The legend of Patty Ice vociferously commenced in the soft hills of Maryland on the last day of rest in August 2021 at a place called Caves Valley Golf Club.
Matched against the Paul Bunyan character otherwise known as Bryson – some called him Bison – DeChambeau, calm, cool and collected Patrick Cantlay outlasted his muscular foe in front of thousands of fans testing the limits of their vocal cords to win the BMW Championship, the second of three legs forming the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
In an instant classic, Cantlay and his stoic, unflappable and unhurried ways outlasted the thundering force of DeChambeau to win a six-hole playoff by making a 17-footer for birdie on the 78th hole in the fading light.
But Cantlay dished up heroics before that, plenty of them, including rolling in a 21-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole to force the playoff, then staving off defeat on the first three extra holes with mid-range par putts. On the fifth extra hole, after DeChambeau knocked his tee shot to 6 feet on the par-3 17th, Cantlay watched his approach stop three feet from the cup.
After both found the fairway on the sixth playoff hole, Cantlay ended matters.
Throughout the finishing stages of regulation and the playoff, chants of “Patty Ice” whistled through the galleries, a takeoff on “Matty Ice,” the nickname of equally composed Matt Ryan, then the Atlanta Falcons quarterback.
“It was kind of the first time I had heard it ever, and I think it suits me – I think,” Cantlay said. “It rings a little true of my personality, and I think a moniker that really rings – that just has a partial bit of truth but maybe a larger exaggeration, or a larger – I don’t know what the right word is – but it tries to say almost too much but yet it just rings a little true.”
That week, Cantlay stuck to his own blueprint, stayed in his own quiet world, and unleashed his own style of fireworks in toppling his playing partner in a playoff. Cantlay gained 14.58 strokes on the field with his putting, the most strokes gained putting in a 72-hole event since tracking began on the PGA Tour in 2004. He made more than 537 feet of putts this week. And he was undaunted despite being outdriven all day – DeChambeau hit 48 drives longer than 320 yards for the week.
Both finished regulation at 27 under – Cantlay with rounds of 66-63-66-66, DeChambeau with rounds of 68-60-67-66. Cantlay made 31 birdies for the week while DeChambeau made 27 birdies and four eagles.
“If I look the way I do, it’s because I am locked in and focused, and I felt like that today,” Cantlay said. “My game feels really good. It has for a while now, since Memorial, and I’m finally starting to putt like me again.
“I’m as focused as I can be on every single shot, and I try not to let my mind get past the moment that I’m in, and maybe that’s why I come across a little sedated out there. But I’m locked in, and I’m as focused as I can be. Then I kind of let the chips fall where they do. Try not to get caught up in being out-driven 45 yards or whatever it is. I just try and lock in and do my absolute best in that moment, and my best is pretty good.”
The following week, in Atlanta, of all places, which is where Matt Ryan played his entire NFL career before a 2022 trade sent him to Indianapolis, Cantlay got a Falcons jersey featuring his name and Ryan’s number. Then he won $15 million.
Because of the staggered scoring format used in The Tour Championship, Cantlay started the week with a two-shot lead at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Despite sleeping on the lead for seven nights, Cantlay never blinked. In the final round, where Cantlay and then world No. 1 Jon Rahm became a two-man race late in the day, basically playing for $10 million (the difference between the first-place prize money of $15 million and the second-place prize money of $5 million), the stoic Cantlay never buckled.
He and his magical putter canned a 6-footer for birdie on the 16th to get two clear of Rahm, the only player to ever get into a tie with Cantlay over the four days (and that came in the third round). Then Cantlay dug deep to make another 6-footer, this one for bogey on the 17th, to stay one shot ahead of Rahm. And on the 579-yard, par-5 18th, Cantlay had to step up after Rahm rifled a mid-iron from 232 yards to just 18 feet past the hole on the fringe.
Patrick Cantlay of the United States celebrates with a “Patty Ice” Atlanta Falcons jersey after winning during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 05, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Knowing he needed to make at least a birdie, Cantlay, after he hit his best drive of the day which went 361 yards, ripped a 6-iron from 218 yards to 11 feet. After Rahm scared the hole with his chip, Cantlay putted to six inches and tapped in for the winning birdie and the $15 million grand prize.
