AUGUSTA, Ga. – Before Patrick Cantlay won the 2018 Memorial Tournament, he picked the brain of club founder and former champion Jack Nicklaus. Could gaining insight into how to play Augusta National from past champion Fred Couples reap the same benefit?
Only time will tell, but Cantlay, World No. 10, is beginning to feel a level of comfort at Augusta National, where his best result is a ninth-place finish in 2019.
“I think I’ve tried to draw a lot on Fred Couples’ knowledge,” said Cantlay, who teamed with Couples in a practice-round match against Xander Schauffele and Max Homa.
Cantlay got to know Couples quite well in recent years after Couples moved to Newport Beach, California, not far from where Cantlay grew up before moving to Florida.
“We played almost every Sunday when I was home,” said Cantlay, who noted that Couples is “much more cerebral than maybe you would imagine. I mean, people think, oh, he’s a freak, he just hits it close because he can feel it from 175. But it’s not as much that. I think instinctively he picks the right shot a lot, either a draw or a fade, and then he puts the right input into his brain.”
Cantlay competed on the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2019, where Couples served as a vice captain to Tiger Woods, and remembers thinking that if everyone was picking one person in the team room to have dinner with it would be Couples. “You could feel that,” Cantlay said. “He’s just great.”
So has Cantlay’s golf been since October when he shot a final-round 65 to win the Zozo Championship. Cantlay trailed Dustin Johnson by one stroke heading into the weekend at the Masters in November and played the first three rounds alongside Johnson. But Cantlay got left in the dust on Saturday as Johnson shot 65 to his 73, and finished tied for 17th.
“I think he birdied maybe four of the first six or four of the first seven or something like that,” Cantlay said. “That was impressive because the course was playing more difficult that day.”
Cantlay has finished in the top-3 twice so far this season, and arrived early to play a couple of practice rounds at Augusta National last week with friends.
“The more I play this place, the more I get comfortable with the shots,” Cantlay said. “I think confidence builds on itself around here. You hit those shots really well a few times in pressure situations, and that builds that picture and reinforces it even better, and you just take that every year going forward.”
Cantlay, 29, sounded like a wily veteran despite having just 14 competitive rounds at Augusta National in four starts as he described the course as “a series of red, yellow and green lights.”
“Not as many yellows as red or greens, but when you do get on a red hole location, which would be like a back left hole location on the sixth hole, guys just aren’t making birdie to the back left hole location on the sixth hole, especially if it’s firm,” he explained.
It took a few playings of the Masters for Cantlay to realize he didn’t need to curve the ball as much as he imagined growing up watching the tournament on TV. When asked to describe a particular hole where he has benefited from course knowledge, he highlighted the way he plays No. 10.
“I used to think I wanted to hit a driver like way down the first time I saw it as an amateur and get a short club in there, but a 3-wood goes almost to the same spot and it’s so much easier to hit in the fairway,” he said. “The tee shot on 7 is kind of tough. The hole looks like a fade to me, but whenever I try and hit the fade, I always pull it in the left trees, so I just try and hit a draw down there, my normal swing.
“I almost imagined being a shot-maker almost too much, and so now just getting comfortable with more my stock shot wherever it fits. And the golf course is so big that there’s a lot of space for your stock shot.”
Count Cantlay among the players who are encouraged that the course is playing fast and firm this year rather than the softer conditions that prevailed in November when Johnson shot a tournament record 20-under 268.
“I expect it to get really firm and fast, and I think that’s when this golf course shines,” said Cantlay, who added that he thrives when a premium is placed on controlling the golf ball and playing smart. “And then I love fast, old-school putting greens. And so this is the, you know, apex of that. It’s the most undulated, in general, fastest greens we play all year. It feels easier for me to make putts when it’s like that, and I look forward to that every time I come here.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/04/05/patrick-cantlay-taps-fred-couples-augusta-national-insights/