Erin, Wis. – There was no great escape this time for the world’s top amateur, Patrick Cantlay.
This time, he didn’t need one.
After twice rallying from 2 down with two holes to play this week at Erin Hills, Cantlay enjoyed a less stressful match Saturday morning versus Jordan Russell. Cantlay relied on his steady game to run away with a 4-and-3 victory in the semifinals of the 111th U.S. Amateur.
Cantlay, 19, of Las Alamitos, Calif., will meet Kelly Kraft, of Denton, Texas, at 8:30 a.m. CDT Sunday for a 36-hole final to decide possession of the Havemeyer Trophy that goes to the U.S. Amateur champion.
Kraft, 22, eliminated Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup player Jack Senior, 3 and 2, in the second match of Saturday’s semifinals.
It’s a great feeling, said Cantlay, ranked No. 1 by the World Amateur Golf Ranking after an impressive run of golf the last four-five months. So far this week I’ve come and done what I wanted to do, so it’s really exciting.
It was a good match. You know, it was just a fight. … But the better golfer obviously came out on top, said Russell, 22, a senior at Texas A&M University. This week was really great, making it this far.
Two years ago, Russell caddied for his Aggie teammate Bronson Burgoon in the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., after failing to make it through match play, so he was determined to give it … well, the old college try. I just decided that that’s kind of what I want to do, he said. It seemed like a lot of fun so to make it this far was pretty cool.
The match was a vintage seesaw affair with the two youngsters trading wins through the first seven holes – with five of those coming with pars. Cantlay, who never trailed, won the odd holes starting with a birdie at the first. At No. 7, he recorded a two-putt birdie on the par-5 hole with an unexpected win on the following hole that gave him breathing room.
At the par-4 eighth, playing 483 yards into the wind, Cantlay missed the green and couldn’t get up and down to save par. But Russell also needed three strokes to get on after laying up in the rough with a wedge, and then he three-putted for double bogey.
That kind of got me started, Cantlay said. I just tried to play solid golf from there on out and hit smart shots. I wasn’t going to give any holes away.
Once Patrick got the momentum, he just played like he always does, and he did a really good job of just playing consistent, Russell said. He’s just clutch.
That was evident at the finish.
Cantlay, a sophomore at UCLA, went 3 up at the 11th hole with a two-putt par after Russell missed the green long and couldn’t get up and down on the slick greens. At the 14th hole, another par 5, Cantlay again reached in two and two-putted from 9 feet to send the match dormie.
He ended it in style. Russell hit his approach to within 3 feet of the hole at the short par-4 15th, but Cantlay topped him yet again, sending his wedge to within 1 foot for the sure tie and putting himself into the final.
Cantlay undoubtedly feels like he’s where he should be. After four wins this spring as a freshman, he was the recipient of the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top collegiate golfer, accepting the award from the Golden Bear at the Memorial Tournament. The following day he survived U.S. Open sectional qualifying in Columbus, Ohio, in a field beefed up with professionals, and at the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., he left as low amateur.
The week after that he set an amateur record with a second-round 60 at the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., as part of a string of five straight top-25 finishes on the Tour, which had never been done.
It’s been very special, probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life this past … however long it’s been, like two and a half months or so, Cantlay said. It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been a lot of fun.
Of course, the work is not done. He has not yet won during his glorious summer.
I feel like I’m playing well. I’m really excited to go out tomorrow and do my best, he said.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose material has previously appeared on USGA websites.