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Ann Liguori: Patrick Cantley – A Unique Amateur

Amateur Patrick Cantley hits from a bunker on the second hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday, June 15, 2011. (credit:Associated Press)

Amateur Patrick Cantley hits from a bunker on the second hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday, June 15, 2011. (credit:Associated Press)

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By Ann Liguori
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How refreshing and quite surprising in today’s world that a 19-year-old gifted athlete, in this case, amateur golfer Patrick Cantley would want to pursue a college degree, put potentially millions of dollars aside and maintain his ‘amateur’ status until he graduates from UCLA.  Just the idea of that has become novel!

Patrick Cantley emerged on the radar scene recently when at the US Open at Congressional, the UCLA freshman had the best finish of all the amateurs, tying for 21st. In fact, his 284 total is the lowest four-round score by an amateur in the U.S. Open since Jim Simons’ total of 283 in 1971. Then a week later at the Travelers Championship, Cantley broke the course record at the TPC River Highlands course in Cromwell, Connecticut with a 10 under 60! It is the lowest round ever recorded by an amateur on the PGA Tour. And he did it during his second ‘18’ of the day, last Friday, after heavy rains on Thursday forced most of the field to play both their first and second rounds on one day.

After his round, he was asked several different ways if he planned to turn pro in the near future. And every time, he insisted he would finish his sophomore, junior and senior years at UCLA. His answers seemed so candid, that even the biggest cynic would seem convinced.

He said he loves playing golf and loves competing. He realizes he is not making any money so he does not have any money to win or to lose… “so it doesn’t feel like a job at all,” he added. In the NY Times yesterday Cantley is quoted as saying, “Hopefully I can keep that approach to the game the rest of my life. Because it is a game, and the best players in the world just happen to be very good at it. And that makes them some money. I don’t think it’s the other way around. I don’t think you play golf just to make money. I think you’re just good at it, and that ends up being a profession you can pursue.”

Cantley had also stated he was really looking forward to being part of the Walker Cup competition in September. Will he turn pro after that? Again, he said he intended to finish all four years at UCLA.

What a wonderful concept — playing the game for the purity and joy of playing the game and enjoying both the golf and what should be an invaluable collegiate experience. Instead, most capable players cut their collegiate experience short; trading in what should be invaluable educational and development years for the professional tour and the harsh realities that sometimes accompany that.

Had Cantley won The Travelers Championship, questions about his remaining an amateur surely would have intensified. It was Fredrik Jacobson who won his first PGA Tour Title and earned the $1.08 million winner’s check. Even still, Cantley finished tied for 24th  which would have been good for $46,425.00. (His combined earnings from both his US Open and Travelers Championship finishes would have been $143,667)

There is no doubt Cantley’s career will continue to impress. And when he eventually does become a professional player, I have a feeling he will continue to attract as much respect off the course as on.

Other notes from The Travelers Championship:

Fredrik Jacobson became the fourth first-time winner at The Travelers in the past six years, joining Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan and J.J. Henry. He had 21 birdies over the four rounds and only one bogey. It was his first victory in 188 starts on the PGA TOUR.

The tournament once again generated in excess of $1 million dollars for charity, which is on par with the winner’s check. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and more than 130 other charities  benefited from the week.

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Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at www.annliguori.com and order DVD copies of her interview shows with top personalities in sports and entertainment.