WILMINGTON, Del. — The man who is forever expressionless licked his lips, breaking his stone-cold stare because stoicism wouldn’t suffice for what he just did.
Patrick Cantlay’s tee shot that was supposed to stay safe did not, leaving him with a mean, uphill approach from a bunker with the ball above his feet and edging in the way as he clung to a one-shot advantage on the final hole. He would need to slice his ball something fierce to reach the green and anything less than right would put the issue in doubt. But Cantlay took a mighty swipe and the approach looked good, and Cantlay let us know for sure it was by wagging his tongue like a windshield wiper, the ball safely coming to rest 40 feet or so from the pin. Whatever drama remained was erased when his birdie attempt finished inches from the hole, and when those inches erased Cantlay—his stoicism returning with alarming speed—responded with a reserved fist pump and slight grin, signaling this 2022 BMW Championship was officially his.
“I've had a bunch of close Sundays this year and not all of them have gone my way, as opposed to last year at the end of the year where I felt like all of the Sundays went my way,” Cantlay said after his final-round 69 and 14-under total were good enough to beat Scott Stallings by a shot. “I think it just drives you to practice a little harder. I've been playing great golf all year, so I knew that if I just kept knocking on the door and kept staying in a positive frame of mind and trusting myself that I'd knock off a few victories.”
They call him Patty Ice, mostly for his perpetually cool persona. It is a moniker that has increasingly applied to his performance. Whereas most of his contemporaries play a go-for-broke style, Cantlay is more calculated, picking his spots and opting for precision over power. Just as importantly Cantlay makes sure there is no mess to clean up, and the result is one of the more well-rounded games in the sport. He can look a bit robotic, for the manner in which he plays—coupled with his deadpan poise in such an emotional sport—appear not human, or at least not of this era. If there was one critique it is that he is a little too level-headed, unable to recalibrate from his game plan. There are moments when it would behoove him to recognize that golf calls for emotion and perhaps a bit of wild cowboy to be the last one standing.
Of course, as Cantlay asserted, a lot needs to go right to finish first, and a lot of that is out of one’s control. On an overcast and occasionally uncomfortable day in Wilmington, Cantlay was able to stay cool while his competition welted. Xander Schauffele, playing in the final group with Cantlay, failed to break 70. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler played his first two holes in two over, and though he bounced back, the early deficit was too much to overcome. Stallings, a journeyman looking for his first win since 2014, played well and played tough, but missed a 10-foot birdie at the 18th when he and Cantlay were tied at 13 under.
“Man, we read it exactly—it did what exactly we thought it was going to do, it just did it behind the hole,” said Stallings, who despite falling just short, managed to finish high enough to sneak into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup eligibility rankings and qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in 10 playoff appearances. “Man, I hit a great putt on 17 and a great putt on 18 exactly where we read it, just kind of a later break.”
Cantlay himself stumbled around the turn, bogeying the eighth and 10th to fall two behind Stallings’ lead. But he answered with a birdies on the 11th and 14th, and there was no small matter of providence at the 17th. Cantlay’s drive was making a beeline for a bunker, only his ball hopped at the front edge of the bunker, cleared the sand, ricocheted off a hill and catapulted 40 yards down the fairway. Breaks, good and bad, happen to every golfer in every round, but the timing of this bounce was, well, fortuitous.
To his credit, Cantlay didn’t let that fortune go to waste, hitting his second five feet and cleaning up what remained to take a one-shot lead heading into the final hole. He proceeded to make his own luck with his bunker boldness at the 18th—and you better believe it took a bit of wild cowboy in him to pull that off—to seal the victory.
“I knew it was a tough shot, obviously, when I saw it. I thought if I could get it anywhere on the green, it would be a really, really good shot,” Cantlay said. “I actually had a good number for the 8-iron that I hit out of the bunker. The biggest challenge was trying to cut the golf ball enough with the ball above my feet in the bunker.
“But it came off almost exactly how I would have pictured it, how I visualized it.”
Cantlay becomes the first player in the 16 seasons of the tour’s postseason to win the same event in consecutive years. Next week he’ll look to become the first FedEx Cup winner to repeat as champion. He’ll be in a good position to do so, starting the Tour Championship’s staggered scoring system in second place, two shots behind Scheffler, and at least one ahead of the remainder of the 30-man field.
Of greater note is that Cantlay is reaching the lofty aspirations placed upon him so many years ago. He now has eight career PGA Tour titles, six coming in the past two years. On Sunday he automatically qualified for the Presidents Cup, marking his third straight team appearance for the United States. There’s a major-sized hole in his resume at the sport’s four big tournaments, but at 30, there is plenty of runway to get plane off the ground.
Cantlay knows this. He wants those championships and the status and respect they confer. As he said multiple times Sunday night, he’s a competitor and when he doesn’t win it “grinds my gears.” Perhaps it’s taking him longer to get where he wants to go, but he believes his sense of direction is true.
“The thing I always remind myself of when I finish second or I'm close is Jack Nicklaus had more seconds in majors than he had wins,” Cantlay says. “That stat will shock you considering he has the most majors ever. No one would ever say he couldn't close or no one would say that he wilted under pressure, and yet he had more second places than anybody else.
“With that being said, I think putting yourself in position is maybe the thing that you can control in golf. You can't always control what other people around you do or where you get the right bounce or the wrong bounce. But putting yourself in contention time after time after time, the bounces are going to go your way and you'll get your fair share of wins.”
Few have put themselves in such positions over the past few years than Cantlay. On Sunday he got the right bounces. He’s never been short on swagger, and when he needed it the most he called upon bravado to back it up. When all those things are fused together it’s enough to lick your lips to think of where he might go.