Rory McIlroy’s hidden-camera parking lot skirmish sparks Ryder Cup drama

Rory Mcilroy ryder cup

Rory McIlroy was seen in a heated exchange following an awkward finish to Saturday at the Ryder Cup.

Live From the Ryder Cup

ROME — Around 6 p.m. local time Saturday this Ryder Cup was a blowout bordering on boring. But now? It’s a rocket ship going somewhere we don’t know. Who lit the fuse? There are several answers to that question. 

There was the report from Sky Sports that alleges Patrick Cantlay isn’t wearing a hat this week to protest players not being paid to compete, to which Cantlay said his hat just doesn’t fit well. There was the overwhelming spectator response to the report, which was thousands of European fans waving hats in the air as Cantlay passed them by. There was the ridiculous putt Cantlay made on 18, and his caddie Joe LaCava’s reaction, which was to emphatically wave his own hat at the 18th grandstand and then infringe upon Rory McIlroy’s playing space. 

All that was relatively mild in comparison to what this devolved into: McIlroy caught on camera in a shouting match in the Marco Simone parking lot Saturday evening. 

Confused? You’re not alone. Here’s how the tension reached a boiling point at this Ryder Cup.

The initial report, from Jamie Weir of Sky Sports, surrounded the idea that Cantlay has been a thorn in the team room this week, and that he was the only American not wearing a hat as a form of protest. Sam Burns said, “I didn’t know it was such a big deal to not wear a hat.” Ryder Cup competitors don’t get paid to compete, but rather receive money to donate to charity in their name, which according to the report, Cantlay takes issue with. Word of the story spread quickly around Marco Simone, and by the time Cantlay’s afternoon match reached the back nine, most spectators wore their hats in their hands rather than on their heads, chanting:

Hats offfff,

To your bank account.

Hats offfff,

To your bank account. 

Cantlay seemed nonplussed, birdieing the 16th and 17th, and encouraging the fans to keep it up. It was the last match of the day and, by the time the group arrived on the 18th green, the entire property leaned in their direction. Cantlay’s teammates were huddled just off the green, waving their hats at the crowd, too. The man of the hour — better yet, the day — then miraculously made a 43-footer for his birdie turkey, sending the American hats into the sky again. 

Cantlay’s caddie, LaCava, found himself waving his own hat in the center of the green, soaking up the moment near McIlroy, who had begun to move on, reading what remained of his own birdie putt, and now hoping for a halved match. McIlroy asked LaCava to move aside. That’s where everyone’s interpretation of the situation begins to differ.

“Talked to Rory,” Euro captain Luke Donald explained later. “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.” 

He was. Both McIlroy and his partner, Matt Fitzpatrick, missed their birdies, guaranteeing an American victory and a Sunday deficit of five points. Unsurprisingly, the chants turned in that direction. 

Hats offffff, 

if you’re five points up!

Hats offfff, 

if you’re nine points up!

There was a tense exchange of words between LaCava and Shane Lowry, during which LaCava clearly shared his disgust with whatever Lowry was saying from off the green. But from afar it was difficult to discern what was playing out in front of thousands. The teams each huddled together, with a little intermixing outweighed by a lot more confusion. Eventually, they departed on their own, with six victorious Americans conducting a press conference and everyone else disappearing into the clubhouse.

As darkness and quiet quickly enveloped the property, players, caddies and their families began to file out. Marco Simone is a swanky place but everyone is staying off-site this week, about 30 minutes away. And while players are largely kept behind closed doors for much of the week, their exit was not concealed from NBC cameras, one of which caught McIlroy in a heated exchange over what took place on 18. As you can see in the video below, McIlroy points and shouts in a spirited manner multiple times.

According to a report from Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard, McIlroy’s words were: “This can’t happen. This can’t happen. That’s a disgrace.” Lip-readers can decide for themselves if McIlroy added an expletive somewhere in there. 

The recipient of McIlroy’s rage, to this point, remains unknown. Directly in front of McIlroy was Jim “Bones” Mackay, Justin Thomas’ caddie, but McIlroy is clearly shouting at someone in the distance, off screen. The clip, which played as part of Live From the Ryder Cup, cuts away before anything further is revealed. McIlroy was so animated that he had to be restrained by Lowry, who helped tuck him into the courtesy car before shrugging to Mackay and piling in on the other side.

To all of the above, there are questions galore. Perhaps by Sunday night they’ll all get answered. But until Sunday morning we are left with the two men at the head of this Ryder Cup, which has suddenly become extremely tense: captains Zach Johnson and Luke Donald. Their messaging was similar and different at the same time. Donald visited with the press first. His team is up five points entering the Sunday singles, but he never smiled once.

“Look, we love this event because of the passion, but we want to do it the right way,” Donald said. “Obviously Rory felt like the line was crossed on the 18th green. Again, I will address it with him when I see him. I wasn’t there personally in the car park, but when I get back I will talk with him.”

But did Donald himself think a line was crossed? “As I said in my speech, we always try and play with passion, play with energy, but play with respect. That will certainly be my message to the players.”

Zach Johnson, by contrast, arrived with quite a bit of pep. Finally, his team had won a session, closing out Saturday afternoon 3-1 to give themselves a chance. He had spoken with LaCava in the 90 minutes between Cantlay’s putt and his press conference. According to Johnson, the situation was “diffused.”

“I mean, to my knowledge, it was diffused,” Johnson said, when pressed for detail. “I spoke with Joe after, and he said he talked to Rory and it was all good. That’s all I know.”

Could he have missed the parking-lot sequence that was tearing through social media?

“I’m aware of something happening,” he said. “I don’t know what transpired specifically. I do know that Joe was not a part of that. That’s what I was told.

“Is that fair? I don’t know.”

With that, it was on to new topics, like his team’s health, his decisions as captain and if he thinks a comeback of record proportions is possible. Whatever Saturday evening was at the Ryder Cup will live on beyond this week. In a major way for the next 24 hours, and maybe in an even bigger way contingent upon how Sunday goes.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Sean Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just published his first book, which follows his travels in Scotland during the most pivotal summer in the game’s history.

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