference. “I thought he had a great amateur career and then had his problems in the middle. I like to see the young guys play well and to see them come along. If they need any help, I like to give them help. Anything that I would have given Patrick has been not that much. When he came in earlier in the week, I said let’s figure out how to this golf tournament and enjoy it. When he walked off the 15th green with a smile, I said I think he’s enjoying it.”
Cantlay said The Golden Bear was most instrumental in helping adjust his attitude.
“He helped me get familiar with the place a little quicker than I maybe would have,” said Cantlay, who began the final round four strokes behind Martin Kaymer. “I played good the last two years, and I’ve been playing well all this year. I haven’t been able to close out any tournaments, so when I saw Mr. Nicklaus in the men’s grill early in the week, he gave me a quick hello and said I’ve got to figure out how to play those last 30 minutes.
“I said, ‘You’re right,’ and then (Friday) I was having lunch after the early morning round, he grabbed me aside and said, ‘You need to go out there, have a good time, look around, look at all the people having a great time. And then you need to have a great time and realize that that’s why you’re there and relax and go have fun and go win the golf tournament.
“I definitely said that to myself down the stretch today on the back nine. It put me a little more at ease, and I hit a lot of really nice quality shots with the lead, and being able to get that ball up-and-down on 18, even though in the back of my mind I’m thinking I probably just have to two-putt, I really did want to just close it out and have it be done right there. Being able to make that putt on the last hole is just a lot of confirmation of a lot of hard work I’ve been doing.”
The victory vaulted Cantlay to sixth in the FedExCup and eighth in the Official World Golf Ranking. He caught Kaymer, trying to end a winless drought since the 2014 U.S. Open, with a 5-under 31 on the front nine, then the German shot 2-over 38 on the back nine to close with 72 for 273 and third place.
Scott was the last player with a chance to catch Cantlay when he ran off three consecutive birdies to get within two, but he narrowly missed birdies on the final two holes, settling for 68-271 and second place.
Tiger Woods birdied five of the first holes and finished 11 under on the front nine for the week. But he could do no better than 36 on the back nine, which he played in 2 over for the week, to close with 67 for 279 and a tie for ninth.
“The goal today was to get to double digits (under par) and get something positive going into the [U.S.] Open,” Woods said. “I got to double digits, I just didn’t stay there.”
The win was some atonement for Cantlay, who a year ago took a two-stroke lead to the back nine and didn’t make another birdie, missing a playoff by two. This year, he putted for birdie on every hole on the back nine until the 18th but ended in memorable fashion.
“Coming back this week, I was definitely looking for a little redemption,” said Cantlay, the only player to finish in the Top 10 in the first two majors this year. “And that has to do with me feeling really comfortable on the golf course and liking it a lot. Not to mention I’ve been playing well, so it feels like a win has been coming. I’ve been knocking on the door a lot, and that’s what you need to do. You always have to put yourself in contention. And you start winning a couple, and you figure out how to do it, and hopefully it keeps happening.
“Being able to win on this golf course, in front of Jack, making that putt on the last hole, I can’t tell you how good it feels. This definitely validates I can play out here, especially winning on a course that’s a lot like in major championships.”As he walked off the 18th green, Cantlay got a congratulatory handshake and hug from the best golfer in history. “You did it,” Nicklaus said. “I did it,” Cantlay said. “This really means a lot.”
Adding to the fairytale was Cantlay having won the 2011 Haskins Award and Golf Coaches Association of America Division I Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award as the top collegiate player after a freshman year at UCLA in which he had four victories. He also won the Phil Mickelson Award as the GCAA National Freshman of the Year, the Pac-10 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year Awards and the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top-ranked amateur in the world at the end of the 2011 season. The latter award earned him an invitation to the 2012 British Open.
“I think it may sound corny, but I think all those kids that have won the (Nicklaus) award, a lot of them are playing here, they’re all in many ways my children, I feel they’re my kids and so forth, and I love them all,” Nicklaus said. “I think they’re all great, and I have different relationships with them. Patrick, he reminds me a lot of me at being serious, and I get so wrapped up in what I’m doing I forget about everything else that’s going on around me.
“And I learned years ago that when I got close to finishing a tournament, maybe two or three or four holes left, I would stop, look around me — just exactly what he was saying earlier. Stop, look around me, take a nice big breath. It would relax me. I’d look around, these people are here, they’re having fun. I need to have fun. I need to enjoy winning this golf tournament, not torment me trying to finish the golf tournament.
“And all I was trying to pass on to Patrick was to try to get a little more of a relaxed attitude in his head so that when he got himself in that position, it wasn’t like all this pressure is on top of me. And it was just a comment. It may have resonated with him, it may not have. He’s sitting in front of me and we’re talking, so everybody is going to say, ‘Oh, gee, Jack did this.’ I didn’t do anything. He won the golf tournament. He played well. But he did come down the stretch and made a great putt at 15. It was right of the hole on 16, which is where you should hit it. Beautiful shot at 17 in there just behind the hole. And then 18, I didn’t see the second shot, but once he hit the bunker shot, I knew the tournament was over unless Adam did something special.
