Ryder Cup 2023: A quick reminder that Tiger Woods also complained about not being paid for the Ryder Cup

September 30, 2023
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When a Ryder Cup is sucked of most of its competitive drama, you can still count on the action coming from somewhere. Take, for instance, the Saturday murmurs, which later grew into outright taunting, about why Patrick Cantlay was playing his matches at Marco Simone without a hat. Cantlay on Saturday evening claimed it was simply because his U.S.-issued hat didn’t fit his head, which he said was the same reason he didn’t wear one at Whistling Straits two years prior.

That version differed from a report that spread wildly among galleries that Cantlay was actually protesting the fact that Ryder Cup players weren’t getting paid. Whether the report was true or not, this is a familiar story. In fact, the idea of players wanting to be paid to play in the Ryder Cup really took off in the pages of Golf Digest, and almost derailed one of the most iconic moments in golf history.

Some quick history: Ahead of the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club, Golf Digest in its September issue published a series of consequential stories about the Ryder Cup’s massive commercial growth. One was a story from business writer Steve Bailey who reported that by 1999, the Ryder Cup was netting the PGA of America up to $17.5 million, with another $5 million going to the host club. As for the players everyone was paying to see? They were asked to play for pride.

“Today the Ryder Cup has created a financial windfall for all concerned: the PGA of America, the host club, NBC-TV,” Bailey wrote. “Everyone, that is, but the players—who are becoming increasingly vocal about their lack of participation in the profits.”

Indeed, a number of players were quoted in the issue voicing their discontent, including Tiger Woods (“It’s completely unfair the way it is now”), and Jim Furyk (“A lot of our guys wonder, ‘Where is all that money going?’”). But the most outspoken was the then-superstar David Duval. In an interview with Golf Digest’s Bob Verdi, Duval elaborated on the ways he thought the Ryder Cup had grown into a bloated spectacle, and why he would consider boycotting playing altogether.

“The whole thing has become a little overcooked, but it’s probably going to stay that way until players choose not to play,” Duval said.

Duval went on to suggest that a number of players, including Woods, had discussed skipping the Ryder Cup to send the PGA of America a message. “More than likely, though, next time in 2001. Certainly within two more. It’s imminent. This is just from talking to the guys. Some of them are fed up,” he said.

The interview sparked controversy, with the initial interpretation that a collection of superstar golfers wanted to play for more than national pride. But Duval and others clarified their objection was largely about control. They had no say in how Ryder Cup profits were spent and insisted they’d even be open to directing their share of compensation toward a charity of choice.

That storyline was soon overshadowed by a memorable finish at Brookline, in which the Ben Crenshaw-led Americans surged from a 10-6 deficit to reclaim its first Ryder Cup in six years. But the payment issue, in part because of Duval, was also addressed, with the PGA of America deciding moving forward to give $200,000 to each Ryder Cup players to donate to a charity of their choice, a practice in place this week.

It’s still unclear if any of this was on Cantlay’s mind when he chose his outfits this week. But if it was at all about money, he wouldn’t have been alone.