“I just kept telling myself to focus and lock in and I did a great job of that today,” Cantlay said. “It was tough (sleeping on the lead). It was the longest lead I’ve ever held. But I just tried to stay, day after day, in the present, and I did an amazing job of that this week because the last couple days I made some mistakes I don’t usually make and I was able to really center myself and hit a lot of good shots when I needed to.”
It was Cantlay’s fourth win in the 50 events played in the “super season” caused by COVID-19. In a campaign that included six major championships and 43 different winners, Cantlay was the only player to win more than two tournaments.
And his wins were big. He held off Rahm and Justin Thomas to win the Zozo Championship in the fall by one shot, defeated Collin Morikawa on the first playoff hole to win the Memorial, topped DeChambeau in the BMW Championship, and stayed ahead to better Rahm in The Tour Championship.
“I play golf so I can be in those moments against the best players in the world. It’s why I practice so hard. It’s why I’m in love with the game because it’s that great vehicle for competition. It maybe makes it a little sweeter knowing that the guys I played against are the best players in the world,” Cantlay said.
Ten days later, Cantlay received the Jack Nicklaus Award as the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year (voted on by his peers).
“I think the fact that it’s voted on by my fellow PGA Tour players, I think that means a lot to me and I’m very grateful,” Cantlay said. “I think it wasn’t something that I necessarily thought was on the radar middle of the year, but then I closed really well and played a lot of really nice golf towards the end.”
Long road back
Before Cantlay won $20 million in a three-month blitz to end his 2021 campaign, before he was part of the USA’s rout of Europe in his first Ryder Cup last fall, and long before people started shouting Patty Ice, Cantlay was among the game’s best players. He was a decorated amateur who spent nearly 60 weeks as the No. 1 amateur in the game. In 2011, the 19-year-old UCLA star shot 60 in the Travelers Championship, the lowest number ever posted by an amateur in PGA Tour history. After turning pro in 2012, he won twice before his 2020-2021 monster season despite battling a brittle back that sent him to the sidelines many times.
It also was a time Cantlay dealt with personal heartbreak and recovery.
Just a few weeks after he was told he needed to take nearly a year off to rest his ailing back, Cantlay was in Newport Beach on February 13, 2016, when his best friend and caddie, Chris Roth, was killed while crossing an intersection. Cantlay was less than 10 feet away from the accident and was covered in blood when he spoke to officers after the accident.
With the help of his family and a few friends closest to him, Cantlay got through the unimaginable trauma while healing his back.
“There is no question I’m a different person than I was back then, having gone through those experiences,” Cantlay said in 2020. “It certainly wasn’t easy. And I try not to think back to those days. It changed me and I like who I am now.”
That includes opening up a bit more with the media. While Cantlay, who turned 30 in March, still prefers to let his clubs do the talking, his press conferences and scrums with the media leave reporters with their notebooks full and excited to get to a laptop to start pecking away.
He can comfortably and astutely talk music, politics, world affairs, gin rummy, mathematics, the inner workings of the PGA Tour and so much more. He’s studious, prepared and doesn’t waste a word. His exchanges are educational.
“I only talk about something I know about,” he said. “Or if I’m trying to learn.”
He by no means is a nerd. He can give and take the needle, is pleasant and polite, and never lets anyone think he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room.
“People probably don’t see it, but Pat can relax with the best of them,” said Xander Schauffele, who has struck up a tight bond with Cantlay since the two successfully partnered in the 2019 Presidents Cup and then in the 2021 Ryder Cup. The two and their significant others vacationed together in Napa, California, after the Ryder Cup. “It’s not easy to become friends out here on the PGA Tour because we want to beat everyone all the time. Yes, we’re competitive and we push each other, but we like each other. We enjoy talking and spending time together.
“And he has this incredible ability to focus. He took on the Ryder Cup and came away unscathed. And that’s the most stressful golf we play.”
Since his victory in The Tour Championship, Cantlay hasn’t been able to produce the magic of that three-month blitz where he was the best player in the world. While he began 2022 with four top-10s in as many starts, he has yet to add to his victory total in 13 starts through the Travelers Championship. It’s not that he’s played poorly – he has six top-10s, including playoff losses to world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth. And he still has residence in the top 10 in the official world golf rankings. Unlike in 2020-21, he just hasn’t closed the door.
But just as he did walking alongside DeChambeau in the BMW Championship, he won’t panic. He’s Patty Ice, after all, just ready to close the door on more victories.