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Young guns on target

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - While some members of the 40-and-older crowd found themselves near the top of the leader board in the first couple of days at the Greenbrier Classic, a pair of young guns were firing bullets at Old White TPC's receptive greens as well.

Patrick Cantlay and Justin Thomas shot fine rounds Thursday and didn't exactly fall apart on Friday. After each shot an opening-round 67, Cantlay grinded out an even-par 70 and Thomas shot a 71, making them 3-under and 2-under, respectively, for the tournament.

But these greenhorns at The Greenbrier have a lot more in common than a few good rounds. 

Cantlay, a two-time All American golfer at UCLA, turned pro back on June 19, but everyone in the golf world has long known his name. He finished as the top amateur on some of the biggest stages in golf, including this year's Masters and the 2011 U.S. Open.

The 20-year-old also holds the distinction of registering the lowest round ever in a PGA Tour event by an amateur, a 60 at the 2011 Travelers Championship.

Cantlay said the switch in status hasn't affected his game or mindset.

"I don't think there is [a difference]," Cantlay said. "I'm just trying to play golf the same. The game doesn't change at all. It's the same game plan."

But it does feel good to actually get paid at these things, right?

"Yeah it does," Cantlay said. "But like I said, I'm not really worried about that, I'm just trying to play well."

Playing two groups behind Cantlay's on Friday was amateur Thomas, who has taken college golf by storm in the past year.

As a freshman at Alabama, he won his first collegiate event and became the first Crimson Tide golfer to claim five wins in a season en route to winning the Haskins Award, given to the country's top collegiate golfer. Among his wins were the SEC individual championship and the NCAA Southeast Regional, both tournaments in which Thomas led Alabama to team wins.

Even as an amateur playing among the best in the world, Thomas' expectations remain high.

"I feel like today it was a little bit of a disappointment," Thomas said. "But I've played pretty well and I scored pretty well for how poorly I played today. I didn't hit many good shots and didn't really putt very well. I just kind of scraped it around.

"But I made the cut in a tour event as an amateur. I'm just finishing so I'm still kind of down on myself but I'm sure as the day progresses I'll look at the positives and I'm just going to go and try to shoot low on the weekend."

The Greenbrier Classic isn't quite Thomas' first foray into the pro game. He played in the 2009 Wyndham Championship and made the cut, becoming the third-youngest player to do so on the PGA Tour.

Despite his success, Thomas said he isn't anywhere near ready to follow in Cantlay's footsteps as far as turning pro.

"Not really," Thomas said when asked if he'd given becoming a professional any thought. "I've got a lot of things I want to do as an amateur still before I can really think about that."

With the move to the pro ranks, Cantlay has to give up his exemption into the British Open to capitalize on a sponsor's exemption into three PGA Tour events. The reason is simple: Cantley is trying to finish in the top 125 in earnings to avoid having to go through the dreaded qualifying school.

But just like Thomas is comfortable with where he is, Cantlay insists he is happy and confident with his decision.

"I think it's totally up to your own personal situation and what you've got going on with your family and inside your head," Cantlay said. "I don't think it's right for anyone to speculate on what's right and wrong."

There is an outside chance the two could be paired up for the third round round. Regardless of how far Cantlay will ascend, he has had one eye behind him and on Thomas.

"Justin Thomas is a really good player," Cantlay said. "I hope he does well."

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.

 


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