When the PGA Tour announced on Tuesday morning that Patrick Cantlay had won Player of the Year, it capped off a career-changing stretch of weeks for the soft-spoken 29-year-old.
He picked up a victory via epic playoff showdown, outdueling Bryson DeChambeau at the BMW Championship. He picked up a nickname, “Patty Ice,” by pouring in every putt he saw that week. He picked up a legion of fans with his thoughtful commentary on DeChambeau, the perils of social media and “attention-seeking behavior,” the next day. And he picked up a whole wheelbarrow of cash several days later when he won the $15 million first prize at the Tour Championship.
I got to speak with Cantlay for a few minutes after the announcement. He was chipper, if weary after a few days eating and drinking his way through Napa Valley, a tandem trip that he and his girlfriend Nikki Guidish took with Xander Schauffele and his wife Maya. (I was sleepy, too, thanks to the 5:40 PT a.m. press conference and the Raiders and Ravens overtime thriller, but no matter.) While Cantlay wasn’t able to break down the differences between a cab sauv and a pinot noir, he did shed some light on a topic I was more curious about: his newfound public persona.
Why the sudden longform press conference? Why the thoughtful, 640-word response to a question about another golfer? Why the viral moment from a golfer whose excellence with a club has always been accompanied by social media silence?
I wondered if Cantlay spoke freely post-win because that’s what winning does. Winners have the cache to dish out opinions. Their takes have credibility. Justin Thomas has talked about this idea — that he felt he earned the right to candor. Cantlay (after considering the question through a long pause) told me it’s not quite that simple.
“I think it’s an interesting thing, I think it’s a two-way street,” he said. “If I only get questions like, ‘Where did you make your birdies today,’ it’s really difficult for me to give a thoughtful answer on that, and maybe I’m not as good as some other interviewees at saying only what they want to say, regardless of the question — I like to answer the question. And so maybe that’ll evolve over time and I’ll get some better questions as I go, but I think after I win or after I play well I tend to get some more thoughtful, bigger questions and so then it’s easier for me, if it’s a topic that I’ve thought about, to give an insightful answer.”
That echoes a conversation something the formerly reticent Brooks Koepka said after a rollicking press conference at the 2019 U.S. Open.
“They are more fun because people are starting to ask more questions,” he said. “I’ve always had an opinion, but I’m not just going to go share it. If you ask me, I’ll give you my answer on it.”
Back to Cantlay the talker, then:
“I think it’s something that I enjoy,” he continued. “I enjoy having difficult conversations with my friends and maybe challenging their ideas. And so if I’ve thought about something, I’ll try and give my best answer for it. But I won’t necessarily get up there and grandstand and just give unfiltered thoughts without being prompted.”
Talking like Koepka, though, doesn’t mean he’s also going to seek out a rivalry with DeChambeau — especially with the Ryder Cup around the corner. Cantlay said he’d seen Bryson at Whistling Straits during their mini-camp over the weekend.
“We’re very much in a now-we’re-on-the-same-side thing,” Cantlay said of DeChambeau. “I think it’s great that he’s on our side. I mean, I was nutting drives and hit ’em as hard as I could and he was still 40 yards ahead of me. So I think it’s great. I can only imagine, if he can hit the right tee shots in a best ball format, how formidable he’ll be because he’ll be able to hit some shots that no one else can hit.”