Golf's forgotten phenom, Patrick Cantlay

As quickly as Patrick Cantlay burst onto the golf scene as a legendary amateur and Web.com Tour winner a back injury made him a forgotten phenom. Next week, the former can’t miss star will make his return to the PGA Tour after a 27 month layoff, an announcement that sent me down memory road.

Patrick Cantlay at the 2012 Masters.

Patrick Cantlay at the 2012 Masters.

At the mere age of 19, Patrick Cantlay entered the summer of 2011 on a tear after winning four tournaments and the Haskins and Jack Nicklaus Awards for player of the year during his Freshman Year at UCLA. Cantlay was a legend among golf junkies, but his spectacular performances on golf’s biggest stages in 2011 also made him golf’s next big star. 

Cantlay’s summer kicked off by qualifying for the 2011 U.S. Open where he impressed by picking up low amateur honors with a t21st finish at Congressional Country Club.

Following the U.S. Open, Cantlay accepted a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Travelers Championship where he shot the lowest score ever by an amateur on the PGA Tour, a second round 60. The brilliant round thrust him into the 36-hole lead and sent the golf world into a frenzy. Despite fading over the weekend to a t24th finish, Cantlay’s name was on every golf fans radar.

Up next was the AT&T National and again, Cantlay found himself in the thick of things finishing t20th at Aronimink. Cantlay’s next start came north of the border at the RBC Canadian Open where he notched his best finish of the illustrious summer, a t9th, just 4 shots behind the winner Sean O’Hair.

Cantlay’s strong play equated to high finishes on Tour and also translated to dominance on the amateur circuit. He won the the 2011 Southern California Amateur and finished runner-up at both the 2011 Western and U.S. Amateur, the latter earned him a spot in the 2012 Masters field. 

To wrap up his summer in 2011, Cantlay made one more start at the Frys.com Open where he finished t74th. It was his 5th and final professional start of 2011, a summer that saw him make five cuts and notch four top 25 finishes as a 19-year-old. His play drew comparisons to a young Tiger Woods and it hardly felt like a stretch.

Cantlay went back to UCLA and recorded another stellar season, collecting the Ben Hogan Award for his amateur and collegiate play. 

In April, biway of his U.S. Amateur runner-up finish, Cantlay tee’d it up in the Masters earning low amateur honors with a t47th finish at +7. Cantlay’s finish could have been much higher had it not been for his back 9 struggles which saw him notch a quadruple bogey on 13 and double bogey on 14. Following the tournament it was clear that Cantlay’s days as an amateur were numbered and the star was more than equipped to play at the next level.

Cantlay’s final amateur start came at the Olympic Club for the 2012 U.S. Open. For the second consecutive year, Cantlay made the cut finishing t41st and behind two amateurs, 17-year-old Beau Hossler and 19-year-old Jordan Spieth. Following the event, Cantlay turned professional ending his 55 week stretch as the world’s number one ranked amateur.

Unsurprisingly, Cantlay’s success continued at the next level where he spent 2012 playing the Web.com and PGA Tour on sponsors exemptions. While he fell short of the PGA Tour, his performance on the Web.com Tour earned him status for the 2013 season. 

It didn’t take long for Cantlay to ascend to the top of the Web.com Tour, winning in just his second start of the season at the Colombia Championship. The win made his 2013-2014 PGA Tour Card a near lock and Cantlay continued to play a good number of events on the PGA Tour via sponsor’s exemptions. 

While teeing it up in the 2013 Crowne Plaza Invitational, his career hit its first speed bump when the phenom was forced to withdraw with a back injury. Diagnosed with a stress fracture, Cantlay was forced to sit out and rest his ailing back. 

While the star sat out for three months, he watched his Web.com Money List ranking slip. With two weeks remaining in the season, Cantlay found himself 23rd in the rankings and in jeopardy of falling outside the top 25 which earn PGA Tour cards. 

With his PGA Tour card on the line, Cantlay decided to play through pain to secure his card. He missed the final cut in the final two events of the season and fell to 29th on the money list, forcing him to play in the Web.com Tour Finals in order to gain his card.  

In the first event of of the Web.com Tour Finals, Cantlay notched a 2nd place finish at the Hotel Fitness Championship, assuring himself his spot on the PGA Tour for the 2013-2014 season. With his status assured, it would be Cantlay’s final start in 2013.  

Cantlay’s back was slow to heal and forced him to sit out until the middle of May 2014 when he made his first start at the Byron Nelson. Cantlay made the cut at the Nelson but the rust was apparent. He made only five starts on the season and struggled, making only two cuts and missing out on the FedEx Cup playoffs. His injury granted him a reprieve in the form of an 11-event medical extension for the 2014-2015 season. 

Cantlay kicked off his quest to regain status the 2014 OHL Classic, where after two rounds he found himself in contention. Then his back flared up on the weekend, leading to rounds of 74-76 and a 76th place finish. We haven’t seen Patrick Cantlay play competitive golf since.

In February 2016, Cantlay received another devastating blow when his long-time friend and caddie Chris Roth was killed in a hit and run. The tragedy brought Cantlay’s name to light for the first time in months. The once phenom had become a mere memory of the past and hopes for his return were at an all-time low.

As the calendar turned to 2017, the only sign of Patrick Cantlay, the professional golfer, was his medical extension that remained intact. That all changed in early January, when Vintage Club Director of Golf, David Woods, tweeted about Patrick Cantlay’s course record 63 and preparation for a PGA Tour return at Pebble Beach.

Without official word, Cantlay’s return at Pebble Beach was merely speculation until Friday, when the field was released and there was his name. 

Next week’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am will signal the end to Cantlay’s 27 month layoff and the return of golf’s once most promising young star. Still only 24-years-old, Pebble will start Cantlay’s journey to earn his card back. He will need to accumulate 389 FedExCup points or $624,746 in 10 events, a tall task for a player who hasn’t played competitively for over two years.

Whether Cantlay succeeds or fails, it’s great to have the phenom that came before Spieth, Thomas or Berger back where he belongs inside the ropes.

 

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