Erin, Wis. - Let's face it, match play at the U.S. Amateur is no walk in the park. The long walk and man-to-man competition at Erin Hills is a test of fortitude, filled with excitement, anxiety and suspense.
Match play is tough, and no matter how many you are up, you're still focusing as hard as you can, said Patrick Cantlay. So I think everyone is drained to some degree, after 36 holes today and the rain delays and everything.
No one can speak to the fatigue factor more than Cantlay. On Thursday, he had to rally from behind and play 21 holes to get past fellow 2011 USA Walker Cup Team member Russell Henley. Cantlay trailed Henley by two with two holes to play, but won the next two holes before prevailing on the third extra hole.
On Friday morning, in the round of 16, Cantlay met up with another Walker Cup player – Great Britain & Ireland Team member Tom Lewis. While Cantlay is the top-ranked amateur in the world according to the World Amateur Golf Rankings supported by the USGA and The R&A, the talented Lewis is No. 9. Each player was the low amateur in major championships this summer: Cantlay at the U.S. Open and Lewis at the British Open.
Once more, Cantlay fell behind, trailing by two after four holes, still trailing by one after seven. But the UCLA sophomore bounced back, played the remaining 11 holes in three under par and outlasted Lewis, 3 and 1. Surely, after flirting with his U.S. Amateur life twice, you might think Cantlay would have an easy one in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon.
On paper, Southern Methodist University senior Max Bucklery of Rye, N.Y., was the least-celebrated name on Cantlay’s road to the final eight. The problem is, Buckley, who spent his summer interning at Oppenheimer Funds in Manhattan, didn’t know any better.
Then again, Buckley had already eliminated 2011 USA Walker Cup member Chris Williams (second round) and reigning NCAA Division I champion John Peterson in Friday morning’s third round.
The script said rout. The reality turned out much different. For the second time in three matches, Cantlay came to the 17th hole trailing by two holes, his U.S. Amateur life on the line. And for the second time this week, he dodged the bullet. Buckley's bogey at No. 17 shrunk the margin to one hole before Cantlay reached the 18th green (a 675-yard, par 5) in two, squaring the match with a birdie.
Both players hit the fairway on the first extra hole, but Buckley hooked his second shot into the left hazard and couldn't recover. Cantlay survived in 19 holes.
Ho-hum. Just another routine match. Piece of cake, right? So far, it's been very mentally taxing, Cantlay said afterward. Especially the last three matches.
Taxing, tense, terrific, however you want to describe it, Cantlay has successfully returned to the scene of the crime. He will be in the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur on Saturday, the same place he lost to eventual U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein in 2010 at Chambers Bay.
This time, Cantlay will face Texas A&M senior All-American Jordan Russell, who upset Uihlein in the quarterfinals.
Cantlay has a definite plan about what to remember from last year's semifinal experience. I think I'll forget about it, Cantlay said. I'll just draw on experiences from this week and the past year.
One experience Cantlay no doubt would like to clone would be his 60 at the Travelers Championship one week after his U.S. Open performance at Congressional Country Club. The round was the lowest ever by an amateur ever in a PGA Tour event. He also might conjure up memories of tying for ninth at the Canadian Open, another PGA Tour event, last month or winning the Southern California Golf Association Amateur.
For his part, Buckley wished Cantlay well and preferred not to dwell on what might have been. Buckley died by the sword, but he also lived by it. He was 2 down with four holes to play in his first match of the week, so he knew what could happen.
I was up by two, but I knew he was very capable of coming back, Buckley said. I mean he's the No. 1 amateur in the world for a reason. It makes it disappointing, having him two down with two to go, but I'm not disappointed losing to him. It's been a dream week, it really has.