OLIVER HOLT: Watching Cantlay defiance was a privilege

OLIVER HOLT: Pantomime villain Patrick Cantlay was subject to the kind of crowd behaviour that makes you wince – and felt very close to crossing a line – but watching his defiance against Justin Rose was a privilege

  • USA star Patrick Cantlay was the very epitome of grace under pressure 
  • Caddie Joe LaCava was roundly booed when he walked on to the first tee 
  • Europe won the Ryder Cup with dominant 16½-11½ win victory over USA 

An angry man wearing a bucket hat coloured in European blue and yellow waved a bank note at Patrick Cantlay as he walked to the eighth green on Sunday. ‘Here you go, Patrick,’ he yelled as the American and his caddie, Joe LaCava, walked past. ‘I’ll give you a few dollars, mate, if you need it that badly.’

Cantlay smiled and carried on as best he could. Hundreds of people in the stand were on their feet, waving their caps at him because a television reporter had suggested on Twitter/X that Cantlay had refused to wear his hat this week to protest against the fact that players are not paid to play in the Ryder Cup, a suggestion Cantlay insisted was false.

‘Hats off for your bank account,’ they sang. Another group of European fans broke into a chorus of Abba’s Money, Money, Money. Others sang the lyrics from Jessie J’s Price Tag. And when Cantlay, world No 5, smote his drive down the ninth fairway, another comedian in the gallery yelled: ‘That’s the money-shot, Patrick.’

Maybe it is a debate for another day but the question of whether players should be paid to play in the Ryder Cup makes for an interesting argument, even if the nuances of it appeared to be lost on most of the supporters here as they paid €20 (£17) for a burger and €4 (£3.50) for a bottle of water. And that was the cheap end of the food and drink.

Forget some of the misty-eyed rhetoric surrounding the event: it is one of the most intensely commercialised, ruthlessly money-making, sponsor-led sporting occasions anywhere. Players seeking some remuneration for it does not seem entirely unreasonable.

USA star Patrick Cantlay was the very epitome of grace under pressure on Sunday

Nor did LaCava escape attention. He had been involved in an ugly row with Rory McIlroy on Saturday evening when he waved his own cap to give the European supporters a taste of their own medicine after Cantlay had sunk a crucial putt on the 18th.

LaCava compounded that by standing in McIlroy’s line and then remonstrating with him. Later on Saturday evening, footage emerged of McIlroy shouting abuse at another US caddie — Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay — in the players’ car park, which ramped up the animosity towards LaCava even more.

The PGA of America requested extra security for Cantlay and LaCava during the singles match with Justin Rose. Two members of the Carabinieri shadowed them all afternoon.

LaCava was roundly booed when he walked on to the first tee. As he walked up the fairway with his player, someone shouted ‘scumbag’ at him. LaCava kept walking.

And when Cantlay missed a putt on the 12th to lose the hole, a Yorkshire voice accosted LaCava as he walked past on his way to the 13th tee. ‘You’re not waving your hat now, are you Joe,’ the man said.

The baiting was relentless. Cantlay, who has been criticised for his slow play before, was the butt of more jokes for that. ‘Hurry up, Patrick,’ another English voice shouted out as he lined up a putt on the 10th green, ‘I’ve got a plane to catch tomorrow.’

Fans wave their caps after reports Cantlay refused to wear his hat in protest at not being paid

So you get the picture. That is what it was like walking around with the pantomime villains of the USA team on a blazing hot Sunday as they fought and fought against the inevitable European victory in this 44th Ryder Cup.

And the truth is, it was a privilege to watch Cantlay play. It was a privilege to watch his defiance in the face of overwhelming odds and the ridicule of the crowd. It was a privilege to watch the standard of the golf he played and to witness how he conducted himself.

There were times when it was hard to see the way he was treated. It was the kind of behaviour that makes you wince. The Ryder Cup is about the passion and the crowds, sure, but the way Cantlay was barracked felt very close to crossing a line. It also emerged later that Cantlay is getting married on Monday.

Xander Schauffele’s father said the reason he was not wearing a cap was because he did not want his wedding photos to be ruined by the classic golfer’s tan line across the top of his face.

If that is the case, it makes the treatment that was meted out to him in the hills above Rome even more regrettable.

He was the very epitome of grace under pressure, particularly as he remains adamant that the story that excited the animosity of the fans towards him was ‘totally unfounded’. He continued to smile at those who abused him. He got on with his job of taking down one of the European heroes.

Cantlay’s caddie Joe LaCava was roundly booed when he walked on to the first tee

Cantlay is a thoughtful, decent man, who answered the stream of questions about his hat with a certain amount of bemusement but with unfailing good grace. And he was the anchor for an American rally that gave the Europeans some anxious moments before they got over the line in the late afternoon yesterday.

He had played some stunning golf on Saturday evening to turn around the fourballs match that had pitched him and his playing partner, Wyndham Clark, against McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick and yesterday afternoon, he picked up where he had left off.

Going out in the third match of the day Cantlay took the lead with a birdie putt on the second hole but, for the next hour, his name provided the only splash of American red on the leader-board. For what seemed the longest time, he was surrounded by a sea of blue. Europe led in five of the first six matches.

In the circumstances, Cantlay’s focus and courage was remarkable. ‘It’s been a crazy 24 hours,’ he admitted later. He kept the USA standard flying when all hope seemed lost and, gradually, other players began to rally to it. More and more red began to appear the longer the afternoon wore on.

Cantlay and Rose both played some superb golf and as the crowd became more and more partisan and agitated and Rose became more and more pumped up, the Englishman fought his way back into the game. Cantlay’s lead fell from three up to one up.

When Cantlay walked down the 16th fairway, Fred Couples, one of golf’s greats and one of Zach Johnson’s vice-captains here, put his arm around Cantlay’s shoulder and walked with him, muttering words of encouragement to him as they approached the green.

When Couples peeled away, Cantlay was left with the final few yards to the putting surface and was met, as he had been met for the last four hours, with the sight of thousands of caps being waved in the air, thousands of people trying to get into his head, thousands of people trying to unsettle him, thousands of people trying to mock him.

Cantlay and Justin Rose both played some superb golf during their singles match on Sunday

When experts talk about a sportsman’s mental strength, this is what they mean. And Cantlay proved his. When everything seemed to be closing in on him, he held his nerve and he saw it through. He holed a 15-foot putt on the 17th to win the game and finish two up. It was the USA’s first win of the day. It gave them hope.

In the end, the miracle comeback was frustrated but Cantlay’s performance summed up something about this American team.

In the end, they were not humiliated. They did not fracture, as they had done at Gleneagles in 2014.

‘Our boys fought like madmen,’ Johnson said later. And no one — no one — fought harder than Patrick Cantlay.

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