Cantlay tries to keep mindset simple at Masters

Amateur Patrick Cantlay hits a tee shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

Amateur Patrick Cantlay hits a tee shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Staying in the Crow’s Nest, the amateur lodging atop Augusta National’s clubhouse, gives Patrick Cantlay a unique perspective.

“It’s really special waking up in the morning and seeing the place empty,” he said.

Few get to see Augusta National’s pristine grounds without the presence of patrons. Cantlay will try to re-create that serene environment come Thursday, when he makes his Masters debut. He's trying to treat this week like any other tournament, as difficult as that may be.

“Golf is golf, no matter where you’re playing, Long Beach City Amateur or the Masters,” said the UCLA sophomore. “It’s still get the ball in the hole as fast as you can.”

Cantlay is one of several amateurs at Augusta National proficient enough in that skill to make noise come Sunday. It has been seven years since an amateur has finished in the top 25 at the Masters, but this year’s crop is one of the deepest in years, highlighted by Cantlay and last year’s low amateur, Hideki Matsuyama. Four of the top seven in the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking are here. Cantlay is ranked No. 1, followed by Matsuyama (4), Corbin Mills (5) and Kelly Kraft (7).

It also has been seven years since multiple amateurs made the cut in a Masters. The strength of the amateur contingent can vary greatly year-to-year because invitations are earned for performance in individual tournaments, not year-long rankings. This year’s amateurs arrive with previous success in professional events.

Cantlay made the cut in all five of his PGA Tour starts last year, and finished in the top 25 in four of them. Matsuyama, who finished 27th at last year’s Masters, won on the Japan Golf Tour in November. Kraft, the U.S. Amateur champion, was the low amateur at the Australian Open, in addition to winning four amateur titles last year.

Cantlay’s recent play hasn’t been at that same high standard, though. His missed cut at the Northern Trust Open was his first in six PGA Tour starts. He is 26th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings after finishing first last year. He has yet to win a college event this season after winning four in his freshman year. Cantlay doesn’t seem concerned, though.

“I’m hitting it really well and stroking it really well, too,” he said. “My game feels really good right now.”

Kraft and Bryden Macpherson, the British Amateur champion, are expected to turn pro immediately after the Masters. There has been speculation about when Cantlay would leave the amateur ranks ever since his impressive play last summer, when he had a successful PGA Tour cameo and was runner-up at the U.S. Amateur, Western Amateur and NCAA Championship. Mark Steinberg, Tiger Woods’ agent, stood in the back of the interview room during Cantlay’s news conference.

Cantlay is accustomed to the pro game. He grew up around PGA Tour players at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, Calif. John Merrick, a fellow Virginia member, was sixth at the 2009 Masters. John Cook and Paul Goydos are among other players with Masters experience who play out of Virginia.

Merrick told Cantlay to “embrace the week,” their swing instructor, Jamie Mulligan, said.

This will be Cantlay’s second major championship. He tied for 21st to earn low-amateur honors at the 2011 U.S. Open. Having major experience has helped Cantlay in “getting comfortable and not being overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the tournament,” he said.

He played with Charles Howell III and Bo Van Pelt on Monday. On Tuesday, Cantlay played nine holes with Luke Donald, the world’s No. 1 player, and Sergio Garcia.

The key Thursday will be treating golf’s biggest event like any other tournament. “The ‘It’s just golf mantra,’ has worked for a long time,” Mulligan said. Now Cantlay is bringing it to Augusta National.

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