Biggest golf moments of 2023: The Ryder Cup gets testy

joe lacava at the ryder cup

Joe LaCava exchanges words with members of the European Ryder Cup team.

Getty Images

Ah, 2023. The year everything changed … again. For the second straight year, we left 2023 with a drastically different perspective of professional golf than we entered. Now, as we look back at the year that was — with LIV major championships, Ryder Cup controversies and oh so many other stories — we’re remembering the 15 biggest moments that defined the year in golf. Let’s get digging.

Biggest Golf Moments of 2023 …
No. 15: Viktor Hovland’s arrival 
No. 14: Fowler, Day back in the winner’s circle 
No. 13: Brian Harman’s Open rout 
No. 12: The Michael Block Party 
No. 11: Wyndham Clark’s breakout 
No. 10: Lilia Vu’s rise 
No. 9: LIV Golf’s OWGR snub 
No. 8: The players regain control 
No. 7: Ciganda’s Spanish Solheim triumph 
No. 6: Tiger Woods’ 2023 return 
No. 5: Brooks Koepka’s PGA Championship triumph 

Biggest Golf Moments of 2023 No. 4: The Ryder Cup gets testy

The Ryder Cup is one of the game’s most beloved events, where the world’s best players from the U.S. and Europe come together across an ocean to play in a biennial match. No money is at stake, just pride — and the glory of camaraderie, sportsmanship and competition.

So much for all that malarkey, right?

Just kidding, of course, but observers of this year’s Ryder Cup in Rome certainly witnessed some questionable behavior, seemingly not entirely in line with the exhibition’s glowing ideals.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Team USA, despite a decades-long losing streak in Europe, did not appear to be the underdogs on paper. This looked like the year the Americans could win abroad. But an absolute shellacking from Team Europe in the opening foursomes session (4-0!) set the tone for the whole event: Team USA had dug itself a big hole, and it would take a monumental effort to climb out.

In the wake of Europe’s 6.5-1.5 lead after Day 1, the week’s first controversy erupted. Brooks Koepka was understandably irked when he and Scottie Scheffler halved their afternoon four-ball match to Jon Rahm and Nicolai Hojgaard, thanks to some late-match heroics — and passionate celebrations — from Rahm that electrified the gallery.

Rory McIlroy, Joe LaCava and Patrick Cantlay on the 18th green at Marco Simone.
The story behind Patrick Cantlay, ‘HatGate’ and a Ryder Cup gone mad
By: Dylan Dethier

Kopeka didn’t mince words in his post-match comments: “I mean, I think me and Scottie [Scheffler] birdied, what did we say, 14, we birdied 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and then lost by two. So yeah. I mean, I want to hit a board and pout just like Jon Rahm did. But, you know, it is what it is. Act like a child. But we’re adults. We move on.”

Act like a child. Ooooh, okay now! Let’s go!

On Day 2, more controversy: A report from Sky Sports’ Jamie Weir alleged that the U.S. team was ‘fractured’ by Patrick Cantlay’s displeasure about Ryder Cup players not being paid, and Cantlay was engaging in a silent protest by refusing to wear a team hat.

During Cantlay’s match, fans trolled him by waving their hats at him. Cantlay returned the gesture at crucial moments — and his caddie, Joe LaCava did too. Things came to a head — literally! — when Cantlay drained a long birdie putt on the 18th hole, a huge come-from-behind moment for the struggling U.S. team.

Celebrations ensued. Cantlay’s opponents, Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick, had putts to tie the match, but LaCava celebrated a little bit too long for their liking, resulting in some words being exchanged between McIlroy, LaCava and Team Europe’s Shane Lowry, who was watching the match.

All seemed okay when the match ended, with the players and caddies shaking hands and dispersing. But cameras later caught McIlroy shouting in the parking lot. It was unclear who his words were directed to, but Justin Thomas’ caddie Bones Mackay was in what appeared to be a mediator role, and the one taking the brunt of the McIlroy’s yelling, until McIlroy was ushered into his car and departed the scene.

Ultimately, Team Europe delivered a resounding defeat to the Americans, 16.5-11.5, on Sunday. In the aftermath of Europe’s victory, we learned that calls and apologies were made and tensions somewhat diffused. Though the pay controversy lives on, the 2023 Ryder Cup will remain infinitely memorable for its many instances of chippy behavior in Rome, the hat-waving saga being the ultimate coup de grâce.

As James Colgan so aptly wrote in his insider’s breakdown of the drama, the fireworks “ended a lifeless two days with one of the hottest moments in tournament history.”

And to that we say, bring on Bethpage 2025! Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on