BETHESDA, Md. - Patrick Cantlay played nine holes with Rickie Fowler on Wednesday, had lunch in the players’ lounge, got in a practice session and was scheduled to take in a movie later that night.
Not a bad way to spend a final day of preparation for the U.S. Open at Congressional Club.
Cantlay seemed content and relaxed on the eve of his first major, and why shouldn’t he be? He won four tournament titles as a UCLA freshman this season and won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the best collegiate player.
Those were NCAA victories, but winning breeds confidence, and Cantlay relishes being here at one of the most prestigious tournaments in golf, even if it means teeing off today on Congressional’s ultra-tough back nine.
"Every experience helps, and I’m taking all those experiences and learning a lot and trying to grow from those," he said.
Cantlay was presented the collegiate award by Nicklaus at the recent Memorial Tournament, so rubbing elbows with Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Co. isn’t going to make him swoon. He’s still beaming over his time with the Golden Bear – it was more special than any experience he’s had here so far.
"That was awesome," Cantlay said. "You think about big moments like that; that’s going to last for a while. That was really meaningful that Jack was there and talked to me."
Cantlay’s parents, Steve and Colleen, are here, too, in addition to some of his friends. His parents both went to USC, but most everyone in his family golfed. He started putting on his grandfather’s backyard putting green when he was 2.
Cantlay played with Fowler and Oklahoma State standout Peter Uihlein on Wednesday, making for a fine group of heralded young players. Cantlay was on fire this season, and if this was a PGA Tour stop, people would be talking about all of his wins, including the NCAA West Regional title. But at the U.S. Open, he is just an amateur with a lot of talent, and that’s the way he likes it. Besides, he plans to stay in school to get his degree.
"I’m sneaking under the radar," he said of his time here. "I’m just going to do my best."
There will be no hiding for Cantlay if he plays well and earns a spot on the leaderboard during today’s first round. Television cameras might focus on that big, golden animal that looks like a Bruin head cover on one of his clubs. It’s actually a golden retriever, which represents his love for his two dogs, Maggie and Molly. He also has a Palmer Cup towel and Palmer Cup bag, but he doesn’t consider them lucky charms, saying, "I’m not superstitious."
Cantlay, who is from Los Alamitos and played high school golf at Servite, has his longtime teacher, Jamie Mulligan of Virginia CC in Long Beach, caddying for him. Mulligan has known him forever, and that’s why the teacher didn’t want his student hitting at the driving range on the eve of the Open. (By contrast, veteran Geoff Ogilvy, who won the 2006 U.S. Open, was still working on his game at the range at 7 p.m.)
Cantlay was thinking he and Mulligan might check out "Hangover 2." He’s played golf every day for the last three weeks, and will head to the Travelers Championship, where he earned a sponsor’s exemption, next week.
"Golf is what he does," Mulligan said. "He does it because he loves it, but part of life is about relaxation. There’s something about getting away."
Cantlay is seemingly unflappable, which is why playing here isn’t likely to cause his knees to buckle. Unless he holds the lead after 54 holes, maybe. Mulligan, who counts John Merrick, John Cook, John Mallinger and Peter Tomasulu among his clients, feels he and Cantlay will work well together.
"I’m very calm," Mulligan said. "You see a lot of him in me and vice versa. We sound alike. I’m his mentor, but I’m not getting excited about too many things out there."
Unless, maybe, he sees the name "Cantlay" on the leaderboard.