ROME — Playing golf the day before your wedding, if you’re lucky enough to do it, is meant to be relaxing. It doesn’t usually involve tens of thousands of golf fans ferociously taunting you for four hours. But Patrick Cantlay is not your average person, and a Ryder Cup in Italy is not your average golf tournament.
The Californian was dogged on Saturday and Sunday at Marco Simone by a media report that claimed the U.S. locker room was “fractured,” with Cantlay the cause, because he refused to wear a team hat out of protest that players don’t get paid for their participation in the Ryder Cup. The report also claimed Cantlay had his own space in the locker room separate from the team.
It got worse. On Saturday evening, during the 18th hole of Cantlay and Wyndham Clark’s victory over Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick, Cantlay’s caddie, Joe LaCava, waved his hat repeatedly as McIlroy lined up a birdie putt. He was responding to the European fans gestures toward Cantlay all day long. McIlroy took umbrage with LaCava’s proximity and was involved in a fiery exchange later while getting into a courtesy car. He yelled at Justin Thomas’ caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay and had to be restrained by teammate Shane Lowry.
Naturally, that resonated with fans at Marco Simone, and they had a field day during Cantlay’s 2-and-1 singles victory Sunday against Justin Rose in the Americans’ ultimate 16½-11½ loss to Europe.
“HATS OFF FOR THE BANK ACCOUNT!” the galleries chanted while waving their hats at the World No. 5 as he walked down the 12th. “Take your time, Patrick! Rosey, do you want to play through?” the crowd yelled in reference to Cantlay’s much-publicized slow play on the PGA Tour. When Cantlay missed a seven-foot par putt, the crowd wildly applauded his hole loss.
The atmosphere even piqued the curiosity of German soccer legend Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was walking inside the ropes with Cantlay. The retired Bayern Munich star had played the occasional match against AS Roma at the Olympic Stadium and knew how vocal Italian fans could be. “This is a crazy atmosphere,” he said, gesturing towards Cantlay.
Cantlay, who took the lead on the second hole and led the entire way, lost the 13th and 15th, but won the hole in between to have a chance to finish off Europe stalwart Rose on the par-3 17th. Just like he did in Saturday afternoon’s fourball match, when he finished birdie-birdie, the two-time Ryder Cupper was clutch. Cantlay stuck it to 15 feet and made the downhill birdie to win the match and secure the first point for U.S.
Asked by reporters on the 17th green about the heckling, Cantlay had no issue with it. He claimed it was motivating. “That’s just how this tournament should be,” he said. “It’s exactly what I expected. Europe has played great all week and had the home-crowd advantage pulling for them. I was just trying to use it as fuel. You can take all of that energy and turn it into focus and good adrenaline, and that’s what I tried to do this week.”
The eight-time PGA Tour winner was asked about the hat reports and blasted their accuracy. “Unfortunately dealing with some weird, false media stories by one person,” Cantlay said. “I took it and ran with it. It’s totally false. It couldn’t be further from the truth. There hasn’t been one word this week. The U.S. has been close all week. It’s all lies.”
LaCava was also quizzed by reporters about Saturday night’s incident but politely declined to comment. “I’ve been told by the [U.S.] captain [Zach Johnson] not to say anything. I’m sorry. Not until further notice.”
NBC reported early on Sunday that LaCava, who caddied for Tiger Woods prior to working for Cantlay, met with McIlroy before the singles session and cleared the air. Asked about that report by NBC on-course reporter Cara Banks, McIlroy said tersely, “I haven’t met Joe.”
Minutes after Cantlay spoke, Tommy Fleetwood secured a Ryder Cup victory for Europe by virtue of being 2-up with two to play in his match against Rickie Fowler. Securing at least a halved match brought he home side’s total to the 14½ points it needed to take back the Cup, and Fleetwood eventually won 3 and 1 on a concession at 17 by Rickie Fowler.
The U.S. will have to wait another four years to try to end their its drought on European soil, which stretches back to the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry in England. Cantlay, should he make the team for Adare Manor in 2027 in Ireland, will no doubt be ready after a truly chaotic first away Ryder Cup.
“The fans are invested,” he said. “It’s so much different than a normal week.”