Angles and lanes

Why Patrick Cantlay's clever method for attacking golf holes works so well

February 07, 2023
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Patrick Cantlay hits a his tee shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the 2022 WM Phoenix Open.

Mike Mulholland

SCOTTSDALE — Golf in the modern era is often criticized for being too formulaic.
In an age of advanced data, specialized coaching and the ability to make precise equipment tweaks at a moment's notice, players know exactly where and how to hit their golf ball on every shot. Like a Formula 1 car pursuing an optimal racing line, there's no mystery in it anymore. The driver's job is to execute.

But Patrick Cantlay stands apart in this regard.

The man who finished second at the WM Phoenix Open last year led the tour in the coveted par-5 scoring average statistic last season, using a strategy that rests more on the old-school end of the spectrum.

Rather than trying to hit his ball to a specific, optimal spot four times in a row, Cantlay has crafted a par 5 strategy in which he chases his ball down different lanes. He's not thinking of moving his golf ball from spot to spot, but rather trying to move his ball in a general direction.

"I don't ever think of laying up to a number. It's 'can I get the right angle to whatever hole location it is and can I get it up there as far as possible," he explains. "I'm not necessarily trying to get it as close as I possibly can to the hole, but I'm trying to get up as far as I can, and leave myself the proper angle."

Put simply, Cantlay isn't trying to throw darts. He's just trying to move the ball down the field. It serves him well at TPC Scottsdale, because it's a strategy that doesn't just work on its series of reachable par 5s, but one he can transfer over to par 4s.

It's an interesting strategy to watch for, and one that often shows up in his ShotLink numbers.

Take his eighth hole from last year's tournament, a 481-yard par 4 that he played in one under for the week. When the pin was placed on the back half of the green during rounds 1 and 3, Cantlay sent his drives down the left side of the hole to set up a straight angle at the pin on his second shot. When the pin was on the front right of the green during rounds 2 and 4, Cantlay instead attacked down the right side, which set up a similarly straight approach.

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Cantlay's preference for leaving straight looks to attack the pin showed up on the 573-yard par-5 13th hole, which Cantlay played in two under, The green being wider than it is long meant Cantlay attacked the pin each day, rather than aiming for the middle as many players do when attempting to reach this par 5 in two.

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The 479-yard 14th and 332-yard 17th showcase this strategy once again. Rather than chasing a specific landing zone and trying to do that four times, Cantlay alternated attacking the left and right side of the hole.

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On each occasion Cantlay was working backward from the pin. The goal of his drive isn't to leave him an exact number, but instead to leave a straight angle where he can advance his ball towards the pin with maximum margin for error. And, of course, it works.