ERIN, Wis. – Here’s all you need to know about the epic duel Patrick Cantlay won Thursday at the U.S. Amateur. Here’s all you need to know about his emotionally charged victory in sudden death against fellow U.S. Walker Cupper Russell Henley.
After rolling in a 35-foot eagle at the first playoff hole, Cantlay howled and punched the sky.
UCLA’s gifted sophomore never howls. The NCAA’s Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year never punches the sky. The guy who shot 60 in a PGA Tour event this summer never shows that much feeling. He’s a guy who makes you believe his shot making is programmed by some internal circuit board.
“That is the most emotion I think I’ve ever shown on a golf course,” Cantlay said.
That eagle putt didn’t even win the match, but it kept Cantlay’s terrific comeback going on his way to a 1-up victory over 21 holes in the second round at Erin Hills.
“It is the craziest match I have ever been a part of,” Cantlay said. “If you would have told me all that stuff would happen the way it happened today, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Cantlay’s reward? He’ll meet England’s Tom Lewis in a third-round match Friday that is every bit as delicious in its anticipation as Cantlay’s match with Henley. Lewis won the Silver Medal as low amateur at the British Open this summer after taking a share of the first-round lead with a 65, the lowest score by an amateur in that championship’s long history.
Cantlay vs. Henley felt like a heavyweight bout.
How tough was it?
Walking to the 11th tee, Henley’s nose started bleeding. He looked like he needed a cut man more than a caddie. He played five holes with a napkin stuffed into his right nostril.
“I got hit in the nose twice in high school playing basketball and ever since, when it gets dry, it seems to start bleeding,” Henley said.
This match was everything it was hyped to be even if it felt as if it came too early in the week as a second-round showdown.
Henley, winner of the 2010 Haskins Award as the nation’s most outstanding collegiate golfer at the University of Georgia, won the Nationwide Tour’s Stadion Classic this summer, becoming only the second amateur to win an event on the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit. He’s graduated but won’t turn pro until after teaming with Cantlay at the Walker Cup in Scotland in two weeks.
The match was drenched with drama the entire back nine, but it reached a fever pitch at the first playoff hole.
“Everyone was going pretty crazy at that point,” Cantlay said.
After Cantlay holed his eagle putt from 35 feet, Henley rolled in a 25-foot eagle on top of him. Back-to-back roars rolled over Erin Hills with the gallery swelling around them. They both knew they were orchestrating something special as they arrived at the tee box for the second extra hole.
“Russell was waiting there, and he says ‘Nice putt,’” Cantlay said. “We both smiled at each other, and we gave each other fist bumps.”
Two up with two to play, Henley lost despite having Cantlay dormie.
Like heavyweight champs, they kept hammering each other with shots. Henley birdied four of the first eight holes, including a run of three in a row. They both shot 4-under-par 68s in regulation with concessions.
After rolling in a 15-foot birdie at the 16th to go 2 up, Henley looked to have Cantlay beaten. That’s where Cantlay dug deep for some magic. After flaring an 8-iron short of the 17th green, Cantlay had his caddie pull the flagstick before he set up over a 45-foot chip shot. He sent a jolt through the gallery holing it for birdie to win the hole.
At the 18th, Henley pushed his tee shot into a bad patch in a bunker. Cantlay hit the par-5 finishing hole in two and two-putted for birdie to send the match to extra holes.
“In match play I always tell myself I’m going to fight as hard as I can until it’s over,” Henley said.
That’s what Henley did rolling in that eagle putt on top of Cantlay’s at the first playoff hole, but Henley’s day would sour at the third extra hole when both players found trouble. Henley was in perfect position with a wedge in his hand in the middle of the fairway, but he pulled his approach over the green and into deep fescue. Cantlay hit a wedge heavy out of the rough and into trouble on the face of a steep bunker in front of the green.
After Henley barely chunked his chip onto the green, Cantlay hit a marvelous escape, blasting over the steep bunker face to 4 feet. After Henley missed a downhill 20-footer for par, Cantlay holed the winning putt.
The gallery gave them both a long ovation leaving that green.
“Unbelievable match,” Cantlay said.