The Truth About Hatgate Finally Comes Out
Patrick Cantlay’s unguarded remark on the first tee on Friday morning contradicts the dishonest statements he made over Ryder Cup weekend
By Michael Bamberger
October 7, 2023
On the Friday morning of the 2023 Ryder Cup, Patrick Cantlay emerged from a temporary tunnel underneath the first-tee bleachers and into the bright sunshine of Rome on a warm September day. He was not wearing a hat. Normally, he plays golf in a hat, but HatGate, as a buzz word of the 44th Ryder Cup, did not yet exist.
“No hat?” Steve Sands, the veteran NBC Sports reporter and interviewer, said upon seeing Cantlay.
Cantlay was in the fourth and last group of the morning session, playing with his regular wingman, Xander Schauffele. They are both Californians who do not seem to crave the spotlight. Cantlay was wearing the same dark blue pants and dark blue shirt with horizontal stripes as his 11 American teammates. The only thing missing was the official team cap, a blue-and-white trucker hat with the letters USA on the panel above the brim. It wasn’t like he forgot to put it on.
The bleachers were stuffed with 5,000 fans. The perimeter of the first tee was crowded with dozens of Ryder Cup officials, caddies and players and assistant captains, camera operators and photographers and media members, Steve Sands among them.
Sands (below) enjoys a good rapport and a casual ease with scores of PGA Tour players, and Cantlay, 31, an eight-time Tour winner, is among them. Cantlay did not blow him off.
“I’ll wear a hat when I’m paid to be here like he is,” Cantlay said. He motioned in the direction of Julius Mason, a longtime PGA of America public relations executive, standing in the vicinity.
Cantlay’s response to Sands was shared with me by three Americans who were at this year’s Ryder Cup in different official capacities. (I was not there.) There were slight variations in the exact wording of Cantlay’s response. In one version, for instance, Mason was cited by name. But there was no material differences in what he was quoted as saying as he walked on to the first tee.
That offhanded comment by Cantlay became more telling and meaningful when Jamie Weir, a prolific reporter for Sky Sports, a European sports broadcasting company, wrote this on Twitter on Ryder Cup Saturday: “Understand from several sources that the US team room is fractured, a split led predominantly by Patrick Cantlay. Cantlay believes players should be paid to participate in the Ryder Cup, and is demonstrating his frustration at not being paid by refusing to wear a team cap.”
At the end of play on Saturday, Sands asked Cantlay, in a live greenside interview, why he was not wearing a hat. “It just doesn’t fit,” Cantlay said. He laughed briefly and continued. “I didn’t wear it [at the 2021 Ryder Cup] at Whistling Straits because the hat just doesn’t fit. That’s really all it is.”
Cantlay’s use of the word fit was open to parsing. Did that mean it didn’t align with a core belief that professional golfers should get paid to play golf? Whatever he meant by it, HatGate was in full swing. It was a gift to the fans at the Ryder Cup, the first played in Italy. All during Cantlay’s play on Saturday, and again on Sunday, spectators mocked him for his no-pay, no-hat stance.
In response, Cantlay pantomimed a doffing of a make-believe cap. It was an odd gesture, but Ryder Cup golf produces a lot of odd moments, including one by Joe LaCava, Cantlay’s caddie, when he disrupted Rory McIlroy as the European golf star was reading a putt on the final green near sunset on Saturday. LaCava was waving his hat.
The next afternoon, at the conclusion of Cantlay’s win in Sunday’s singles over Justin Rose, Sands, in a live interview, asked Cantlay again about the “money” issue and by implication Weir’s tweet, which made the whole absurd affair public to millions of sports fans across the world. But Weir’s tweet also made a few Ryder Cup insiders reconsider Cantlay’s Friday morning comment on the first tee to Sands.
“It’s totally false,” Cantlay told Sands and the NBC Sports audience, reported to be 1.4 million viewers on Saturday. “It couldn’t be further from the truth. There hasn’t been one word of [team division] all week. The U.S. team has been close all week. It’s just outright lies. Not a shred of truth in the article that just one journalist wrote. It’s crazy that one journalist can put a tweet out there, totally unfounded, with complete lies.”
Sands, reached for comment on Friday, said he could not comment publicly on a private exchange with the golfer.
Mason (below), the PGA of America official, said on Friday that he had not heard about Cantlay’s exchange with Sands.
Mark O’Meara, David Duval and other American players raised the issue of Ryder Cup players being paid in 1999. As a result of their campaign, the PGA of America, owners of the American side of the Ryder Cup, began donating to charities in the name of the American players.
This year, the PGA of America made 12 separate donations of $200,000 to a charity chosen by each player. Cantlay, playing in the Ryder Cup for the second time, chose for the money to go to the Patrick Cantlay Foundation, which supports junior golf and first responder programs.
Cantlay is a member of the PGA Tour’s board of directors, which will decide whether the PGA Tour, a separate organization from the PGA of America, will accept a massive investment from the Saudi Arabian PIF investment fund and become business partners. The PIF is the funding source for LIV Golf. Cantlay has been coy about his potential interest in LIV Golf.
Cantlay is noted for being skeptical by nature, a contemplative golfer and business person who thinks for himself and keeps to himself. Few would call him charismatic. Still, he managed to pick up a $2 million bonus last year from the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program for his 19th-place finish in the program, a glorified popularity contest which pays to 20 spots. Tiger Woods finished first in the PIP ranking, earning $15 million. Rory McIlroy finished second, earning $12 million.
PGA Tour players are accustomed to selling commercial products on their hats. Over the past decade, at different times, Cantlay has played wearing hats bearing the name Titleist, Marcus (a Goldman Sachs product) and, most recently, Goldman Sachs itself.
It is possible that, two years ago at Whistling Straits, Cantlay was beginning his protest against the PGA of America. It is also possible, though it seems unlikely, that he simply did not want to wear a hat at the Wisconsin event. Last year, when he played in his first Presidents Cup, an event run by the PGA Tour, Cantlay did wear a hat.
Cantlay and his fiancé, Nikki Guidish, were married on Monday, the day after the Ryder Cup, in Rome.
A spokesman for Cantlay, Preston Valder, said in a text on Friday that “the hat stuff is completely false so there’s nothing further to add here outside of it being a fictitious story.”
But Cantlay’s unguarded show-me-the-money hat comment more than suggests that the pay-to-wear issue is not “completely false,” as Valder said. Cantlay’s use of the phrase “outright lies,” in connection to this petty contretemps, also seems to be a wildly inaccurate and unfair claim.
Mason, one of the most even-tempered and well-liked executives in men’s professional golf, noted that his greatest disappointment from this year’s Ryder Cup was that the American team did not come home with the Ryder Cup trophy. Mason’s first Ryder Cup for the PGA of America was in 1993, at the Belfry in England. Some American players wore a hat that year, some a visor, some wore no hat at all. One player, Payne Stewart, wore a Hogan-style British racing cap, consistent with the style he often wore in PGA Tour events. The Americans won, 15-13. It was the last time the Americans have won a Ryder Cup in Europe.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]
In 1994, Alan wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated as a 21 year-old intern, and in the ensuing quarter-century he typed two dozen more. He is the author of eight books, including best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees; The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger); and Phil. Shipnuck has won 13 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, breaking the record of Dan Jenkins, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Alan lives in Carmel, Cal.