ERIN, Wis. – Patrick Cantlay will have the opportunity Sunday to win the U.S. Amateur, matching a feat accomplished by his mentor, John Cook, in 1978. Cantlay will face SMU’s Kelly Kraft in the 36-hole final.
Cook is known for exceptional control of the distance and trajectory of his iron shots. He’s passed that knowledge, much of which he learned from Ken Venturi, on to Cantlay. It’s no surprise then that the 19-year-old has continued to progress through the U.S. Amateur’s match-play bracket on a course that’s playing firmer and faster as the week goes on.
Cantlay beat Jordan Russell, 4 and 3, in Saturday’s semifinals and now will try to become the second consecutive No. 1 amateur to win the Havemeyer Trophy. Peter Uihlein was No. 1 in the world when he won last year at Chambers Bay.
“I like when it’s firm and fast,” said Cantlay, who advanced to the semifinals of last year’s Amateur on a Chambers Bay course that made Erin Hills look saturated by comparison. “I just think you have to have so much more feel, and you have to leave yourself in the right spot so it rewards knowing where you want to hit it and controlling your golf ball.”
Cantlay is trying to cap his successful summer, during which he was made famous by contending in PGA Tour events, with the biggest amateur title around. The final match will pit Cantlay, who grew up around PGA Tour players, against Kraft, who didn’t start playing until middle school and grew up on an executive course. Both players are expected to earn invitations to the 2012 Masters, and are exempt into the U.S. Open.
Cantlay finished in the top 25 in four consecutive PGA Tour events this summer, earning low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open, shooting 60 at the Travelers Championship and finishing ninth at the Canadian Open. Kraft won the Texas and Trans-Miss amateurs this summer.
“We’re both playing the same golf course tomorrow, and we’ve both made it this far, so we’re both playing pretty good,” Kraft said. “I like my chances out there.”
Cantlay was locked in a seesaw tilt with Russell on Saturday, but finally took control of the match on the back nine.
Cantlay and Russell didn’t halve a hole until they both parred the ninth. The match’s only two front-nine birdies came from Cantlay on par-5s. He got up-and-down from off the green both times. The rest of the holes were won with pars, except the 487-yard, par-4 eighth, which played into the wind. Cantlay won with bogey.
Cantlay was 2 up at the turn. He was 3 up when Russell missed a 6-foot par putt on the par-4 11th. It was the seventh time either Cantlay or Russell won a hole with par or worse. Cantlay closed out the match in style, though. He two-putted for birdie the par-5 14th, then stuffed a wedge close at the par-4 15th to match Russell’s birdie.
“Once Patrick got the momentum, he just played like he always does,” Russell said. “He did a really good job of just playing consistent. He just played really solid and closed it out like he should have.”
Kraft beat England’s Jack Senior, a member of the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, 3 and 2, in the semifinals. Kraft lost the first hole with a bogey, but then won three of the next four to go 2 up. He never trailed the rest of the match. He was just 1 up after bogeying the par-3 ninth, but won the next two holes. He parred the 524-yard, par-4 10th and birdied the 11th with a 10-foot birdie putt.
Kraft, who has exhausted his eligibility at SMU, stayed amateur with hopes of making this year’s Walker Cup team. A victory Sunday would guarantee him a spot. He’ll have to beat the world’s top amateur to do that, though.