‘Joe overstepped’: Ryder Cup captain spills on Rory McIlroy-Joe LaCava dispute

Rory McIlroy and European captain Luke Donald walk and talk during the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome

Rory McIlroy and European captain Luke Donald walk and talk during the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald played a central role in his team’s victory over the U.S. in Rome this year. He also had a front-row seat to the biggest story from the 2023 Ryder Cup: the intense dispute between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay’s caddie, Joe LaCava.

To be clear, the McIlroy-LaCava dust-up is not Donald’s most lasting memory from his victorious captain’s debut. As he explained in a recent interview with The Times, he was surprised by how much the European captaincy “consumed” him, leading to dreams, and even nightmares, that continued long after the final matches concluded.

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But Donald’s revealing interview with The Times would not have been complete without a question about McIlroy and LaCava’s much-talked-about spat.

To review, at the end of a Saturday afternoon match between the U.S. team of Cantlay and Wyndham Clark against Europe’s McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick, Cantlay drained a lengthy birdie putt that would end up giving his team the win. The U.S. team erupted in celebration after the putt, waving their hats in the air to counter fan hecklers who had been doing so all day in response to a report claiming Cantlay refused to wear a U.S. team hat in protest of not getting paid to play.

Problem was, the match wasn’t over yet; McIlroy still had a birdie chance to tie the hole.

Among the Americans celebrating was LaCava, Cantlay’s caddie, who ventured close to McIlroy while the golfer was reading his putt — and before McIlroy had asked him to stop. That led to a shouting match between LaCava, McIlroy and other members of the European team gathered around the 18th green. The dispute continued later that night in the parking lot when Shane Lowry had to restrain McIlroy who was shouting at American caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay. During Sunday night’s winner’s press conference, McIlroy noted he texted Mackay the next morning, apologizing for taking out his frustrations on him.

When asked about the incident, Donald confirmed his opinion that LaCava was in the wrong, but also revealed that they intentionally avoided a make-up session on Sunday to use the fight as motivation on the final day of competition.

“Rory was upset, quite rightfully,” Donald told The Times, “These things happen at the Ryder Cup. It’s a passionate event. Joe overstepped the mark and tried to reach out after the fact and apologize but we just tried to use that as fuel for Sunday. I didn’t need to say much.”

At the time, early reports Sunday morning of the Ryder Cup suggested the two had met to squash their beef, but just after his Sunday singles match, McIlroy shot that idea down on live TV, saying the two had not met.

McIlroy went into more detail during the European team’s post-win press conference, and his comments jived with what Donald had to share this week: that LaCava was “disrespectful” but also that that kind of intensity is to be expected at the Ryder Cup.

“We felt like it was disrespectful. And it wasn’t just disrespectful to Fitz and I. It was disrespectful for the whole team,” McIlroy said about LaCava’s behavior on Saturday.

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“I get that we get the banter when we go over to the States and play and the same happens here,” McIlroy continued. “It’s just the way it is. It’s the way the Ryder Cup goes. And you have to have thick skin. That’s just the way it is.”

In his interview with The Times, Donald also shared some strong opinions about the controversy involving Cantlay and fellow American Xander Schauffele’s and whether Ryder Cup players should be paid. Based on his comments, Donald is firmly in the play-for-free camp.

“It’s one week where you play for more than yourself, not about money or points, it’s about coming together as a team and the fans feed off that — it’s all passion,” Donald told The Times. “I don’t think we should ever get paid. If you play well, you can get paid in other ways. Your brand will go up exponentially and certain people will have bonuses in their contracts, but if you want to keep the essence and history of the Ryder Cup, it needs to stay the same.”

The next iteration of the Ryder Cup is just under two years away. And with Bethpage Black in New York playing host, the 2025 edition is expected to be more intense than ever. Tiger Woods could captain the American side, and there’s a good chance Donald will be back to lead Team Europe once again.

“It would be an amazing challenge,” Donald admitted to The Times, “but I still need to sit down with my family and decide because it’s a big ask.”

Kevin Cunningham

Kevin Cunningham

Golf.com Editor

As managing producer for GOLF.com, Cunningham edits, writes and publishes stories on GOLF.com, and manages the brand’s e-newsletters, which reach more than 1.4 million subscribers each month. A former two-time intern, he also helps keep GOLF.com humming outside the news-breaking stories and service content provided by our reporters and writers, and works with the tech team in the development of new products and innovative ways to deliver an engaging site to our audience.

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