With all due respect to the SEC, college football is college football no matter what. But for golf, the Ryder Cup is different, it really does mean more to both sides than individual events.
As big as the event is, it means different things to different people. Player after player has said that it was the right move to postpone this year’s event due to COVID, that it just wouldn’t be the same without fans.
For the players, the Ryder Cup is a return to their roots, bringing back the team aspects of high school and college golf as well as amateur team events like the Walker Cup. For the fans, it’s a chance to spur their country to victory, to unite under one flag.
With the event back on US soil, the American team is hoping the home crowd can help them take back the cup.
“It's a huge advantage to play in front of your home crowd, and it's also what makes the event so special,” Justin Thomas said. “It would have been a shame to play this without fans or even with very, very limited fans. This is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, and it's a huge deal for the PGA. It's a big deal for us.”
Most Tour players speak broadly, they keep their answers general as if they are guarding state secrets. But at an event where personalities are more important than ever, a player who is more open with their thoughts speaks volumes—especially if that player is the PGA Tour Player of the Year.
We learned a lot about Cantlay’s golf game during the FedEx Cup Playoffs. We watched him drain clutch putt after clutch putt to win a marathon playoff over Bryson DeChambeau at the BMW Championship. And we saw him hold up under the pressure and win the FedEx Cup at East Lake.
Even after winning some of the biggest tournaments in golf, players are often hesitant to let the outside world into their bubble. Cantlay had been one of the game’s best for several years, but his recent success allowed us a glance into who Patrick Cantlay is. He has philosophical ideas and isn’t afraid to engage.
For Cantlay, the team environment seems to make him much more comfortable.
“I think you see what people are like with their guard down so they act more real when they feel like they're in that safe team room environment,” Cantlay said. “Because during a normal week I imagine I'm going to block everyone out except my team. That's a very human thing to do.”
The PGA Tour is a traveling circus. For the most part, the same people do the same thing every week, the only thing that’s different is the venue and who plays well. It can seem like it would be easy to find camaraderie with people you see every week, but Cantlay points out that there’s a difference between seeing people a lot and getting to know them.
“This week is great for just seeing those people with their guard down because we see them all the time, but we don't necessarily have a real conversation with them or say how are you feeling or how is your family or whatever it may be because we're all so busy doing our own things,” Cantlay said.
Sports can be divisive at times, with fans often taking sides. This is shown with rivalries throughout all sports, and golf is not excluded from this just because it is an individual sport. A lot is made about players representing their countries this week, but the unification amongst fans is what sets the Ryder Cup apart from other tournaments.
“If someone is a USA fan, if someone really doesn't like me, they're still rooting for me to win my match,” Cantlay said. “So that's one of the best parts about this format, this team golf, this event. Consequently, someone on the other side of the pond may like me and they are rooting so hard against me. So it makes the stakes feel much larger.”
In what has become typical Cantlay fashion, he takes the idea of representing his country to the next level when talking about patriotism.
“I think there's something really cool about America and about the United States where you could be from anywhere and you could be anyone and there's an underlying feeling of we are still all Americans,” Cantlay said. “We may disagree with this, that or the other, but we're all American. We're all patriots and we all want the best for this country.”
You couldn’t find two more opposite people than Patrick Cantlay and Dustin Johnson. As you would expect, the pair had much different reasoning about why the Europeans have sustained so much success over the years.
“Golf is very chancy. So would it surprise you if the U.S. went on a similar run to what Europe has been on for the next 20 years. Wouldn't surprise me,” Cantlay said. “You go to Vegas and you play roulette and the chances are 50/50 but skewed toward the house a little, it could hit red six times in a row, but that's not abnormal.”
To Johnson, things are much simpler.
“They just play better. It's really simple. Whoever plays better is going to win. I mean, it's not rocket science,” Johnson said.
Despite his past success, Cantlay is playing his first Ryder Cup this week. He knows the stakes are about to get higher, but he knows he will be ready by the time the opening shot is struck on Friday.
“Playing on the biggest stages in golf is exactly why I've prepped and practiced my whole life, and it's one of the great joys I have in my life and it's what I look forward to,” Cantlay said. “When you can get everyone amped up and make it feel like it really matters, that's the best.”