photo credit: PGA Tour
How Patrick Cantlay overcame injury and tragedy to rise to the top of the game
Patrick Cantlay is currently ranked as one of the top-10 golfers in the world, and has consistently been in the mix for tournaments over the past 2 years. At a glance, this seems as if it has all gone to plan for a former top-ranked amateur to evolve into a top professional. However, a close look at Cantlay’s life shows that his current status was anything but guaranteed.
Cantlay was born in 1992 in Long Beach, California, where he began playing golf at an early age. By his teens, Cantlay was taking his golf game seriously, winning tournaments and eventually winning the California State High School Championship as a senior at Servite High School. Cantlay was a highly touted golf prospect who was actively recruited by multiple colleges before committing to UCLA after graduating high school in 2010.
Despite Cantlay’s obvious talent, few would have predicted the freshman year he would have. Cantlay won 4 NCAA tournaments during the 2010-2011. That was enough to secure him the Haskins Award, which is known as collegiate golf’s Heisman, and skyrocketed him up to the top-ranked amateur in the world. Cantlay would spend the rest of the year living up to his ranking.
Outside of the college game, Cantlay secured qualification for the 2011 U.S. Open through sectional qualifying, making him 1 of only 3 amateurs competing that year. Cantlay eventually finished T21 and the low amateur. His performance earned him an invite to the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship the following week, where he carded 60, the lowest 18-hole score in the history of the PGA Tour. He followed up these performances with top-10 finish at the RBC Canadian Open, and T20 at the AT&T National. In addition, Cantlay reached the finals of both the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur, earning himself an invite to the 2012 Masters.
Cantlay as an amateur. Getty Images
His worldwind 2011 led to Cantlay receiving the R&A St. Andrew’s Mark H. McCormack Medal, a token awarded to the year’s best amateur golfer and carrying an invitation to the 2012 Open Championship. In all, Cantlay would spend 55 weeks as the highest ranked amateur, and holds the record for most consecutive weeks at number 1 with 54. Cantlay would compete at the 2012 Masters, finishing low amateur, before deciding to turn professional at the age of 20 in June 2012.
2013-2016: Injury Derails Career
Cantlay began his career playing events on both the PGA Tour and the developmental Web.com Tour. While having some respectable showings on the PGA Tour, Cantlay achieved his first professional win at the Web.com Tour’s 2013 Colombia Championship. However, Cantlay would injure his back while warming up at the driving range in May 2013. After consulting multiple doctors, it was discovered that Cantlay had a stress fracture in one of his vertebrae. Cantlay was advised to quit all golf to allow himself to heal, but allowed himself to play a few more events to ensure a high enough finish to secure his PGA Tour card for 2014. After trying to play his way through 5 events, Cantlay was granted an 11 event medical extension as he chose to focus on recovery.
His recovery was a series of starts and stops, as multiple doctors continued to tell Cantlay multiple things and his physical therapy seemed endless. He did attempt 1 tournament in 2014, but that would prove the last competitive golf he would play until 2017. Cantlay credits the support from his family, his coach, and fellow members of his hometown country club. But perhaps most of all was the support of his best friend, caddie, and former high school teammate Chris Roth.
Cantlay with caddy and friend Chris Roth at the 2012 Masters. Getty Images/Scott Halleran
Cantlay credits Roth with keeping him grounded, noting in a 2018 Golf World interview that “Chris wouldn’t let me feel sorry for myself while I was trying to figure out how to get myself physically better in 2014. And 2015. And 2016.” And in 2016 after another poor diagnosis from his doctor, it was Roth who took Cantlay out to get his mind off of his injury. It was that fateful night that Roth would be struck and killed by a hit and run driver while walking with Cantlay. The event marked the most trying time in what was already an incredibly difficult moment in his career. Cantlay admits he considered walking away and returning to school, but decided to give it one final shot.
In 2017, Cantlay finally could swing pain free. He began playing on his medical extension, first competing at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. In his next tournament, Cantlay announced to the golf world he was back by finishing 2nd at the Valspar Championship. The result secured Cantlay’s full PGA Tour status. Cantlay continued his strong form, finishing in the top-3 once and top-10 three more times on his way to qualifying for the Tour Championship. Cantlay was back, and in November 2017 claimed his first PGA Tour title at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and continued to rack up top-10 and top-25 finishes. He would win again at the 2019 Memorial Tournament and finish T3 at the 2019 U.S. Open and T9 at the Masters. These results pushed Cantlay up the rankings and earned himself a spot on the 2019 Presidents Cup. Despite the hardships and setbacks, Cantlay remains focused on continued excellence as he tries to cement his status as one of golf’s best players.