Hatless at the Ryder Cup, Patrick Cantlay sent a strong message about the art of the deal
By Michael Bamberger
The most valuable real estate in golf, not counting actual real estate, like the roughly 150 oceanfront acres of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, used to be Tiger’s golf bag. On his bag, at various times, he sold Titleist golf clubs, Buicks, Fuse Science’s “science” and anything Nike. Agents are always looking for a sponsor or three for a player’s golf bag. In Tiger’s prime, Mark Steinberg’s job was easier than most.
While they’re at it, agents sell their player’s hat, the forehead panel of it, right above the brim. They sell the player’s shoes, his bag, the clubs in it of course. The chest and collar of the player’s shirt, his sleeves, if they can. You can get some good coin for a prime-time sleeve. Hey, it’s professional golf. It’s a TV show.
Do you think Phil Mickelson wears a Rolex on his right wrist while playing because it helps him shoot lower scores? Make hay while the sun is shining. It’s been shining on Phil for 30-plus years.
The beauty of Ryder Cup golf is that it is not a commercial enterprise. (That’s rich!) All right, I hear you: In theory, and by quaint tradition, Ryder Cup golf is not primarily a commercial enterprise. But of course it is.
If you watched the NBC Sports Ryder Cup broadcast on Saturday, you got to see Kevin Bacon and his daughter sell Hyundais, Derek Jeter and wife sell Grand Wagoneers, David Feherty and his goatee sell Dick’s sporting goods. That’s OK. Broadcasting a tournament is not an act of charity.
We’re getting there, we’re getting there, Patrick Cantlay’s—
First, though, you most likely want to know about the hats the European players wore on Saturday. On the front panel, they bore the emblem of the Ryder Cup, the wee trophy in its center, their team name, EUROPE, underneath it. Very appropriate.
The American players, 11 of the 12, anyway, wore navy hats with small rectangular American flags on the front panel. Totally appropriate.
OK, about Patrick Cantlay’s hat and Patrick Cantlay. He was the lone man out. “The hatless one,” as the broadcaster Brad Faxon called Cantlay as he stood on the 16th tee surrounded by Rome.
Cantlay has, at times in his 11-year professional career, worn a Titleist hat. Playing twice in the Presidents Cup, he wore team hats. For a while, his hat on the PGA Tour bore the name MARCUS. It’s a Goldman Sachs product, but nobody was getting the reference so the finance company put a new hat on him, one that read GOLDMAN SACHS. (Marcus Goldman founded the firm.) You’re not likely to see that old name of American finance for much longer. Deals come and go, for all players not named Gene Sarazen. Sarazen was with Wilson for 75 years.
Two years ago, at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, Cantlay did not wear a hat. Yes, going hatless was and is some kind of protest move, and I would say a weird one. Like everyone else, I’ve heard independently that Cantlay is making a statement about his teammates and him not getting paid to play. It really doesn’t make sense. Of the team-issued headwear, he said, “It just doesn’t fit.” That makes no sense. The PGA of America, proud sponsors of the American team, makes a $200,000 donation for each player, to the charity of his choice. In 2021, the number was $100,000 and Cantlay’s designated charity was the Patrick Cantlay Foundation, which supports junior golf and first responders. Good for him, and for them.
Cantlay made remarkable, must-make putts on 16, 17 and 18 while playing with Wyndham Clark on Saturday afternoon to secure a 1-up win over Matthew Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy. The last of them was a 43-footer. He tipped his imaginary cap. His putting game speaks for itself. The fact he doesn’t bring in his caddie (Joe LaCava) or his playing partner to help with reads tells you something. His hatless head speaks volumes, too. He’s going to do his own thing.
Cantlay made a hat trick of birdies, Dan Hicks of NBC said. This 44th Ryder Cup has a surprising amount of emotion attached to it, given the lopsided score after two periods, 10.5-5.5. Playoff hockey. Paddy Ice.
I’m just following it on TV, like millions of other golf fans. I believe the underlying emotion stems from LIV Golf’s incursion into professional golf. The Ryder Cup, going back to Seve’s first appearance in 1979, has always been the European Tour versus the PGA Tour. That is, the tour you grew up watching or rooting for. Nobody is going to say that the PGA Tour’s handling of the LIV threat to the Tour was out of the Harvard Business School manual. Professional golf is in a chaotic state. The European Tour doesn’t even exist anymore, not in name, not in spirit. But the 12 European players, and their captain, Luke Donald, grew up on Seve, on Sergio, on let’s-stick-it-to-them. Them, of course, is the PGA Tour.
If there is going to be a deal between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the PGA Tour’s 12-person board must approve it by simple majority vote. That board now has 11 members, after the July resignation of Randall Stephenson, the former CEO of AT&T. These board votes are almost always unanimous. I don’t believe this one will be. The player directors are Cantlay, McIlroy, Woods, Charley Hoffman, Peter Malnati and Webb Simpson.
I don’t believe McIlroy’s interests necessarily align with Malnati’s. Ditto for Woods and Hoffman.
If the top of Patrick Cantlay’s head at the Ryder Cup in Rome showed us something beyond the top of Patrick Cantlay’s head, it is this: When it comes to this board vote that will change the essence of professional golf, he will not fall in line. He’s good at putting lines. Falling in line, not as much.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]
Michael Bamberger was briefly a caddie on the PGA and European Tours, invented a golf club (the E-Club) that Lee Trevino used in his final British Open, spent 22 years as a writer at Sports Illustrated and joined the Firepit Collective in May 2022.
email: [email protected]