“You don’t know how you’re going to react in that situation,” Patrick Cantlay reflected to NBC’s Golf Channel.
“I’m standing there talking to the police officer and he says, ‘Do you want a towel or something to wipe yourself off?’ I was completely covered in blood. I didn’t realise it. Your importance level, your awareness of what is usually a big deal, was not a big deal to me. And I felt like that for months after.”
Cantlay was recalling the night he lost his caddy, and close friend Chris Roth in 2016. The 24-year-old was struck by a car in a tragic hit-and-run accident near Newport Beach while on a night out with the golfer and Roth was pronounced dead at a local hospital. There was nothing that could be done to save his life.
These two shared a special bond. They went through high school together as Roth guided Cantlay’s career as a hugely successful amateur, before they both moved to Florida for a year as the young golfer began to gain more plaudits and positive results.
Five years on, with his best mate now looking down on him rather than standing by his side, Cantlay has just won the biggest event of his career in the most dramatic of circumstances. He won the FedExCup by just one shot after a thrilling final round with Jon Rahm earned him the title and the $15m prize money to boot.
This is the pinnacle to date of what has been a career hampered by injury and, of course, the aforementioned tragedy. But Cantlay has spoken about separating his golf career from what happened to his friend in 2016.
“The Chris thing is totally separate,” he told PGATour.com. “That would be difficult whether I was playing or not playing, and it would be just as difficult both ways and just as life-changing and just as earth-shattering. Just something like that changes your life and puts you on a different trajectory than you ever thought you’d get on. And it definitely changes your perspective on things.”
This humility has helped Cantlay progress through the ranks, from talented youngster to FedExCup champion. Back in 2012, he had been the No.1-ranked amateur golfer in the world for 54 consecutive weeks, a record that still stands to this day, as he scooped the Fred Haskins Award, the Phil Mickelson Award, the Ben Hogan Award, the Mark McCormack Medal and the Jack Nicklaus Award along the way.
But his progress was stopped by a stress fracture in one of his vertebrae which limited his tournament play for several years, before the Roth tragedy tested his resilience as he attempted to return from an injury that threatened to derail his career.
But Cantlay has rebuilt himself, and returned from that injury better than ever. He won his first PGA Tour title in 2017 and has continued to improve from there with successes at the Memorial Cup in Dublin and the Zozo Championship in California, but this win is his biggest to date, from both a personal and financial perspective.
His journey has been one filled with difficulties. At a tender age, he has seen events that no human should ever have to deal with, and come out the other side. From a golfing perspective he has gone from strength to strength and will now be targeting his first major, but he will never forget the man who helped him get this far.