ERIN, Wis. – Even Patrick Cantlay fist-pumped. That’s all you need to know about his second-round match at the U.S. Amateur.
Cantlay’s success this summer has been attributed in part to his stoic nature, but even he had to emote after holing a 30-foot eagle putt on the 19th hole against Russell Henley. That stroke seemed to clinch the seesaw match in Cantlay’s favor.
Then Henley matched him with a 20-footer of his own. Cantlay clinched the match with par two holes later after Henley’s impressive day ended with an uncharacteristic mistake.
“That’s the most emotion I think I’ve ever shown on the golf course, for sure,” Cantlay said. “It was that kind of match.”
Henley was in the fairway on the third extra hole, gap wedge in hand. Cantlay had an awkward lie in the left rough. Henley, hitting first, flew his shot about 15 yards too far, his ball landing in native grasses left of the green. Cantlay couldn’t capitalize, at least not immediately, knocking his approach into a bunker fronting the green. Henley hacked out to 20 feet. Cantlay hit to 6 feet. He made after Henley missed. Match over.
“I knew it was going to be my hardest match,” Henley said. “I’m not going to beat myself up too bad. I feel like I fought pretty hard.”
They halved four holes with birdie – Nos. 1, 7, 12 and 15 – and the first extra hole with eagle.
Cantlay’s reward for beating Henley? A third-round match with Tom Lewis, the English amateur who held the 18-hole lead at this year’s Open Championship. Lewis has advanced this far despite struggling with his driver this week. His match against Cantlay will showcase two amateurs who’ve had success in majors this summer, and preview a potential Walker Cup match.
There’s still much uncertainty surrounding the U.S. Walker Cup team – three roster spots remain to be filled this week – but this match proved one thing to captain Jim Holtgrieve, who watched its closing holes: he has two tough competitors in Cantlay and Henley.
They’re two players who’ve shown their ability to withstand pressure in pro events. Henley won a Nationwide Tour event this year and was 16th in the 2010 U.S. Open. Cantlay finished in the top-25 in four PGA Tour starts, including the U.S. Open. Combined, they would’ve earned more than $600,000 this year if they were professionals.
As amateurs, though, they’ve earned $0. Cantlay’s pro finishes are impressive, but there’s no prize bigger for a player at his level than the Havemeyer Trophy, which is awarded to the U.S. Amateur champion. Cantlay was a semifinalist at the 2010 U.S. Amateur, losing to eventual champion Peter Uihlein. He’s four matches away from winning this year.
Cantlay’s run at Erin Hills looked like it was going to end Thursday. He was 2 down with two to play after Henley holed a 16-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th. Both players came up short on the par-4 17th. Cantlay holed his straightforward chip, and Henley was unable to match.
Henley found trouble with his tee shot on the par-5 18th and had to hack out of the fescue. Cantlay had just 6-iron for his second shot, two-putting from 20 feet to extend the match.
When Cantlay won the 21st hole, it was the first time he led the match since the fourth hole. Henley birdied Nos. 5, 6 and 7 to take a 1-up lead. Henley’s bogey on the par-4 10th, where he missed a 3-foot par putt, evened the match. Cantlay drove into trouble on No. 11 and lost that hole. They halved the next with birdie putts inside 5 feet. They also halved with birdies at the par-4 15th, which was moved up to 249 yards (Henley missed an 8-foot eagle putt). Henley’s birdie on the 16th was his third in his past five holes. He had seven birdies and an eagle in the match.
Henley suffered from a bloody nose, the result of nose injuries during his high-school basketball career, on the back nine, plugging it with tissue. He looked like a boxer between rounds. He’d been able to keep Cantlay at bay for most of their tussle, but couldn’t endure one final blow.