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A mature, confident Cantlay ready to start his professional career

blog_cantlay_0619.jpgCROMWELL, Conn. -- Just one year ago, Patrick Cantlay made PGA Tour history at this very venue.

A second-round 10-under par 60 -- the lowest round ever posted by an amateur in a pro event and the course record at TPC River Highlands -- made Cantlay the story of the tournament, proving his 21st-place finish at the U.S. Open the week before was no fluke.

That special week made it an easy decision for Cantlay to pick this week's Travelers Championship as the event to make his professional debut, he said Tuesday in a pre-tournament press conference.

"The timing makes sense, being able to start somewhere that I'm comfortable and have good memories," said Cantlay, who will forgo his final two years of eligibility at UCLA. Cantlay will tee it up with world phenom Ryo Ishikawa and recently-minted pro John Peterson, who made a boatload of cash with his T-4 at last week's U.S. Open in his first major championship.

"I'm ready and feel comfortable with being a pro and trying to be as good as I can be," Cantlay added.

Cantlay spoke with the same simplicity he did a year ago (his best piece of advice from his mentor John Cook is that "golf is golf"), but carried himself with a higher sense of maturity and confidence that's a result of his development over the last year.

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Making the cut in his first five pro events in 2011 as an amateur has a lot to do with that. Cantlay finished T-9 at the RBC Canadian Open last year, and had three other top 25s. He was also the low amateur at this year's Masters.

"He's definitely more confident in his game, and feels he's improved every single week up to this point," says his caddie Chris Roth, a high school buddy who's been on Cantlay's bag since last year.

So, sure the Travelers makes sense for Cantlay's pro debut. But why now? He sounded convincing that he would finish college when asked about turning pro last year.

Cantlay downplayed the upcoming changes to Q school as a big factor in his decision. He just feels confident enough in his game to compete on the PGA Tour now.

"Anytime you can play in a tour event, especially the three majors I have, you learn a lot about your game, and I feel comfortable," Cantlay said. "I have a lot more experience and I know my own game and limitations even better than I did last year. I've played five or six tour events."

Related: Who is the next great American golfer?

The ultimate goal for Cantlay will be duplicating what Bud Cauley did last year, so he can avoid Q school. Cauley finished 2011 with more earnings than the 125th player on the money list through sponsors'  exemptions, earning him a tour card for this year.

Cantlay, who used an exemption to play in this year's Northern Trust Open at Riviera, also announced he will play in the AT&T National and the Greenbrier coming up. He said he'll seek out more sponsors' exemptions after the Greenbrier.

"If you're good enough to be a pro, you're going to be able to be a pro pretty quick," Cantlay said.

-- Stephen Hennessey

(Photo: Getty Images)
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