ERIN, Wis. – Patrick Cantlay’s storybook season keeps getting better.
Two down with two holes to play in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Friday, Cantlay fought back to win in extra holes at Erin Hills.
Yeah, he did it again.
A day after coming from 2 down at the 17th tee to defeat Russell Henley in a high-drama duel, Cantlay scripted another memorable finish.
This time Cantlay decided to make quicker work of his comeback, winning the final three holes to defeat SMU’s Max Buckley in 19 holes. He needed 21 holes to beat Henley.
“Patrick truly believes he’s never out of it,” said Dane Jako, Cantlay’s caddie this week and his former coach at Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif. “I know everybody fights to the end, but this guy truly believes he’s going to pull it off when he’s down. He just had that look on his face at the end today, that look that said, ‘I’m not going home yet.’”
Cantlay, the Jack Nicklaus Award winner as the collegiate Player of the Year as a freshman this past season, earned a trip back to the semifinals. He lost to Peter Uihlein in last year’s U.S. Amateur semis with Uihlein going on to win the title. The highly anticipated rematch of Uihlein-Cantlay won’t come off Saturday, though. Cantlay will meet Texas A&M's Jordan Russell after Russell upset Uihlein, 2 and 1.
In the other semifinal, Jack Senior is trying to become just the second Englishman to win the U.S. Amateur, the first in 100 years. England’s Harold Hilton won it in 1911. Senior defeated two-time U.S. Junior champ Jordan Spieth, 1 up, to advance.
Jako was on Cantlay’s bag when they lost in last year’s semifinals.
“Patrick’s a totally different player now,” Jako said. “He’s so much more confident than he was a year ago. I think last year’s experience really set up everything he did at UCLA as a freshman and what he’s done this summer. It started him on this push.”
Cantlay’s already had a summer to remember taking low amateur honors at the U.S. Open, shooting 60 in a PGA Tour event at the Traveler’s and tying for ninth at the RBC Canadian Open, but this week could be his crowning achievement.
After defeating celebrated English amateur Tom Lewis in Friday morning’s Round of 16, Cantlay found himself struggling against Buckley. Twice, Cantlay fought his way back from 2 down in the match.
Stepping to the 17th tee, Cantlay had the confidence of knowing he had prevailed in that hard spot just 24 hours earlier.
“I knew when I was on the tee box, it wasn’t over,” Cantlay said.
Even after missing the 17th green with his approach, Cantlay knew it wasn’t over.
Against Henley on Thursday, Cantlay had Jako remove the flagstick at the 17th and holed his chip from 45 feet to win the hole.
“Before he hit that shot, he says, ‘I’m making this,’” Jako said.
Cantlay told Jako the same thing Friday, and he nearly did hole his chip again. His 30-foot runner grazed the left edge of the hole, but he didn’t need to make it. Buckley missed a 10-footer for par.
At the 18th hole, Cantlay brought his best, striping a pair of lasers to reach the par 5 in two shots. His two-putt birdie forced the playoff.
Magic wasn’t needed on the first playoff hole. Buckley hooked his second shot left into the edge of a hazard. He climbed into the marsh and hacked his third shot back into the hazard again, where he swiped his fourth onto the green. Cantlay won with a par after Buckley missed a 20-footer.
Cantlay’s enjoying the dramatics, but he’d like to fashion a different script this weekend.
“It is nice to know I can hit shots coming down to the wire, but I would obviously like to hit those shots earlier to get the lead,” Cantlay said.
Whether he’s ahead or behind, it doesn’t seem to matter. Cantlay’s loaded with confidence. He’s the man to beat on this U.S. Amateur weekend.