Patrick Cantlay has always been a team player. Ask his high school golf coach

Patrick Cantlay is undefeated thus far in the 2021 Ryder Cup.

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HAVEN, Wis. — So Patrick Cantlay and his partner in wine-drinking, Xander Schauffele, batted fourth on Friday morn, on the tee before 8 a.m. Two heavyweights, in the cleanup position. Your FedEx Cup winner (Cantlay) and your Olympic gold-medal winner (Schauffele).

In the other corner was the formidable duo of Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter.

The two Europeans got whacked, 5 and 3. A big win for the Pinot Brothers, two brainy SoCal golfers in their mid-20s.

And that was that, at least for the day.

By Friday afternoon, their captain, Steve Stricker — in keeping with a plan he had shared with his team on Monday — split up the Californians and gave each a new partner. Schauffele went out with Dustin Johnson in the leadoff position. Cantlay went out with the coolest of the cool kids, Justin Thomas.

Were you not shocked?

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Did you not think that Pat-‘n-Zander might be a thing, like Tom Lehman and Paul Azinger once were, and be sent out again and again and again?

Dane Jako was not shocked. Dane Jako said, “If you asked Pat who he wanted to play with, he would have said Xander and Justin would be his 1A and 1B choices, and not necessarily in that order.”

Dane Jako is a football guy. But he was also Pat Cantlay’s high-school golf coach, at an all-boys Catholic school, Servite High, in Anaheim. He is the ultimate Cantlay whisperer.

“Pat is very much into match-play golf and team golf,” Jako said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “In four years, he never missed a match. A lot of those good junior golfers, they’re going away on weekends to play in an AJGA event or some other event. His thing was ‘Coach, these two and a half months are yours. I’m here for the team.’”

Go team.

Go Friars.

Go USA. 

When Friday was over and the rain was coming in, the home team had 6 points and the visitors had 2. Cantlay was in on 1.5 of those 6 U.S. points. He and his SoFla buddy (Justin Thomas) made a remarkable comeback in their afternoon match against Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood. The Americans were 3 down through eight holes. They chipped and chipped. The Europeans’ putting went cold in the wind. The match ended in a tie.

Patrick’s youngest brother, Jack, plays for Jako on the Servite golf team now. He knows Patrick’s other brother and sister and parents and maternal grandfather, who would drop Patrick off at the family’s club, the old-timey Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, where Patrick would spend long and informative days.

Cantlay likes golf in a team uniform. The Servite team uniform. The UCLA team uniform. The Walker Cup and Presidents Cup and now, as a rookie in it, Ryder Cup team uniforms.

“When I heard Pat talking about playing gin the other day [at a Ryder Cup press conference], I wasn’t one bit surprised, because he would watch the old men play gin at the club and before long he was playing with them. He was 10, 12, 14. When he said he would read books about gin — that’s Pat. He’s going to learn everything he can about a subject. He always says golf’s more mental than it is mechanical.”

It has been extraordinary, for those of us who follow golf, to see Cantlay blossom before our eyes over the past month. His captivating victory over Bryson DeChambeau in a sudden-death playoff in FedEx II that went six holes. His excellent play the following week, at East Lake. His recent press conferences where he has revealed himself to be an original thinker — and a talker.

None of this caught Jako by surprise.

“He was always like that,” Jako said. “He’s very opinionated. He’ll argue with you until you change your mind. He’d come into my office after I had made a lineup and tell me all the reasons why this person should play with that person, and 90 percent of the time he was right,” Jako said. “Pat loves golf. He’s gonna be a lifer in the game. I’d be surprised if he’s not a Ryder Cup captain someday.

“I played in the USFL. I’ve coached guys who have played in the NFL. I’ve never known anybody who is more competitive than Pat. He taught me how to coach golf.

“Ryder Cup golf is ideal for him, because he’s made for match play. When Bryson was outdriving him by 30 yards, whatever it was? That plays right into Pat’s hands, because nothing is going to fluster him. He’s never going to change his game plan. He doesn’t care what the other guy is doing because he has so much confidence in what he can do. And that can get under your skin. He’s never flustered. You can’t take him out of his game.”

Cantlay and Schauffele have similar on-course demeanors. They’re even and steady, not particularly emotional. You can’t imagine two players less likely to do the whole (ridiculous) cup-your-ear thing in an effort to generate crowd noise. They’re self-contained, in every way.

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But Justin Thomas is nothing like that. He’s a showman, his arms out like the wings of a plane after making putts, fist-bumping here, chest-bumping there. Paired with him, Cantlay pretty much continued to do his own self-contained thing. “Pat’s a person who is very comfortable in his own skin,” Jako said.

Cantlay likes golf in a team uniform. The Servite team uniform. The UCLA team uniform. The Walker Cup and Presidents Cup and now, as a rookie in it, Ryder Cup team uniforms.

One year, as a senior at Servite, the Friars had a match on St. Patrick’s Day. Cantlay was born on St. Patrick’s Day. For a born-and-raised American, he’s about as Irish as Padraig Harrington. The team wore green from shoes to hat that day. They lost their match to Corona del Mar that day when a Corona del Mar player made a hole-in-one late in the match to ensure a rare Servite loss. “Pat said, ‘Coach, we’re never wearing green again.’”

Jako is not at Whistling Straits this weekend. He has a son who plays football at Davidson, near Charlotte, N.C. He was traveling on Friday and eager to get to his hotel, where the hotel manager had recorded the Friday golf for him, by way of TiVo. The hotel manager didn’t know Dane Jako. But Patrick Cantlay was another matter. Cantlay’s name has spread far and wide in the last month.

Coach Jako is going to have to do more screen juggling on Saturday. The Davidson Wildcats play at high noon, against San Diego. The Pinot Brothers are back at it Saturday morning, batting fourth again. This time the duo of Cantlay and Schauffele will face Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick, two Englishmen.

As for Saturday afternoon’s fourth session, who knows?

Well, Jako does, in a manner of speaking. Pat Cantlay will play with anybody Steve Stricker wants him to play with. That’s what he knows. He knows Pat’s motto. Go team. It’s his thing.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com

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Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.