Unsung Cantlay reaches U.S. Am semifinals

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – David Chung, Byeong-Hun (Ben) An and Peter Uihlein are all very familiar names to followers of amateur and college golf.

Chung, a third-team All-American as a sophomore at Stanford last season, won the Porter Cup and Western Amateur this summer.

An, who will be a freshman at California this fall, became the youngest player to capture the U.S. Amateur last year, at age 17.

Uihlein, a first-team All-American as a sophomore at Oklahoma State last season, was a quarterfinalist at the 2009 U.S. Am and went 4-0 in helping lead the U.S. to victory last year at the Walker Cup.

Not surprising that this trio will be among the final four playing Saturday morning in the semifinals of the 110th U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay.

But what about the last member of this year’s final four?

That would be Patrick Cantlay, 18, an incoming freshman at UCLA. He joined the elite group Friday when he defeated Jed Dirksen, 21, and a junior at Iowa, on the 20th hole in his quarterfinal match.

Unless you’ve followed junior golf over the past few years or looked closely at a handful of amateur tournaments this summer, you’re probably not too familiar with the young man from Los Alamitos, Calif.

But make no mistake: Cantlay is far from being an outsider when it comes to talent and success. Don’t expect him to be intimidated when he takes on Uihlein Saturday morning.

“Hey, I’m still here,” Cantlay said. “I feel comfortable being here (in the semifinals) and feel comfortable playing this golf course. I’ve been getting more confidence as the week goes on.”

Cantlay certainly has had his share of success, winning numerous junior titles, including the 2009 Western Junior and the 2010 California State High School Championship, which he says to this point is his most memorable victory because “my team, my coach and my family were all there to share it with me.”

He’s had a pretty solid summer on the amateur front and said coming into his second U.S. Amateur – he missed making match play in 2009 – he felt good about his game and the way he was playing.

“I played in a couple amateur tournaments last summer, so I knew what to expect this summer coming out,” Cantlay said. “I felt comfortable and felt like I belonged (at that level). I’m just doing my own thing and really just sticking to my game and not worrying about anybody else.”

He started the summer with a tie for 18th at the Sunnehanna Amateur and then finished fourth at the Southern California GA Amateur. His best showing came with a second at the Southern Amateur. He tied for 17th in the stroke-play portion of the Western Amateur to just miss advancing to the Sweet 16 and match play. A week before the U.S. Am, he tied for 11th at the Scratch Players Championship.

He’s been impressive all week here at Chambers Bay, tying for second in stroke-play qualifying.

“Everything so far has come together this week,” Cantlay said. “I’m hitting it pretty good, and I’ve made a good amount of putts. For the most part, I’ve made all my short- to mid-range putts.

“I’m hitting it fairly good off the tee as well. Most of all, I’m putting myself on the correct side of the fairway and making sure I don’t short-side myself off the tee.”

The Cantlay-Dirkson match was a grind from start to finish.

Cantlay won the first hole, Dirksen the third, Cantlay the fourth and Dirksen the fifth. Cantlay then took the match’s biggest lead when he won No. 6 with a par and No. 7 with a birdie to go 2 up.

Dirksen, the only quarterfinalist who carried his own bag, won Nos. 10-11 with birdies to square the match, and then took his first lead at No. 14 when his chip shot from 50 feet settled 2 inches from the hole for a conceded par.

It was a lead he held as the players went to the par-5 18th hole, where Cantlay sent the match to extra holes with a par.

Both made par at the 19th hole (No. 1) and Cantlay’s par at the next hole proved to be the winner.

“t was a really tough match, so right now it feels great to be here,” Cantlay said.

If you think Cantlay is the odd man out in this final four grouping, consider this: An was in this same situation last year at Southern Hills. All he did was go on to hoist the Havemeyer Trophy.

Cantlay says when he’s not playing golf, he enjoys hanging out with friends, playing ping pong and sleeping.

“Other than golf, I feel like I’m pretty much like a normal guy my age,” he said.

Is playing golf not normal?

“It’s not that, it’s just not everyone plays golf,” Cantlay said.

And most of all, not everyone plays golf as well as this young UCLA Bruin.

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