Did Patrick Cantlay steal Rory McIlroy’s secret Ryder Cup weapon?
HAVEN, Wis. — First, he came for Rory McIlroy’s hometown.
Patrick Cantlay was a California kid, born and raised. He went to Servite High School in Anaheim, then to UCLA. He set up shop at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach. But in 2017 he moved cross-country to Jupiter, the home of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and yes — Rory McIlroy.
That in itself wasn’t much of an affront. McIlroy was fighting for World No. 1, while Cantlay began the year outside the top 1000. The under-the-radar Californian announced his PGA Tour arrival shortly thereafter, logging five top-10s and a victory that year. Still, he wouldn’t have even made Jupiter’s travel team, much less a U.S. Ryder Cup team.
When McIlroy and the rest of his neighbors headed to Paris to contest the 2018 Ryder Cup, Cantlay had just edged into the top 25 in the world. He tuned into the action to see a European blowout victory, sparked in spirit — if not actual points — by the hatless Northern Irishman.
Then Cantlay came for his trophy. Even as he’d made his U.S. team debut at the 2019 Presidents Cup, McIlroy had won the FedEx Cup (his second) and PGA Tour Player of the Year (his third). But in 2021, the Tour’s next complete season, Cantlay snapped up both those titles. He accepted the $15 million check that came along with winning the year-end Tour Championship.
A surprising twist came when Cantlay came for McIlroy’s microphone. Rory has long held the title as golf’s best press conference, but after his playoff win at the BMW Cantlay seized our attention with a monologue on Bryson DeChambeau, social media, the Player Impact Program and attention-seeking behavior. He backed it up at the Ryder Cup by comparing Team Europe’s dominant run to gin hands and a roulette wheel. Nobody saw it coming, but Cantlay had suddenly become a must-hear interview.
But the final affront came when Cantlay arrived in Wisconsin, checked out the American team’s gear and chose to take on Team Europe without a hat.
That’s right. Despite the sun protection, comfort and style values afforded by a Team USA hat, Cantlay chose to let it ride, au naturale.
Here’s the thing: Hatless Ryder Cups are McIlroy’s thing! He has a small head, so Team Europe’s lids never quite fit, which meant he took on the Americans every other year with his face out for all to see. It was part of his swashbuckling vibe, playing five sessions every time, never so much as donning a beanie in the cold.
Occasionally McIlroy would take some grief for his little head — a tradition that continued at this year’s team photo — but in all, the look seemed to work.
Before play this week, McIlroy was asked if we could expect to see him hatless as usual.
“They made some for me, so that’s a start,” he said. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s sort of become my thing in the Ryder Cup to not wear a hat, but I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Could that indecision have swung the 2021 Ryder Cup? Of course not! The entire premise of this article is ridiculous. One player choosing to wear a hat and another player choosing not to has absolutely nothing to do with a competition between the greatest golfers in the world. I think.
On the other hand…
McIlroy dabbled with the hat in practice and ultimately decided to stick with it. Why? It’s hard to say. Perhaps, knowing the trouble Team Europe went through to make him the hats, he felt an obligation to put them to use. (I once ran into a comparable dilemma when staying with family friends, who’d whipped up a banana creme pie in my honor. I despise bananas. What to do?!)
But Cantlay seemed clear-headed (groan) about his approach all week. He went hatless in practice. Hatless in the rain. Hatless in the cold. Hatless en route to a 5 and 3 opening victory and 2.5 points through three matches. McIlroy, by contrast, got drubbed twice on Friday and was benched for the first time in his Ryder Cup career on Saturday morning. Viktor Hovland tried to take up the no-hat mantle for Team Europe but also went winless in two sessions on Friday. By Saturday he’d put the cap back on, admitting defeat.
Cantlay, on the other hand, was feeling it. Midday Saturday, as he and partner Xander Schauffele finished off Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick in the morning session, there he was, jogging down the grandstand line, ginning up roars from the American crowd.
No-Hat Pat had officially arrived.
After two wins and a tie in three sessions, Cantlay — who hasn’t missed a putt in about two months — broke down the feeling in a brief session with reporters.
“I told myself, these are the putts you cannot miss because this is a pure momentum putt,” he said of one particularly nasty par save. “I buried it. And I went to the next hole and buried it again.”
That’s No-Hat Pat talking.
After his press conference, Golf Channel reporter Ryan Lavner flagged down Cantlay to ask the question on everyone’s mind. Why no hat?
Cantlay shrugged. He was on his way to lunch, a well-earned rest for the unlikely playing icon of Team USA. So he saved a lengthy answer for his next press conference and kept it decidedly simple:
“I’m going old-school.”