Patrick Cantlay’s journey to the winner’s circle at Muirfield Village and the Memorial Tournament was a circuitous one.
It started with Cantlay accepting the Jack Nicklaus Award, which is given to the top NCAA Division I golfer, at the tournament in 2011. He wouldn’t return to Dublin, Ohio to compete until 2017 as a result of injuries and off-the-course issues that included the death of his best friend and caddie in 2016.
Once he was able to play the PGA Tour full-time two years ago, Cantlay sought out tournament host and founder Jack Nicklaus to ask him about the best way to play his course.
“Patrick came to me, and he just asked me, ‘How would you play the golf course?'” Nicklaus said in the champion’s press conference after Cantlay took home the title. “We sat down, and I don’t have any idea what I told him, but he’s played it well.”
“I went up to his house on property here, and we probably spent a good 90 minutes talking about what he thought strategy-wise and how to play the golf course, and I took insights from that,” Cantlay expanded. “One of the things I like about this golf course is it’s pretty straightforward once you get to know it. You know when you hit a good shot, and good shots are rewarded; and bad shots, they’re bad shots. It’s going to be hard to scramble and make pars.
“So that helped me get familiar with the place a little quicker than I maybe would have.”
While that strategy session resulted in a 35th-place finish in 2017 and a fourth-place finish in 2018, coming into this year’s Memorial Tournament, it was Nicklaus who sought out Cantlay to offer some advice.
“This year I showed up, and I’ve been playing well all year, (but) haven’t been able to close out any tournaments,” Cantlay said. “I see Mr. Nicklaus in the men’s grill in there and, you know, quick hello and then (he says) ‘you’ve got to figure out how to play those last 30 minutes.’
“And he was right. I said, You’re right. Then Friday I was in there having lunch and he grabbed me aside and said, ‘You need to go out there, have a good time. Look around when you’re out there. Look at all the people having a great time. And then you need to have a great time and realize that that’s why you’re there and relax and go have fun and go win the golf tournament.’
“And I definitely said that to myself down the stretch today on the back nine. It put me a little more at ease, and I hit a lot of really nice quality shots with the lead, coming down the stretch, and being able to get that ball up-and-down on 18, even though in the back of my mind thinking, probably just two putts, but I really did want to just close it out and have it be done right there.
“Being able to make that putt on the last hole is just a lot of confirmation of a lot of hard work I’ve been doing.”
Cantlay fired a final round 8-under par 64 to race past 54-hole leader Martin Kaymer and outlast a charging Adam Scott. The up-and-down on 18 resulted in a two-stroke victory, his second on the PGA Tour.
“I definitely feel like I’ve had a lot of close calls since my last win,” he said. “I’m a little surprised it’s taken me this long. It feels really, really good to finish it off how I did today. I knew I had a little bit of a mountain to climb to start the day. A couple of guys ahead of me, two and four shots ahead of me, and guys that have played really well and closed out golf tournaments. I knew I needed to come out firing and make a bunch of birdies, and I did.”