An angry man wearing a bucket hat colored in European blue and yellow waved a banknote at Patrick Cantlay as he walked to the eighth green on Sunday. “Please, Patrick,” he shouted as the American and his caddie, Joe LaCava, walked past. “I’ll give you a few bucks, buddy, if you need it that bad.”
Cantlay smiled and continued as best he could. Hundreds of people in the stands stood up and waved their caps at him because a television reporter had suggested on Twitter/X that Cantlay had refused to wear his hat this week in protest at players not being paid to play in the stands. Ryder Cup, a suggestion Cantlay insisted was false.
“Hats off to your bank account,” they sang. Another group of European fans burst into a chorus of Abba’s Money, Money, Money. Others sang the lyrics to Jessie J’s Price Tag. And when Cantlay, world No. 5, hit his drive down the ninth fairway, another comedian in the gallery shouted, “That’s the money, Patrick.”
Perhaps it’s a debate for another day, but the question of whether players should be paid to play in the Ryder Cup makes for an interesting argument, even if the nuances of it seemed to be lost on most supporters here as they paid €20 paid. (£17) for a burger and €4 (£3.50) for a bottle of water. And that was the cheap end of the food and drinks.
Forget the hazy rhetoric surrounding the event: it is one of the most intensely commercialized, ruthlessly monetized, sponsor-led sporting events anywhere. Players demanding compensation for this do not seem entirely unreasonable.
American star Patrick Cantlay was the epitome of grace under pressure on Sunday
LaCava did not escape attention either. He was involved in an ugly row with Rory McIlroy on Saturday evening when he brandished his own cap to give the European supporters a taste of their own medicine after Cantlay sank a crucial putt on the 18th.
LaCava exacerbated that by getting in McIlroy’s line and then protesting to him. Later on Saturday evening, footage emerged of McIlroy shouting profanities at another American caddie – Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay – in the players’ parking lot, further heightening the animosity towards LaCava.
The PGA of America requested extra security for Cantlay and LaCava during the singles match with Justin Rose. Two members of the Carabinieri followed them all afternoon.
LaCava was roundly booed as he walked to the first tee. As he walked onto the fairway with his player, someone shouted ‘son of a bitch’ at him. LaCava kept walking.
And when Cantlay missed a putt on the 12th and lost the hole, a voice from Yorkshire spoke to LaCava as he walked past on his way to the 13th tee. “You’re not waving your hat now, are you, Joe,” the man said.
The bullying was relentless. Cantlay, who was previously criticized for his slow play, was the butt of more jokes for this. “Hurry, Patrick,” another English voice called as he putt on the 10th green, “I have a plane to catch tomorrow.”
Fans wave their caps after reports that Cantlay refused to wear his hat in protest over not being paid
So you get the picture. This is what it was like to walk around with the pantomime villains of the US team on a scorching Sunday as they fought and fought towards inevitable European victory in this 44th Ryder Cup.
And the truth is, it was a privilege to watch Cantlay play. It was a privilege to see his resistance despite overwhelming odds and the mockery of the crowd. It was a privilege to see the level of golf he played and how he conducted himself.
There were times when it was difficult to watch how he was being treated. It was the kind of behavior that makes you shudder. The Ryder Cup is certainly about the passion and the hustle, but the way Cantlay was barracked felt very close to crossing a line. It later emerged that Cantlay is getting married on Monday.
Xander Schauffele’s father said the reason he didn’t wear a cap was because he didn’t want his wedding photos to be ruined by the golfer’s classic tan line across his face.
If that is the case, it makes the treatment meted out to him in the hills above Rome even more deplorable.
He was the epitome of grace under pressure, especially as he remains adamant that the story that sparked fans’ animosity toward him was “totally baseless.” He continued to smile at those who abused him. He continued his task of taking down one of the European heroes.
Cantlay’s caddy Joe LaCava was roundly booed as he walked to the first tee
Cantlay is a thoughtful, decent man, who answered the barrage of questions about his hat with a degree of bewilderment, but with unfailing good grace. And he was the anchor for a US rally that gave the Europeans a few anxious moments before crossing the line late yesterday afternoon.
He had played some beautiful golf on Saturday evening to turn around the fourballs match that had pitted him and his playing partner, Wyndham Clark, against McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick and yesterday afternoon he picked up where he left off.
Going out in the third match of the day, Cantlay took the lead with a birdie putt on the second hole, but for the next hour his name was the only touch of American red on the leaderboard. For what seemed like the longest time, he was surrounded by a sea of blue. Europe led in five of the first six games.
In the circumstances, Cantlay’s focus and courage were remarkable. “It was a crazy 24 hours,” he later admitted. He upheld the American standard when all hope seemed lost, and gradually other players began to rally around it. As the afternoon progressed, more and more red began to appear.
Cantlay and Rose both played excellent golf and as the crowd became increasingly partisan and excited and Rose became more and more enthusiastic, the Englishman fought his way back into the game. Cantlay’s lead dropped from three to one.
As Cantlay walked down the 16th fairway, Fred Couples, one of golf’s greats and one of Zach Johnson’s vice-captains here, put his arm around Cantlay’s shoulder and walked with him, murmuring words of encouragement to him as they reached the green were approaching.
When Couples broke away, Cantlay was left with the last few feet of the putting surface and was met, as he had been for the past four hours, with the sight of thousands of hats being waved in the air, thousands of people trying to get inside his head , thousands of people try to upset him, thousands of people try to mock him.
Cantlay and Justin Rose both played fantastic golf in their singles match on Sunday
When experts talk about an athlete’s mental strength, this is what they mean. And Cantlay proved his. When everything seemed to be closing in on him, he held his nerve and saw through it. He holed a 15-foot putt on the 17th to win the match and finish second. It was the first victory of the day for the US. It gave them hope.
Ultimately, the miraculous comeback was frustrated, but Cantlay’s performance summed up something about this American team.
In the end they were not humiliated. They didn’t break, as they had done at Gleneagles in 2014.
“Our guys fought like crazy,” Johnson said later. And no one – no one – fought harder than Patrick Cantlay.