Commentary

Patrick Cantlay offers welcome change

Originally Published: August 14, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

My favorite golfer in the world doesn't have an entourage, a shrink or an endorsement deal. He drives a 2003 SUV with 150,000 miles on it. He has a checking account -- he thinks -- but has no idea whether there's any money in it.

[+] EnlargePatrick Cantalay
David Cannon/Getty ImagesIn a day and age when most athletes jump at the chance to make millions, Patrick Cantlay stands out -- and then some -- by deciding not only to stay in college, but planning to remain at UCLA for four years.

Ask him if he wants to go clubbing and he thinks you mean the practice range. His perfect day includes golf, the beach, a movie and Ping-Pong. My favorite golfer is low-maintenance.

He doesn't care about being rich -- at least, not any time soon. If he did, he'd have $343,088 in that checking account. Not bad for 28 days' work during your summer vacation.

My favorite golfer is Patrick Cantlay, a 19-year-old UCLA sophomore-to-be who happens to be the No. 1-ranked amateur player in the world. He doesn't care about money. Doesn't care about fame. And, judging by the way our recent interview went, doesn't care about this column.

"He's not going to give you much," said UCLA coach Derek Freeman.

That's not exactly true. Cantlay gave me his time, which counts for something. When I last talked to him, he was sitting on the patio of suburban Chicago's North Shore Country Club, eating a hamburger (no bun) and poking his fork at a few spoonfuls of fruit. Sunblock was smeared on his cheeks.

That week he was playing in the Western Amateur, where he eventually finished second. This week he's playing in the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills Golf Course in Erin, Wis.

"I'm not in a rush to grow up or anything," Cantlay said. "I'm not really thinking about pro one way or the other right now."

Good for Cantlay. It's nice to see someone comfortable with living their age. But if he were a pro …

Entering this past weekend, Cantlay and that $343,088 would have been 152nd on the PGA Tour money list, which is eye-popping stuff for a teenage amateur who has played in just four tournaments. Or put it this way: Tiger Woods has pocketed $629,863 on tour this season, but in twice the tournaments.

"At the end of the week on tour, at the scorer's table, they have a little printout of what you would have made," Cantlay said. "But it's not a big deal, because I couldn't have made any money at the beginning of the week. So you can't lose any or make any. It's just not an issue."

He was low amateur two months ago at the U.S. Open. He tied for 21st -- good enough, according to the calculations of Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson, for $92,800.

Cantlay tied for 24th at the Travelers Championship and recorded the lowest round (60) ever shot by an amateur in a tour event. He would have cashed a check for $45,400.

At the AT&T National, he finished T-20 ($69,688).

[+] EnlargePatrick Cantalay
Darren Carroll/Getty ImagesAt the AT&T National, Patrick Cantlay finished T-20 and would have earned $69,688 were he a professional. In four PGA Tour starts this summer, Cantlay would have earned a total of $343,088.

At the RBC Canadian Open, he finished T-9. That would have been worth $135,200.

Cantlay was so excited by this that he almost yawned. I mean, the guy shot a 60 and barely changed facial expressions. Meanwhile, some of the pros needed hydraulic lifts to put their jaws back in place.

"Everyone was great," Cantlay said.

A couple of tour regulars approached Cantlay and asked, "Why are you still in college?" Cantlay did his usual shrug thing.

"I like college," he said. "I like where I'm at right now."

After he shot a 4-under-par 67 in the second round of the U.S. Open, I talked to Cantlay near the practice green. I kept asking him why he wasn't turning pro. And he kept telling me he planned to stay at UCLA not just for one year, but all four.

"Wait, really?"

"Yes," he said flatly.

In an age when almost everybody except Andrew Luck and a few others makes a money grab, Cantlay would rather be a sophomore than a potential millionaire. Amazing. And wonderful.

"He believes it with all his heart," said Dane Jako, his golf coach at Servite High School (Anaheim, Calif.), who also caddies for him on occasion. "He says, 'Once I leave college, I can't go back. So I'm going to enjoy this."'

Jako sat at the same patio table that day at North Shore and half-winced as Cantlay answered questions in his customary monotone. Cantlay was polite, but at times you wanted to reach over and check his carotid artery for a pulse.

"Sometimes the way he comes across could not be more the opposite of who he is," Jako said. "He's got a huge heart."

But let's face it, Cantlay isn't easily impressed -- especially with himself.

"I'm not a big tech guy," Jako said, "but I Googled him the other day and I said, 'Do you realize you're the first person in the history of golf to make the cut in your first four events and finish in the top 25? No one has ever done that.'

"He just goes -- "

Jako shrugged his shoulders in Cantlay style.

"I think he understands what he's done is pretty special," UCLA's Freeman said. "I think he does understand that. He probably doesn't quite understand the scope of everything that he's done -- the game of golf and where he stacks up."

As far as Cantlay's concerned, he hasn't actually done anything. He played well in four tour events, but so what? He "won" some Monopoly money, but who cares? That's why winning a U.S. Amateur would mean so much to him. That's why he's thrilled (in Cantlay terms) with recently being named to the Walker Cup team.

When he shot the 60 at the Travelers, he didn't keep the ball. He didn't keep a copy of the scorecard. It was just another round of golf.

"It's not really anything more than that," he said. "I would have traded it for four 65s."

Four 65s would have gotten him into a Sunday playoff.

He isn't exactly Rickie Fowler. He doesn't wear day-glo. Spy planes can't spot his outfits from 40,000 feet. The day I talked to him, he was wearing white pants and a white shirt. Whooee!

"He's a laid-back California kid," Freeman said. "At UCLA, we had yellow and blue [golf] shoes. Those were a very big stretch for him. He wore them -- I made him wear them. He complained about it the whole time."

Cantlay still calls Jako to check on the Servite golf team. He still loves hanging out with his buds. He's still going to play in one of the tour's Fall Series events, the Frys.Com Open, in October.

And not take a thing.

Check that. If he wins, he'll keep the trophy.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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Gene Wojciechowski | email

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