UCLA Freshman Cantlay No. 1 Golfer In The Country

by Mark Stringfellow

Most of life's hurdles are won in the mind. The old saying is "Plan your work and work your plan." Without both, it's hard to reach the success of which the mind can dream.

It is greatness like that of Muhammad Ali, whose taunting and over-the-top gestures knocked as much fight out of George Foreman as his right hook did in the "Rumble of the Jungle."

Others may liken it to the world renowned chess player Bobby Fisher's triumphant 1972 win in the "Cold War Battle" over Boris Spassky. Dubbed as the match of the century, Fischer went on to capture the championship, ending 24 years of Soviet Union dominance in the championships - all while posturing and reclining in an Eames executive chair.

That's the type of mental aptitude that it takes to consistently dominate a sport, and that's what UCLA head golf coach Derek Freeman has on his hands with freshman sensation Patrick Cantlay.

Freeman emphatically called Cantlay's play this season "unbelievable." Cantlay calls it "a culmination of what he's been working on."

Cantlay realizes that his scorecards this season read like a PGA Tour legend playing putt-putt on a miniature course. He leads the Bruins in scoring average at 70.2 and has averaged a 69.0 in his last five tournaments. Cantlay has also won three of those five tournaments (Gifford Collegiate, Amer Ani Invitational and USC Invitational). He's finished in the top five in all of those tournaments.

In addition, he leads the team with six top-10 finishes, 13 rounds under par, 11 rounds under 70 and has shot an amazing twenty-six under par for the year.

Those stats are what made him the number one golfer in the NCAA. Freeman, marveled by Cantlay's mature demeanor, has been coaching at UCLA for four years, but he's never had someone who understands the game this young.

"Guys in college can play golf, but I haven't seen one pick apart holes the way Cantlay does," said Freeman.

Cantlay is aware that he's having a memorable season, but he knows that this is only a step in the right direction.

"The position that I'm in doesn't shake me, because I'm still going to go out and do my deal," Cantlay said. "Being number one or number 10 doesn't change me. I still know there's room for improvement and I'm working on those skills every day."

For a team and individual who's still a work in progress, the Bruins are making headlines this year in collegiate golf.

They are ranked No. 2 with 404 points and only a handful of tournaments to play. In a sport where individual ratings are typically touted more than team, Freeman revels in the type of camaraderie this unit has.

Due to the shear youth, he senses that this is a special bunch. Knowing the history of UCLA golf, for some it could be a daunting task to reach those high expectations, but this group goes out and proves that they may have the chops to handle it.

"I would say that this is probably our most talented team," said Freeman. "When we won the national championship in 2008, that was the toughest team I've coached, they just figured out a way to win. This year we're younger and that's the exciting part."

For Freeman, knowing that they have room to improve makes it a fun task for him, because he trusts the team and the leader of the group, Cantlay.

The Los Alamitos, Calif., native is as cerebral as it gets as an athlete. Cantlay credits part of this learned behavior to golf guru Jamie Mulligan.

Mulligan serves as the go-to-guy for everything golf at Long Beach's Virginia Country Club. With a unique teaching style that has launched the careers of countless PGA tour pros and  other avid golfers, it's safe to say that Cantlay's instruction came from the right place.

Cantlay is quick to confirm, saying that Mulligan has been a "very big part of his golf."

With instruction from Mulligan, high school coaches and Cantlay's dad, Cantlay was able to develop an unmatched mental fortitude. As a youth, he was able to learn what Tour pros talked about, how they played the game and the various obstacles that come with different courses.

Freeman says that's why Cantlay sees things different from other players in the sport,  that they've never had that type of experience before.

During his high school stint, that remarkable training willed Cantlay to a state championship in 2010, high school golfer of the year by the Orange County Register in 2009 and 2010, along with athlete of the year in the Trinity League.

In Cantlay fashion, when asked if he expected a season like this, he unequivocally said that one can never expect anything like this, but he "definitely knew that he was capable of it, because one can limit themselves by thinking otherwise."

He is aware of the impressive numbers that he's putting up this year, but rather than looking at this as a surprise, he credits his hard work.

"I still attribute my current play to the culmination of experience I've gained through the years. I've also become more comfortable with my game, but yet I know I have a ways to go," Cantlay said.

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