The 2023 Ryder Cup was filled with great shots and clutch putts, but the most memorable theater came when Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay's caddie, Joe LaCava, exchanged words on the 18th green Saturday afternoon. Containment on the competition was lost as LaCava mixed it up with Shane Lowry, among others, after facing McIlroy and walking off the green.
The soap opera continued into the clubhouse. Footage was captured of Lowry restraining McIlroy and pushing him into a car in order to remove the 34-year-old from a heated exchange with Justin Thomas' caddie, Jim "Bones" MacKay.
Since taking some time to breathe and think about the situation, McIlroy spoke on the drama that unfolded at Marco Simone in an interview with the Irish Independent.
"Here's what angered me," McIlroy said. "My relationship with Cantlay is average at best. We don't have a ton in common and see the world quite differently.
"But when I saw he was getting stick on the 17th and 18th greens, I tried to quiet the crowd for him. And I don't think Fitz [Matt Fitzpatrick, McIlroy's playing partner] and I were afforded the same opportunity to try and hole those putts to halve the match. I shook Joe's hand, and Patrick's hand. Those three putts he made on 16, 17 and 18 were fantastic, and under that pressure, to give your team a glimmer of hope going into Sunday was big balls. So all respect to him."
Cantlay came up clutch for the U.S. side with three straight birdies to flip the anchor match from a European flag to an American flag. The visiting team faced a five-point deficit heading into Sunday singles. Following Cantlay's final birdie on the 18th hole, LaCava enjoyed a stroll around the putting surface and waved his hat in the air to mock the European faithful who needled Cantlay the entire afternoon. McIlroy took exception to the longevity of LaCava's saunter and the proximity to the Northern Irishman who still faced a putt to tie the match.
"There was a bit of argy-bargy at the back of the 18th green with Fred Couples and Thomas Bjorn -- and that's fine -- but as I'm walking back to the locker room I can feel this red mist coming over me. 'No! That wasn't right.'"
Players and members from both sides aimed to calm tensions, but emotions remained high when McIlroy saw MacKay outside the clubhouse. Getting into a screaming match, McIlroy was forced into a courtesy car by his fellow European to avoid any additional skirmishes.
"He's coming over to try and defuse the situation but he's wearing an American top, and I know he's friends with Joe, and I just tripped," McIlroy said. "Complete rage. I felt bad about it afterwards because Bones' wife was standing beside him, and I used a lot of swear words. So not my finest moment. Then Shane bundled me into the car."
McIlroy and LaCava's relationship was not born that evening at Marco Simone. The former bag man for Tiger Woods, LaCava has been right there as McIlroy and Woods' friendship has blossomed. In May 2023, LaCava received the blessing from the 15-time major champion to jump on Cantlay's bag as Woods' playing days have dwindled.
"LaCava used to be a nice guy when he was caddying for Tiger [Woods] and now he's caddying for that d--- [Cantlay]. He's turned into an a--," McIlroy said.
McIlroy confirmed Woods tried to intervene that night. While not in Rome at the time, the 47-year-old messaged McIlroy to defuse the situation given his ties to both men.
"There was also three texts and two missed calls from Tiger because they're obviously still close," McIlroy said. "I sent him a quick message: 'It will be fine -- long day -- just want to go to bed.'"