By Andrew Blair, Stuart Hall, Dave Shedloski and David Shefter
BETHESDA MD.(June 19, 2011) - On a sticky Sunday at Congressional Country Club, Patrick Cantlay showed signs of a game and mindset that might be a comfortable fit for many more U.S. Opens to come.
For the time being, the 19-year-old UCLA All-American will have to settle for taking home low-amateur honors to Los Alamitos, Calif., in his first Open start. Cantlay shot a 1-over-par 72 in the final round to finish with a 72-hole total of 284 (even par).
Weeklong crowd favorite Russell Henley, 22, had a last-day 75 and closed with a 4-over 288 total. The recent University of Georgia graduate share low-amateur honors last year at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links.
Even with Rory McIlroy running away with the title, Cantlay showed off an under-control game that's an ideal fit for Open setups.
Cantlay just continued what has been a remarkable last 12 months that started with a semifinal showing at the 2010 U.S. Amateur in August. He won four college tournaments in his freshman season for UCLA and won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation's best collegian. He also claimed the Phil Mickelson Award as the top freshman. Last month, he was the runner-up to LSU's John Peterson at the NCAA Division I Championship at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla.
Days after the NCAAs concluded, Cantlay shot 65-70 in the Columbus, Ohio, sectional qualifier to earn his first Open start.
Some had some difficulty pronouncing Cantlay's name this week. That shouldn't be the case going forward.
All the onlookers had to do was watch the Open's closing awards ceremony, where he stood next to the champion, McIlory, and took in the moment from an unforgettable week.
"It means so much because there's so much history," said Cantlay, a strong candidate to be on the 10-man USA team for the upcoming Walker Cup Match at Royal Aberdeen in September. "It's my first Open, so it means a lot to me that I was able to compete well in my first one. It's exciting and makes me feel good. It hasn't really digested yet, but it feels great."
Henley also earned plenty of support from the gallery. Henley routinely asked fans to pump up their golf clap meter. He's headed to PGA Tour Qualifying School this fall after what he hopes is a trip to Scotland for the Walker Cup. In May, Henley won the Nationwide Tour's Stadion Classic and turned down the $99,000 first-place check.
"He's not phony," said Dane Jako, who caddies for Cantlay on a regular basis in amateur events. "He's going to be around for a long time."
Both Cantlay and Henley agreed that fatigue can be a factor at the Open on Sunday, even for teenagers and 20-somethings. Both have been partaking in an active competitive schedule over the past month-plus and uniformly admitted that they felt exhausted after Sunday's finish.
Cantlay's summer schedule is packed with events, including next week's PGA Tour Travelers Championship outside of Hartford. He also is schedule to play in a Nationwide Tour event in Columbus, Ohio, as well as the U.S. Amateur in August at Erin Hills outside of Milwaukee.
Henley, too, will play the U.S. Amateur, but he'll take away fond memories of Congressional, especially at No. 18 where he tossed golf balls to an appreciative crowd.
"Good gosh, how can you not?" Henley asked with a smile. "It's such an incredible moment in my life right there. That's something me and my brother will be talking about for a while. We don't want to take stuff like that for granted, and if I ever did, make sure to wake me up."
Added Cantlay: "The whole week was so awesome. There were so many high points that I can't pick out just one.
"The scene at the 18th has been wonderful every day. It's probably the best finishing hole I've ever played. All the fans were great. They cheered me on the whole way up the fairway and I really enjoyed it."
Joining the loud ovations were family and friends, including Cantlay's mother, Colleen.
"It's been a lot of fun," she said, fighting away tears of pride, as she watched her son acknowledge the huge throng of spectators. "It doesn't get better than this."