UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay was the low amateur at the U.S. Open last… (Eric Gay / Associated Press )
The money can wait. It's all about the moments for Patrick Cantlay.
Leading at the midpoint of a PGA Tour event as a teenager, completing a round that was six strokes better than anything Tiger Woods shot as an amateur . . . those are the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can trump a six-figure paycheck.
Besides, it's not as if Cantlay didn't grasp the ground rules of his amateur status before performances the last three weeks that otherwise would have earned him $215,897.
"At the beginning of the week I can't make any money," said the UCLA sophomore-to-be, "so I can't lose any at the end of the week."
Plenty of big paydays figure to be in Cantlay's future if the 19-year-old continues to repeat his recent success. He was the low amateur at the U.S. Open last month with an even-par 284, the best score for a non-professional in 40 years. At the Travelers Championship, Cantlay shot a second-round 60 that temporarily vaulted him into the lead.
Further name recognition was in store last weekend at the AT&T National in Newtown Square, Pa., where Cantlay was approached for the first time by someone toting his picture in search of an autograph. Cantlay's three-under-par 277 placed him in a tie for 20th place, his best finish in a PGA Tour event.
"In the golf community, people know who Patrick Cantlay is now," said Derek Freeman, his coach at UCLA.
Cantlay won't mind a little anonymity after the SCGA Amateur this week at San Gabriel Country Club, when the former Anaheim Servite High standout will finally get a break following six consecutive weeks of competition.
"I'm a little tired and a little burned out," Cantlay acknowledged last week.
The Los Alamitos native has persevered in part because he is a lot more seasoned than most of his peers. He started playing golf when he was 3, thanks to a putting green in his grandfather's backyard. His father, Steve, was a club champion at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, where Patrick was also mentored by swing coach Jamie Mulligan and golf pros such as John Cook and John Mallinger.
"His upbringing with all these tour guys has allowed him to dissect a golf hole through the eyes of a mature tour player, whereas most guys [his age] don't have that understanding and maturity," Freeman said. "That's been a huge advantage for him."
It also helps that Cantlay has a habit of driving the ball straight onto fairways. When his putting game gets in a groove, it sets up feats like the 60 he shot at the Travelers. That 10-under-par round was the lowest score by an amateur in a Tour event, triggering a request for Cantlay's scorecard and golf ball from the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla.
"It gives me a lot of confidence going forward that I can compete and play with the best golfers," Cantlay said of his success.
When it comes to the college game, Cantlay has been there, won that. He was the Pacific 10 Conference player of the year as a freshman and received the Jack Nicklaus Award as the national Division I player of the year. OK, so he didn't win the NCAA championships; he finished second.
But he remains a threat to become the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson captured the Northern Telecom Open in 1991.
Cantlay is already contemplative beyond his years. He politely asked a reporter not to contact his father for this story, saying he was a bit overwhelmed after accompanying his son to Tour events the last few weeks.
There remains plenty of time for interviews and award ceremonies, maybe even someday a green jacket. First, Cantlay intends to savor every memory of his time in blue and gold.
"He wants to come back [to UCLA] because he understands this is a good environment and he can learn more," Freeman said.
Even with all that money he's passing up?
"I know what I'm getting into, so it's not a big deal," Cantlay said. "I'm going to stay amateur for four years. That's the deal."