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Catching Up with Patrick Cantlay Ahead of His Title Defense at Memorial

The list of names roaming golf’s top 10 rankings are a who’s who of big-time stars: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka. All household names. At the end of that list is Patrick Cantlay, who, despite being ranked 10th in the world behind some of the PGA Tour’s star power, may be one of the most talented of the bunch.

That talent was on display a year ago, when he surged with a final round 64 to win The Memorial Tournament. The type of comeback only capable from one of the most skilled ball strikers in the game.

As Cantlay returns to Muirfield Village this week to defend his title at Jack Nicklaus’s place, Sports Illustrated had a chance to catch up with the 28-year-old for a “Quick Nine.” A perpetual thinker, Cantlay dished on the advice Jack Nicklaus gave him, why he chose to delay his return to the course after the Tour’s layoff, if he is overlooked when it comes to the top ranked players in the world and more.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Ryan Asselta: Second straight week at Muirfield Village for the PGA Tour, but this week the field is loaded. Nine of the top 10 players in the world are playing. Will this week at The Memorial Tournament feel a bit like a major?

Patrick Cantlay: Yeah, I think a lot of these events that started back up after the shutdown have had major championship-like fields. Maybe not quite to that level, but pretty close. So, every week right now it feels like the fields are just loaded and they all feel like really premiere events.

Definitely at Muirfield village, which is already usually one of the best events on the schedule. Now with everyone trying to get those events in before the playoffs, I think it will be even more of an elevated feel.

R.A.: You’re the defending Memorial Tournament champion which means you were fortunate to win Jack Nicklaus’ event. What was your conversation with him like last year after you’d won?

P.C.: We had talked at the beginning of the week. I had played some tournaments earlier that year and played well but didn't close the deal. So, when I showed up on Monday at Muirfield, he said, “Hey, you've been playing really well, but you've got to play those last 45 minutes better.”

He was just very upfront about it and very blunt, which is kind of his style. We talked a little bit and he gave me some advice about just enjoying it on the back nine and really having fun and showing off for the fans and really just soaking up the whole moment and enjoying it. It was really cool.

R.A.: What was he like after you won The Memorial?

P.C.: I could feel that he was proud of me for finishing the deal and playing so well that Sunday. I made eight birdies and no bogeys and got up and down on the last hole with a bunch of pressure. I knew that if I could make a par on the last hole then I would win and being able to do that and come through was a great experience. 

R.A.: Clearly Jack had an influence on you. Who else has had a big influence on your career?

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P.C.: Growing up, definitely John Cook was a mentor of mine. He started mentoring me in high school since we practiced at the same club in California. Jamie Mulligan, my coach who I've worked with since I was about nine, also works with John. So, that's how that relationship kind of happened. “Cookie” was excellent to me in my formative year and I really picked his brain a lot then. I still pick his brain a lot now. Coincidentally, like Jack Nicklaus, he’s also another Ohio State Buckeye. He's very proud of that. Him and Jack have both been great to me.

The last couple of years I’ve really been trying to pick Jack's brain whenever I get the chance. I'm down at the Bear's Club in Florida, which is a great place to practice and prepare for the PGA Tour, especially when Jack rolls around and you can get some nuggets of advice from him.

R.A.: Speaking of men who have had an influence on your career, I know your Dad has been a big part of your journey. You recently got to work on a cool project with him?

P.C.: Yeah, it was great. Growing up in Southern California, I played in lots of junior tournaments on the weekend. My dad and I would drive out to the tournaments on the weekend and it was just the two of us going out and trying to figure out how to play the tournament the best way. He was so instrumental in introducing me into the game and teaching me the right way to go about the game. He's a good player himself and that was a huge part of why I got into golf and why I was able to be so successful in golf from a young age.

I was able to do this project with Marcus by Goldman Sachs with my Dad, which was really cool. It’s something you don’t think about when you’re growing up playing in all of those junior tournaments, but all that work that we did together is paying off now and paying the dividends later in life. So, to be able to collaborate with Marcus and my Dad was great. It makes me appreciate all those, those junior tournaments we drove to together when I was growing up.

R.A.: You came out of the PGA Tour’s layoff a littler later than some of the other guys. The Travelers was your first event back. Why did you wait to return?

P.C.: Everyone seemed to jump out of the gates real early and it seems like everyone is playing almost every week. That's just not how I go about it. I just wanted to see how everything worked out and how the return to golf went. It went really well and continues to go well, and I think the Tour's doing a fantastic job of that. I think it's a success story, how few positive tests we've had and the protocols that the Tour has put in place. The way that everyone acts while at the tournament site and even off the tournament site is what is enabling us to continue to play golf. I hope we can keep it rolling.

RA: Away from the course do you socialize with the other guys while you're out there? Or has it been a lot of keeping to yourself and going back to your hotel due to the pandemic?

P.C.: It's a little more golf course…hotel room…and repeat than usual, but I’ve been playing practice rounds with Xander Schauffele. He's become a fairly good friend of mine, so that’s been fun. It's better than being at home in quarantine in my own house and not interacting with anybody. As long as we're keeping it in the bubble and staying safe, I think it's really the best we can do right now. Fortunately, I have some good friends out here, so we've been having a good time. 

R.A.: The hottest topic on Tour since the restart has been the transformation of Bryson DeChambeau. You’re 6’0”, 190 pounds. Bryson is 6’1”, 235 pounds. Would you ever consider doing what he is doing and adding the weight to try and increase swing speed and ball speed?

P.C.: I don't know if I'd go quite that length, but I do think that you can see more length is going to help as long as you can keep it somewhat within the parameters of straight. He’s been able to do that really well. I think it's different for everybody in their frame or tolerance for putting on weight or muscle and still being able to move the right way. I think that's a little different calculation for everybody. I don't think I'm going to put on too much more weight. Maybe a little bit since fitness is always at the forefront of what I'm trying to do to stay healthy and to swing the golf club a little faster. I think as long as you're not doing any harm to yourself, both your body and your swing technique, then the faster you can swing the golf club is only going to help. 

R.A.: You're 28 years old, ranked 10th in the world. You have two career wins and have played very well over the last year. Five of your last six finishes have been in the top 11. Do you almost feel like you're under-rated and a little bit overlooked at times? 

P.C.: Maybe, but I don't really think about that stuff. I've been really consistent, and I feel like when I show up to tournaments, I'm ready to go and I'm prepared to win. I think the process that I'm doing right now is the right process for me and really it's just about putting yourself in contention more and more. The more times you knock on the door, the more times you're going to win. That's really the goal of what I'm trying to do out here. If I can just elevate my game just a little bit, hopefully those consistent finishes will get even higher and I can maintain a nice, solid level of consistency.