Iona Stephen: “If you want to be paid to play in the Ryder Cup then it isn’t for you”

Should players be paid to play in the Ryder Cup? Not if Iona Stephen has her way.

In her exclusive Today’s Golfer column, the broadcaster dives into the Patrick Cantlay cap and cash furore, calls for an end to tied matches, backs “two more years” of Luke, suggests a change to the singles that would create more drama, and hopes for a Sergio Garcia return.


It’s been a few weeks since that epic fortnight of matchplay at the Solheim and Ryder Cups and while recovering from the drama (and a bout of Covid) I’ve had time to reflect on golf’s biggest events and the hottest talking points, and there’s only one place I can start.

Just when we thought golf was going to enjoy a couple of events without talk of money, along came the topic of being paid to play in the Ryder Cup.

Before we get into the main topic, it’s worth noting how well Patrick Cantlay handled the ribbing from the European fans in Rome. I was following his and Wyndham Clark’s fourballs match with Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick on Saturday and the scene on the 16th, with thousands of people waving their caps, was hilarious. The American seemed to be enjoying it, smiling and laughing, and, if anything, it made him boost his game, birdieing the last three holes to steal the point and give the USA hope for the singles.

It all came from reports from my Sky Sports colleague Jamie Weir that Cantlay wanted to be paid to play in the event and was refusing to wear a cap in protest. The American denied those claims and said his decision to go capless was because he couldn’t find the correct fit of headwear.

But this isn’t the first time the suggestion that players should be paid to play in the Ryder Cup has arisen and it’s remained a hot topic in the weeks since we left Marco Simone, with Xander Schauffele’s father, Stefan, suggesting players should be paid directly, rather than being allowed to choose a charity for a donation.

Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele are friends and regular matchplay partners.

I understand the argument that it is one of the biggest events in sport and makes tens of millions of dollars in revenues, but that money is pumped back into running the tours, developing the game, and funding the players’ pensions.

The players are the stars of the show and the reason we all tune in, but if the fans, sponsors, broadcasters and media weren’t there then they’d be playing to nobody and there would be no money. It’s a chicken and egg scenario. We need you but you need us.

The Ryder Cup is about passion, legacy and history. It’s about something that is bigger than the sport itself. It’s about representing your country or continent and putting money to one side for just a few days for the pure love of the game.

Tyrrell Hatton enjoyed his best Ryder Cup to date in Rome.

If money was brought into the equation, it would just dim that. You want players to feel the pure ecstasy or winning and despair of losing without the bonus or compensation of a big cheque. Watching the videos of Team Europe’s celebrations on the bus after winning the trophy back, I’m not sure they were thinking about whether they’d been paid and that moment in their lives definitely wouldn’t have been made any more special by another large payment landing in their bank accounts.

In fact, I’m convinced that seeing these guys not playing for money is part of what makes the Ryder Cup so special. That’s not based on science or evidence, but I just have a hunch that the fact it’s the only week every two years where there isn’t a cheque or prize fund matters and as soon as you change that the feeling would be totally different.

The greatest stories in sports come from a week like the Ryder Cup – moments that live on for hundreds of years – and having the chance to win the trophy or create the moment wouldn’t be elevated by a cheque. Just being a part of that moment has value.

Justin Rose secured a crucial half point for Europe on Friday afternoon at the 2023 Ryder Cup

Any players wanting to be paid should also remember that making the team thrusts them into the global spotlight and opens huge financial opportunities for them, in the same way that winning a Major does. It massively increases their commercial value and opens doors to new corporate conversations. I think that can be overlooked – it’s not quite as black and white as ‘we want paying’.

And let’s not forget, the teams, their families, and their support staff are incredibly well looked after throughout the week and it doesn’t cost them a penny. It’s not like they’re being put up in a budget hotel or transported around in discomfort. Every whim and need is catered for. They get merchandise thrown at them like you wouldn’t believe and there is a value to all of the services and the treatment they get during the week. And every player does get to make a donation to a charity of their choice.

Luke Donald was categoric in his views that players shouldn’t be paid, calling it “the purest form of competition we have,” while Sir Nick Faldo hit the nail on the head when he said but “Seve would turn in his grave,” at the suggestion.

Jon Rahm, pictured lifting the Ryder Cup in Rome, says he'd pay to play in the event.

But it was Jon Rahm who I loved hearing talk about this the most. Not only did he say he didn’t think the players should be paid, he also said, as long as it was fair and affordable for all players who had a chance to qualify and you couldn’t just buy your way onto the team, he’d happily pay to play for Europe. That speaks volumes.

Ultimately, if you want to be paid to play in the Ryder Cup, perhaps it isn’t for you.

Different years

The two biggest events in the women’s and men’s games happening in consecutive weeks was special, but I’m not convinced enough was done to shout about this history-making fortnight.

