Two weeks ago Patrick Cantlay(below) was a UCLA junior, a terrific student and hands down the best amateur golfer in the world. He was low am at the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 Masters, a Walker Cupper and the winner of the Haskins and Jack Nicklaus awards as the outstanding collegiate golfer. The only things he would give up by turning pro were shots at the U.S. Amateur and NCAA titles and two carefree college years. I've long been a proponent of getting a degree, but watching this "old soul," as he's described by his teacher and mentor, Jamie Mulligan, makes me rethink my beliefs in this case.
I don't think Patrick's life or golf would be any better if he checked off the above boxes. (He can still get a degree.) I covered a couple of his matches at last year's U.S. Amateur, in which he eventually lost in the final to Kelly Kraft, and I was impressed. Unflappable is the word that comes to mind, both in victory and defeat. And I was beyond impressed watching him on the range one day at this year's U.S. Open. Tiger Woods was hitting balls 15 feet away amid total chaos—security guards, fans, announcers, cameras, etc. Yet there was Patrick, under the watchful eye of Mulligan, striking ball after ball with precision, focus and calm. Patrick's old-school swing showed off no particular flair, but the entire session oozed quiet confidence and purpose.
Patrick turned pro last week and promptly missed the cut at the Travelers. Now he'll hit the PGA and Nationwide tours and try to make enough money to avoid Q school. It's a tough road, but to quote an old song, this kid's future is so bright he has to wear shades.
Dottie Pepper is a 17-year LPGA veteran and an analyst for NBC.
ROBERT BECK (PEPPER)
ANDREW REDINGTON/GETTY IMAGES (CANTLAY)