Attending major championships has almost been a rite of passage for Jack Cantlay the past 11 years. Thanks to uber-talented older brother, Patrick, a seven-time PGA Tour winner who is the circuit’s reigning player of the year, the younger Cantlay has visited such iconic venues as Pebble Beach Golf Links, Shinnecock Hills, Royal Portrush, Augusta National and Carnoustie.
Last week, Cantlay was at the Home of Golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, for the 150th playing of The Open Championship, a trip that had been planned back in January. But when the 18-year-old from Los Alamitos, Calif., qualified for the 74th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship with a 69 at Soule Park Golf Club in Ojai, Calif., on June 16, this golf sojourn took on additional meaning.
With the Junior Amateur being contested at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, could there be a more appropriate way to prepare for pure links golf than a trip to the game’s roots?
Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart and the Old Course feature similar elements – gusty wind, firm fairways, tight lies and fescue greens – to what he’ll encounter at Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails, the two 18-hole layouts being utilized during stroke play at the U.S. Junior Amateur. The 64 match-play qualifiers will play exclusively at Bandon Dunes.
“It’s something that I wouldn’t say comes natural, but I have learned to play it pretty well,” said Cantlay of links golf. “It’s learning where to land the ball and keeping it low [under the wind]. It’s knowing how [the ball] will react once it hits the ground.”
Watching the world’s best players prepare for the season’s final major certainly didn’t hurt. Since Patrick’s ascent from top amateur to world-class professional, Jack has been a sponge at top events. Seeing how Patrick meticulously calculates yardages, strategizes setups and handles his emotions are intangibles not lost on the incoming Long Beach State freshman.
Being a member at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, where a number of top tour pros work with noted instructor Jamie Mulligan, the club’s CEO, along with director of instruction Brett Lederer, also has been extremely beneficial to Jack’s growth. These two teachers can call Patrick Cantlay, major champions Francesco Molinari, Nelly Korda and Mo Martin, and tour winners Jessica Korda, Kevin Chappell and Luke List among their plethora of clients. They also work with up-and-coming Korn Ferry Tour player T.J. Vogel and fledgling LPGA Tour pro and 2018 USA Curtis Cup competitor Lilia Vu.
“It’s a good environment for Jack,” said Lederer, who has been at Virginia C.C. since he lost his Korn Ferry Tour status in 2018. “Ball-striking right now is probably his strength. He swings it really well. He hits it hard, especially for an 18-year-old. He launches it. He can hit a 5-iron 215 [yards] way up in the air. He’s a bit of a streaky putter, and his short game has gotten better. I don’t do a whole lot with his swing anymore.”
Jack Cantlay was almost destined to play golf. His father, Steve, turned to the game when his baseball coach at Loyola High in Los Angeles told him he was too small. One of his high school golf teammates was Ken Tanigawa, a former UCLA standout who has recently enjoyed success on the PGA Tour Champions. His mother, Colleen, comes from a golf family. Her father, Pat Neylan, had a putting green and two-level chipping area in the backyard of their Anaheim Hills home.
All four of the Cantlay kids – Patrick (30), Nick (27), Caroline (23) and Jack – gravitated to their grandparents’ practice area and a love affair with the game blossomed. Because of their age differences and varying schedules, Jack said it’s rare when all four play together. Nick, a former player at Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State, currently has conditional status on PGA Tour Canada, while Caroline, who was the 2017-18 Big West Conference Freshman of the Year for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and the 2019 Southern California Golf Association Match Play champion, just took a position with Pebble Beach Resorts as a tournament coordinator.
Patrick, obviously, is the star of the family. A late bloomer in high school, he qualified for his first USGA championship in 2009, reaching the Round of 32 of the U.S. Junior at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., as a 17-year-old. Two years later, he was No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®, reaching the finals of the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills and Western Amateur. A week after earning low-amateur honors in the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, he shot a 60 in the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship. He would go 2-1 in the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland and spend 55 weeks atop the WAGR before turning pro in 2012 after two years at UCLA.
Jack turned 8 a day before Patrick’s loss to Kelly Kraft in the U.S. Amateur final, but by then, he already knew his career path.
“Ever since I saw what Patrick did as an amateur and then as a pro, [I knew] this is what I want to do for a living,” said Jack. “I want to be on the PGA Tour.”
Lederer sees some similarities in their trajectory. Both blossomed near the end of their high school careers. Patrick did win the California State high school title as a senior and was a higher rated recruit (UCLA didn’t actively recruit Jack).
Last summer, Jack did card rounds of 70-64 at his home course, Virginia C.C., to share the 36-hole lead of the SCGA Amateur, where he eventually finished fifth. This summer, he got his first taste of match play in opening-round defeats in the SCGA Match Play and California Amateur.
“I feel like Patrick [was] about 18 months ahead of me at the same age,” said Jack. “I feel like I am not that far off. If I can just play a little bit better these next couple of years as I get into college [golf], it should be pretty good for me.
“It’s a matter of tightening up all round. Knowing how far each club goes. I know it’s a very simple thing to say. [The pros] are so dialed in on their numbers. They know how their ball is going to react in the air and on the ground.”
Some might think Jack, with his full beard, is already a seasoned college player. Lederer thinks that potentially could be an advantage at Bandon Dunes if he advances to match play. At the 2021 SCGA Amateur as a rising high school senior, some of his fellow competitors thought he looked 25, not 17.
“He looks like a [grown] man,” said Lederer. “I think he can be quite a bit intimidating. I can only imagine if he’s up against a 15-year-old [in match play] and his opponent will be thinking, ‘This kid is a junior golfer?’”
Facial hair aside, Jack is hoping his first USGA championship can be a nice stepping stone to greater things in the game. While he has enjoyed success on the local and regional level, he’s never competed in an event against this caliber of competition.
Then again, he does have a brother who is No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking. The two talk and text often and Patrick offers plenty of positive advice.
“Physically, Jack isn’t lacking anything,” said Lederer. “I actually would take his swing over Patrick’s, but we both know there’s a lot more to [being a successful pro] than just that. He has all the tools and resources, so if he wants to [be a PGA Tour pro], he’s definitely capable.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.