GLENVIEW, IL. — Patrick Cantlay was the world’s top-ranked amateur golfer entering Saturday’s championship match of the 109th Western Amateur at North Shore Country Club in Glenview. The UCLA sophomore was low amateur at this year’s U.S. Open and a top -25 finisher in three PGA Tour events.
Not only that, but Cantlay had eliminated Chris Williams — the lowest-scoring medalist in Western Am history with a 16-under-par performance in the stroke play qualifying — and U.S. Amateur titlist Peter Uihlein in match play en route to reaching Saturday’s final. The best his opponent, Ethan Tracy, had done in a tournament this summer was an eighth-place finish in the Ohio Amateur.
Cantlay should have breezed to the title, right? Wrong!!!
Tracy, a senior at Arkansas, took the lead for good at the 13th hole and protected it the rest of the way for a 1-up victory. That put him in the company of Chick Evans, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as winners of the prestigious tournament.
Cantlay’s well-earned reputation didn’t scare off Tracy, a qualifier for the Western’s Sweet 16 match play participants in 2010 prior to his breakthrough win.
“He was just another player to me,” said Tracy. “I knew if I played my own game I’d be OK. I’d played well all week, and I played well in the final match.”
Tracy’s 15-foot birdie putt won the 13th hole. He never trailed again, but extra holes seemed likely after Tracy’s tee shot at the 18th sailed far left, leaving him a second shot with a tree five feet in front of him and in direct line to the pin.
“I wasn’t very happy, but I played the smart shot out to the fairway,” said Tracy. “I was lucky to have a chance to win.”
Tracy’s chip-out left him with a third shot short of Cantlay’s drive in the fairway. Tracy put his third 10 feet from the pin, then watched as Cantlay”s birdie putt from 15 feet lipped out. Tracy had a par-saver to win. Otherwise the nip-and-tuck match would go into sudden death. A gallery of about 400 walked with the players throughout the match and the gallery grew to watch the drama on the 18th green.
“I tried for a good roll and started it right on line,” said Tracy, whose father acted as his caddie throughout the five-day tournament. “I made it a good read and a good stroke.”
The putt dropped, leaving Cantlay frustrated with his own play.
“The greens were slow, and I didn’t make any putts,” he said. “I played awful in stroke play and barely squeaked in to match play. I never had a stretch where I felt comfortable with my putter, but you can’t win all the time in golf. It was a good week, all in all.”