As Jamie Mulligan prepared his pupil, Patrick Cantlay, for last week’s U.S. Open, he shared one mantra: “It’s just golf.”
“Forget about the fact that all these people are chanting and cheering your name,” Mulligan told Cantlay, who recently completed his freshman year at UCLA. “He’s doing a good job of trying to remember that he’s just hitting a golf ball, regardless of where it is.”
That continued Friday. College players are accustomed to playing 36 holes in one day, but never has one had a day like Cantlay’s. He shot 67-60 at TPC River Highlands, and walked off the golf course with a four-shot lead at the Travelers Championship.
He had 11 birdies, two eagles and two bogeys in his two rounds, both of which were played Friday because of the previous day’s lengthy weather delays.
Cantlay showed his proficiency with the putter on Friday, needing just 24 putts in the second round. A 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th got him to 7 under for the round and made 59 a possibility on the par-70 track. He also birdied No. 14, but pars on 15 and 16 hurt his chances. He still came close to achieving the feat. Needing to hole out from the 18th fairway to shoot 59, he hit his approach to 2 feet.
Several years ago, Mulligan used Cantlay and several PGA Tour players in a putting demonstration for fellow teaching pros. Cantlay stole the show.
“Three hundred of them said that kid had the best putting stroke there, even of the guys that had earned millions on tour,” said Mulligan, who also teaches John Cook, Paul Goydos, John Merrick and John Mallinger.
Cantlay was one of the country’s top junior players when he graduated from Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif., in 2010, but still was overlooked by some of the nation’s top programs. Even after being named Golfweek’s College Player of the Year this season, he was an unknown quantity to much of the golf world. That started to change last week, when he finished 21st at the U.S. Open.
He’s the first amateur to shoot 60 on the PGA Tour. Friday’s round also set the course record at TPC River Highlands.
“It was impressive to watch,” said playing partner Billy Horschel. “The kid’s got a lot of game. He’s a very even-keeled guy, even though I’m sure inside he’s ecstatic. He was all over the flag all day.”
The 60 was one of several impressive rounds for Cantlay recently. He set the course record at famed Los Angeles Country Club earlier this year, shooting a bogey-free 63 at the beefed-up layout, which opened late last year after a renovation. Then there was a 60 at his home course, Virginia Country Club, which was played in the presence of Mallinger, who holds the course record of 59.
Cantlay insists that he’ll play four years at UCLA before turning pro. His father, Steve, said he’d turn pro only if “something nutty” happened. This could qualify, though Cantlay didn’t change his tune Friday evening.
“I’m going to try and take care of business this week and then see what’s going on,” Cantlay said. “But I’m going to stay amateur definitely for the Walker Cup, and my plans are to stay amateur, you know, until I finish college.”
Growing up at Virginia CC in Long Beach allowed Cantlay to have Mulligan and his PGA Tour students as mentors. Mulligan takes the long-term view in golf, and tries to instill that view in his students. Cantlay follows that philosophy, never getting overly excited over a great round or good finish. It took him several days to tell his teacher about the course record at LACC, which will host the 2017 Walker Cup.
“He’s pretty low-key about his accomplishments. He’s working really, really hard for long-term development,” Mulligan told Golfweek. “We’re trying to do this for the next 25 years. Our style is, ‘Don’t get ahead of yourself.’ ”
It’s hard, especially after Friday’s play, not to think about where Cantlay’s talent could take him.