New alternate angle provides context on how heated Ryder Cup scuffle developed

Rory McIlroy and Joe LaCava, the caddie for Patrick Cantlay, exchange words on the 18th green on Saturday at the Ryder Cup.

Rory McIlroy and Joe LaCava, the caddie for Patrick Cantlay, exchange words on the 18th green on Saturday at the Ryder Cup.

Sky Sports

The 2023 Ryder Cup, up until Saturday evening in Rome, was essentially nothing more than a European romp and curious side-story on the alleged reason a U.S. player wasn’t wearing a hat.

And then? Well, the 18th green happened. In case you missed it, Patrick Cantlay, the hatless player, had just drained a long birdie putt to help the Americans crawl back in the final fourball match of the day.

Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick were 1 up with two holes to play over Cantlay and Wyndham Clark, but Cantlay won the 17th with a birdie and then made his third straight on 18. As the last match of the day, it led to a huge ovation from the American fans in attendance and the handful of U.S. players sitting greenside.

Joe LaCava and Shane Lowry yell.
The tense moments after hatless Patrick Cantlay electrified the Ryder Cup
By: James Colgan

The U.S. team waved their hats in the air, mocking a move earlier employed by European fans to razz Cantlay, who that morning was the subject of a report that alleged he wasn’t wearing a team cap to protest players not getting paid in the event (he later denied that).

The 18th green at Marco Simone was full of emotion after Cantlay’s 43-foot birdie putt dropped, and that’s when the trouble started. Cantlay’s caddie, Joe LaCava, was among those waving his cap in support of Cantlay. But McIlroy and Fitzpatrick still had tying birdie putts to hit, and making either would have halved the match. (They were also probably a little annoyed the match had even made it to the 18th hole.) When McIlroy went to line up his putt, LaCava was still near him, waving his hat to the crowd. Words were exchanged, LaCava got into a minor shouting match with Shane Lowry and this whole ordeal shockingly spilled into the parking lot later.

“Obviously there was some hat-waving going on throughout the day from the crowd for our players,” European captain Luke Donald said. “Talked to Rory. He politely asked Joe to move aside. He was in his line of vision. He stood there and didn’t move for a while and continued to wave the hat, so I think Rory was upset about that.”

One question, however, was this: Was LaCava really that close to McIlroy that it should have upset him?

Now we have more information, as a longer video with an overhead shot gives more context to the situation in regards to how close LaCava was and how it all played out.

In the video above, you’ll see players start to leave the center of the green so the two European players can putt, but at about 13 seconds LaCava makes his way back to the center, still waiving his hat. At the 23-second mark, you’ll see McIlroy walk by and say something to LaCava, who did seem to wear out his welcome with an excessive celebration.

At about 28 seconds is where everything that happened after could have been avoided. Instead of letting McIlroy say what he did and clearing the air later, LaCava hung around as McIlroy stalked his putt, still talking to him, before waving him off and then barking some words in the direction of Lowry. The video also shows Lowry and LaCava talking afterward. While it’s hard to pick up the entire conversation, you can hear LaCava say, “I just wanted to celebrate.”

LaCava, the longtime caddie of both Fred Couples and, more recently, Tiger Woods, is one of the most well-liked and respected caddies in the game, which made Saturday’s incident all the more suprising.

He did, however, break a cardinal caddie rule: Don’t make the golf about you. In his defense, LaCava obviously got caught in the moment. The Ryder Cup is the most emotion-fueled event in golf. Plus, his guy had spent all day being the most scrutinized player in the field, so when the match was flipped courtesy of Cantlay on 18, LaCava was supporting his player. He just got carried away.

Hopefully there’s a happy ending here, though. While NBC reported that LaCava apologized to McIlroy on Sunday morning before singles play, McIlroy denied that after his singles match.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the managing editor at GOLF.com. The Minnesota native graduated with a journalism degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.