Rory McIlroy gets philosophical during Ryder Cup controversy, leads Europeans to victory

Photo: Associated Press

ROME – When it became a foregone conclusion that the European team had clinched the 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, Rory McIlroy went galloping down the 18th fairway to celebrate with teammate Shane Lowry. The burly Irishman’s match was still to be decided but he squatted and lifted McIlroy in his arms as if a catcher and pitcher celebrating a World Series victory.

Sporting a five-point lead heading into Sunday Singles, Team Europe allowed things to get interesting for a hot second before reclaiming the Ryder Cup by a final score of 16 ½ – 11 ½. In the baking heat of the Eternal City, a partisan crowd broke into a chorus of Ole! Ole! Ole! And McIroy joined in the singing, “Champione! Champione! Champione!” Before long, he popped open a bottle of champagne, took a swig and relished in victory.

Less than 24 hours earlier, after losing a four-ball match, McIlroy was as mad as he’s ever been coming off the golf course. American Patrick Cantlay had drained a 43-foot birdie putt at 18 to flip the match and his caddie Joe LaCava waved his hat and interrupted McIlroy’s preparation to attempt a putt to tie the hole. McIlroy’s anger spilled out into the car park. He was headed for the U.S. locker room to tell them that LaCava’s conduct was a disgrace when he came across American caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay and had to be restrained by Lowry, who forced him into a car headed to the team hotel.

“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” McIlroy said of Mackay. “I texted Bones this morning and apologized for that.”

2023 Ryder Cup

Joe LaCava, caddie for American Patrick Cantlay, gestures with his cap on the 18th green during the Saturday afternoon fourball matches at the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome, Italy. (Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Video of the incident went viral on social media. McIlroy said Lowry made sure he cooled off back at the hotel, dunking himself in a cold plunge.

But the person who may deserve the most credit for turning McIlroy’s frown upside down has been dead for centuries. On the way to the course, McIlroy, who is a student of Stoicism, read some of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD and a Stoic philosopher.

“Seeing that we are in Rome, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of his thoughts,” McIlroy said. “Humility and gentleness are better virtues than being frustrated and angry. I had to let it out but then I had to reset.”

It all started with “Hat-gate,” after a social media posting reported “a fracture” in the U.S. team locker room. Sky Sports’ Jamie Weir cited sources as saying Patrick Cantlay was protesting that players aren’t paid to play in the Ryder Cup – though they do receive a $200,000 donation to a charity of their choice – by not wearing a hat. Cantlay refuted the report as false, but the fans let him have it anyway, waving their hats at every chance, singing, “Patrick, Patrick, where’s your hat?” Another fan yelled, “Come work with me at the factory. We get paid by the hour.”

Cantlay took it all in stride and acknowledged the jabs and wisecracks with a smile and a thumbs up like a politician. The stunning reversal of his match in the gloaming on Saturday gave the U.S. side a glimmer of hope of making a comeback from a 10 ½ – 5 ½ deficit. But the incident with caddie Joe LaCava also served as fuel to the European side to give no mercy.

“I didn’t let it take away from what’s been a fantastic week. I used that little incident last night to my advantage,” McIlroy said. “I think what transpired in that last green, it gave us a little bit of a fire in our bellies to try and get the job done today.”

2023 Ryder Cup

Rory McIlroy of Team Europe celebrates winning his match 3 and &1 on the 17th green during the Sunday singles matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on October 01, 2023 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

McIlroy did his part defeating Sam Burns 3 & 1, capping off a record of 4-1, most points scored by any player and his best showing in seven Ryder Cups. McIlroy, John Rahm and Viktor Hovland – Europe’s big three – combined for a record of 9-2-3. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who tied with Rahm on Sunday, went 0-2-1. The U.S. captain’s picks were a pitiful 4-12-4.

Two years ago, McIlroy broke down in tears on Saturday after losing his third straight match and was benched for the afternoon session. His emotions showed how much he cared for the event. But what was it that hurt the most about the team’s defeat at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin?

“The score line, 19-9. That hurt. It really did,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I gave my best performance, and I didn’t feel like I did my part for the team. And you know, there was a few of us up here that were on that team that wanted to come back, and everyone at the start of the week was talking about, oh, do you want to get revenge, do you want to get revenge on the U.S. Team, and this wasn’t about revenge. This was about redemption and showing what we could do.”

2023 Ryder Cup

Team Europe captain Luke Donald and Team Europe celebrates with the Ryder Cup trophy after beating Team USA during the final day of the 44th Ryder Cup golf competition at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club. (Photo: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports)

The victory on the rolling hills of Marco Simone, a mere 10 miles from the famed Colosseum wasn’t built in a day. European Captain Luke Donald built a plan that depended heavily on data analytics and his decision to start the first two sessions with foursomes (alternate shot) helped the Euros open a commanding lead.

“Not many people gave us a chance, I don’t think, especially two years ago,” Donald said. “Yeah, well, we proved them wrong.”

During a team scouting trip to Marco Simone, the team bonded around the fire pit.

“I got to know things about these guys,” McIlroy said. “I thought I knew them for a long time, but I got to know something different about them.”

This was supposed to be the year the American side finally won on European soil for the first time in 30 years. They planned to take advantage of a transition year for the Euros, who were going through a youth movement led by the 23-year-old hotshot Ludvig Aberg and 22-year-old Nicolai Hojgaard. The Euros proved to be more than capable of holding serve at home.

Hovland, one of two players to play all five matches for Team Europe, put the first point on the board for Donald’s team. Europe reached 14 ½ points to win back the cup after Tommy Fleetwood drove the green on the drivable par-4 16th and Rickie Fowler hit it in the water. After Fleetwood knocked his eagle putt to 2 feet, 8 inches, Fowler conceded the birdie putt to give Europe the half point needed to win.

It marked the eighth time in the last nine playings of the biennial event that the home team has won. The next Ryder Cup will be held in New York at Bethpage Black. Asked if home-field advantage has become too big of a deal in the Ryder Cup, McIlroy said, “So I’ve said this for the last probably six or seven years to anyone that will listen: I think one of the biggest accomplishments in golf right now is winning an away Ryder Cup. And that’s what we’re going to do at Bethpage.”

Then he pounded the table with his fist and his teammates cheered as McIlroy smiled the smile of a man already contemplating his next victory.

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