PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It’s about 350 miles from Long Beach to the Monterey Peninsula, so it’s not all that surprising that Southern California native Patrick Cantlay hasn’t played a great deal at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
“I would hear stories about all the guys that were older than me play the California Amateur here, but by the time I was old enough to play it, it wasn't here anymore,” said Cantlay, who remembers driving up with his father to play Pebble Beach on a foggy day when he was about 12 years old. “I was probably too young; my dad probably still beat up on me that day. He was a good player.”
Ranked eighth in the world, Cantlay now is pretty good himself.
And since turning professional in 2012, Pebble Beach has become a special destination for the former UCLA All-American.
With a final-round 67, Cantlay finished T-9 in the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for his first top-10 finish as a professional. And when he came back in 2017 after being sidelined with a back injury for more than two years, he opted to come to this famous destination for his first start in his major medical exemption and finished T-48.
“I just like the golf courses. I think they suit my game. And Pebble Beach is one of my favorites, whether it's in competition or just practice rounds,” said Cantlay, 27, who has never missed a cut here, including last year’s U.S. Open, when he ended up T-21. “It was my first top-10 finish as a pro here and then came back here and started my, I guess, comeback, you would say, here and made the cut, which was an accomplishment for me at the time. So I really like the golf courses this week, and it's always nice to play in California.”
Cantlay wasn’t necessarily enthralled with his performance in 2017, even though he had been away from the game for a considerable time with a frustrating injury that put his promising career on hold. On the other hand, it was enough of a springboard that he made it to the Tour Championship that year on just 12 starts.
“Yeah, it wasn't exactly what I wanted, and I felt like I could have played better, but I was happy about making the cut and playing as well as I did and it gave me confidence going forward that I hadn't really lost much and I was still the player that I used to be,” he said. “I was very satisfied with making the Tour Championship with a limited schedule and with really, no real goals or expectations.”
Making just his fourth PGA Tour start of the season, Cantlay rightly can have bigger expectations this week and for the rest of the year. Already he has finished second in Las Vegas and tied for fourth in January at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
He has a good chance of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team in the fall after playing in the Presidents Cup in December, and he also is in the running for a spot in the Olympics.
And then there are the majors. Cantlay held the lead briefly in the final round of the Masters last April before falling back to a tie for ninth, and he finished T-3 in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. He made the cut in all four majors and in his last seven major starts overall.
Of course, he’s smart enough to not get ahead of himself.
“There's so many big events between now and those two events [Olympics and Ryder Cup], and I think the way to get there is to focus on all of the events between now and then,” he said. “Those would be big honors, and they're definitely big things that I would like to do and they're goals of mine, to make those teams. [But] because the way you qualify is through playing well in the big tournaments, it just makes sense to have all your emphasis on those and look at the Olympics or look at the Ryder Cup as a potential bonus or reward for playing well.”
This week is big, too. At least so far it has proven to be for Cantlay.