“But it was basically no different advice than I would give any of the young guys. It was how I had to finish a golf tournament and how I had to do things myself. And I see myself in these young guys. And I sit there and say, ‘You know, if I can help them, pass that along, maybe it will help them.’ And if it did, that’s great. If it didn’t, it didn’t make any difference, he won a golf tournament, either way.”
Cantlay, 27, was the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for a record 55 weeks and low amateur in the 2011 U.S. Open when he tied for 21st. A week later, Cantlay received a sponsors’ exemption into the Travelers Championship and shot the low round in PGA Tour history by an amateur, a then-course record 10-under 60 in the second round at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. Jim Furyk bettered Cantlay’s record in 2017, when he shot a 58 in the final round.
A week after his record 60 in Cromwell, Cantlay finished as the low amateur at the AT&T National in a tie for 20th. The following week, he won the Southern California Amateur and was low amateur in the RBC Canadian Open in a tie for ninth. He then lost in the final of the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur, earning a spot in the 2012 Masters in which he finished in a tie for 47th, making him the low amateur.
Cantlay had a 2-1-1 record in the 2011 Walker Cup when his teammates included 2017 Travelers Championship winner Jordan Spieth, and then in June 2012, he decided to forgo his final two years of college to turn professional, which meant he had to forfeit his spot in the 2012 British Open. His pro debut was at the Travelers Championship, where he missed the cut, but before the tournament, Cantlay announced he would be signing with Mark Steinberg and Excel Sports Management Group, the same management as Tiger Woods.
Cantlay earned his first professional win in the 2013 Colombia Championship on the Web.com Tour. He played in the Web.com finals and finished 11th to earn his PGA Tour card for 2014. Then his career nearly ended. In 2013–14, he played only five events due to a back injury and was granted an 11-event medical extension. He played in one tournament the following season, and as of the start of the 2017 season, 10 starts remained on his medical extension.
In February 2016, his caddie, Chris Roth, was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Newport Beach, Calif., while Cantlay and Roth were out on the town. Roth had been a high school teammate of Cantlay’s and had caddied for him in his amateur and professional career.
In his second start of the 2017 season, Cantlay regained his PGA Tour card with a second-place finish in the Valspar Championship. He finished third in the Heritage Classic, 10th in the Northern Trust, 13th in the Dell Technologies Championship and ninth in the BMW Championship, which allowed him to qualify to the Tour Championship.
In his second start of the 2018 season, on Nov. 5, 2017, Cantlay won his first PGA Tour title in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on the second extra hole of a three-man playoff. It was the second consecutive year in which his second start of the season secured his PGA Tour card for the following season.
On Nov. 4, 2018, Cantlay narrowly missed defending his title at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open when he finished a stroke behind Bryson DeChambeau. Two weeks ago, Cantlay tied for third in the PGA Championship behind Brooks Koepka, who was a repeat winner and will shoot for three consecutive victories in the U.S. Open on June 16-20 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
But on Sunday, Cantlay finally got over the PGA Tour finish line again where everyone wants to be.
“The relationship I have with Mr. Nicklaus is extremely special to me,” said Cantlay, who was born in Long Beach, Calif., and won the California State High School Championship as a senior. “I appreciate all the time he’s spent giving me advice and trying to help me in any way that he can. He’s definitely always had that inviting presence. If I wanted some advice, all I had to do was call and ask.
“I can’t thank him enough for that, and being able to close it out, especially after him really encouraging me to do that, it feels great. It feels like validation of everything I’ve been working on.”
And Cantlay is having his best season alongside caddie Matt Minister, an Ohio State grad who has worked the Memorial Tournament for many years. In two weeks, Cantlay, Koepka and DeChambeau will be part of the best field since Travelers became title sponsor in 2007. Other high-ranked players include Bubba Watson, who will be trying to tie Hall of Famer Billy Casper for most tournament titles (four), Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, the only repeat winner (2001-2002) in tournament history, British Open titlist Francesco Molinari, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Paul Casey, Tony Finau, Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood and 2012 Travelers Championship winner Marc Leishmann.
For more information on the tournament and tickets, visit www.travelerschampionship.com.
KELLY ONE SHOT OUT OF CHAMPIONS PLAYOFF
University of Hartford grad Jerry Kelly narrowly missed winning his fourth PGA Tour Champions title when he finished a shot out of a playoff with Kevin Sutherland and Scott Parel in the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa.
Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a 54-hole total of 200, one higher than Sutherland (62) and second-round leader Parel (70). Earlier this year, Kelly tied for second in the Mitsubishi Electric Classic, tied for third in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai and finished fifth in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
Sutherland made birdie 3 on the second playoff hole to notch his third PGA Tour Champions win and second this year. He previously won the Rapiscan System Classic and tied for fourth in the Chubb Classic and shared fifth in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge.
Fran Quinn of Holden, Mass., had a final-round 66 for 207 and a tie for 11th that included Rhode Island native Billy Andrade (72). Glastonbury native Tim Petrovic, a former teammate of Kelly at the University of Hartford, shot 70 for 214 and tie for 43rd. Rhode Island native P.H. Horgan III had 72 for 224 and a tie for 76th.