DUBLIN, Ohio — Eight years ago, they met for the first time. Two years ago, they met again. Both times Patrick Cantlay met Jack Nicklaus were special, memorable and useful moments.
In 2011, Cantlay was the recipient of the Jack Nicklaus Award as the top collegiate freshman golfer after his eye-popping performance at UCLA.
In 2017, the first time Cantlay played Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament, he sat down with the legendary Golden Bear and picked his brain for 90 minutes on how to strategically play each and every hole at Muirfield Village.
Cantlay finished tied for 35th that year.
He finished fourth last year.
Then came this week’s meetings with Nicklaus, perhaps the most poignant, career-altering moments of his golfing career to date.
First, let’s begin with the end result: Cantlay captured the Memorial on Sunday by blitzing the field with a final-round 8-under-par 64 to overcome a four-shot deficit entering the day and capture his second career PGA Tour victory. He finished 19-under par, overcame 54-hole leader Martin Kaymer and seized the tournament.
Now, let’s backtrack to the lead-up to Cantlay’s week: On Friday, Cantlay bumped into Nicklaus inside the Muirfield grill room over lunch and Nicklaus delivered this unsolicited advice to him: “Relax and have fun, look around and see all the people having fun, smile and have a good time with it. That’s why you’re here. Let’s figure out how to finish this golf tournament and enjoy it.’’
Cantlay, whose stock facial expression can best be described as painfully focused, took Nicklaus’ advice to heart.
“I felt at ease,’’ Cantlay said. “Having his words in my head coming down the stretch like that meant a lot.’’
Even though it didn’t exactly look as if Cantlay was enjoying the moments. He marched around Muirfield on Sunday, making eight birdies and no bogeys, while looking as if he was about to be strapped into a dentist’s chair for a root canal.
“I understand that’s my look,’’ Cantlay said. “I try and be natural. I try and be how I am all the time, and that’s kind of how I am all the time. I was walking in this morning and somebody said, ‘It can’t be that bad, can it?’ And I don’t even realize that’s the look on my face. I was in a great mood this morning.
“I feel like if I tried to be any way else, it wouldn’t be me. I definitely am focused and intent on what I’m doing. And I think that’s part of me and I think that’s part of why I have success.’’
Nicklaus embraced it.
“Patrick reminds me a lot of me — being serious and I get so wrapped up in what I’m doing I forget about everything else that’s going on around me,’’ Nicklaus said. “All I was trying to pass on to Patrick was to try to get a little more of a relaxed attitude in his head so that when he got himself in that position, it wasn’t like all this pressure is on top of [him]. Everybody is going to say, ‘Oh, gee, Jack did this.’ I didn’t do anything. He won the golf tournament.
“It was just a comment. It may have resonated with him, it may not have.’’
Cantlay called his win “validation’’ for all of his hard work. It, too, was validation for all of the hardships he’s already endured at the mere age of 27.
His first moment of truth was losing three years of his professional career to a back injury that occurred in 2013 while warming on a practice range after Cantlay had been the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world for a record 54 consecutive weeks.
The second moment of truth was even worse: In February 2016, Cantlay’s best friend, high school teammate and caddie, Chris Roth, was killed in a hit-and-run accident while the two were crossing a street in Newport Beach, Calif.
When he was asked Sunday night how those adversities have affected his golf game, Cantlay delivered a powerful answer that belies his youth.
“I’m definitely a different person than I was before I went through any of those troubles,’’ he said. “But I don’t really connect the two when it comes to playing golf again. It changed me as a person. It doesn’t really affect me as a golfer. I feel like I picked up kind of where I left off in my golf. But I don’t necessarily connect the struggles to golf. It was so much bigger than golf.’’
Source: Read Full Article