I think whenever you pair women’s golf with men’s golf at the professional level, it elevates the women’s game. That’s not to sound disrespectful, it’s just by nature of men’s game being the bigger beast and drawing the eyeballs.
However, there is a danger that the women’s event lives in the shadow of the men’s event.

I’m not taking away from the incredible and dramatic Solheim Cup match we witnessed at Finca Cortesin, but I want to ensure it gets the credit and celebration it deserves. By putting them back-to-back there’s always a risk of the Solheim being seen as a warm-up to the Ryder Cup, which isn’t right.

I’m glad we’re back to alternate years from 2024. Not only does it allow both events the full spotlight, it gives all European fans team golf to look forward to every year. And, as I suggested last month, it could even free up the calendar for a mixed sexes match.

Team Europe retained the Solheim Cup thanks to a tie, but Tyrrell Hatton would like to see a playoff introduced.

Ditch the tie!

Ok, I know it’s rare and it worked in Europe’s favor at the Solheim Cup but, honestly, after all that fight and effort, I don’t think anybody felt more short-changed by the tie than the players and captains. It even led to players at the Ryder Cup calling for a change in the format. I’ve never been a fan of the tie being an option in such a huge event. I want a clear result, a definitive winner. I understand the history and that similar methods are in place in clashes like the Ashes, but things can change.

After going 4-0 down, Europe’s players were understandably delighted to retain, but it’s not quite the same as winning. And why should you get an advantage for winning the previous match two years earlier?

I’ve heard some fantastic and funny suggestions, from sending the captains out for a play-off to each team picking a player or players from the opposing team for a sudden-death match. Whatever the solution, we’ve got time before the next Solheim and Ryder Cup matches to get it agreed.

Rory McIlroy was unhappy with the conduct of caddie Joe LaCava.

No more singles secrecy

How great would it have been if Rory McIlroy had gone head-to-head with Patrick Cantlay on Sunday in Rome?

We know the biggest names and most in-form players are going to be among the first players out in the singles so why not follow the Presidents Cup lead and have the captains take it in turns to announce their singles line-up based on the other’s pick?

With my TV hat on it would make for even greater drama! I can’t imagine there was a single fan or broadcaster (or McIlroy/Cantlay family member) who wasn’t praying to see their names side by side when the draw was revealed. I’m not taking away from the matches we had – I covered Rahm v Scheffler and was fantastic – but rather than hoping for those matches, they could be guaranteed. It would also create another tactical element for the captains. Which brings me to…

Will Luke Donald stay on for a second stint as Team Europe's Ryder cup captain? Iona Stephen hopes so.

Two more years

I was fortunate enough to host the trophy presentation at Marco Simone as Europe’s players chanted “two more years” to captain Luke Donald.

It looks likely that the Englishman, with his modesty and gentle gravitas, will be asked to lead the team in their defense of the Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black, potentially against Tiger Woods. I’m all for it.

In fact, I think all captains should lead their team for two matches, starting at home and then going away. We’ve seen captains take consecutive stints in the Solheim Cup and it feels fair. I’m not trying to take anything away from any captain’s achievements, but it’s widely accepted that the odds are massively weighted in the home side’s favor. By giving the captain the chance to experience both we’ll get a clearer picture of who the genuinely great leaders are.

It’s always felt a little harsh to me that some captain’s only shot comes away from home. History suggests you’ll lose and, while you could etch your name into Ryder Cup folklore if you do manage to win, the odds are firmly stacked against you. Padraig Harrington is a great example – a brilliant Ryder Cup player, an incredible career, but a combination of factors (aging team, thriving US side, Covid, lack of away fans) meant his captaincy is now seen as unsuccessful. However, the captains on either side (Bjorn and Donald) will be remembered as exceptional leaders.

It would also be great for captains to see their work through. In Luke Donald’s case, he ensured players who could be in New York in two years’ time (Rasmus Hojgaard and Alex Fitzpatrick) played a role in Rome to them ready for a potential appearance. And it would allow the captains to head to the away match better prepared because they know how the week flows and the energy it requires.

Iona Stephen hopes Sergio Garcia captains Europe in the Ryder Cup in the future.

Missing piece

Rory McIlroy suggested LIV’s former Team Europe players would be “missing us more than we’re missing them” and he may well have been right.

But there’s no doubt there’s a feeling of loss when it comes to Sergio Garcia and the Ryder Cup. Not having the event’s leading points scorer involved in any capacity in Rome did feel unusual and while I fully understand why, I do hope golf can find a way to heal the wounds that currently exist.

That will take time, but Sergio was a certainty to captain Europe in the future and I’m sure the fans would still love to see him do so. And if Tiger doesn’t fancy taking the US role for 2025, perhaps we could see Garcia’s Europe vs Woods’ USA at Adare Manor in 2027.

About the author

Iona Stephen is a golf broadcaster and writes for Today's Golfer.

Iona Stephen – Broadcaster and Today’s Golfer contributor

Iona Stephen is a former professional golfer, who has played on the Ladies European Tour, and is a highly-respected golf broadcaster.

She joined Today’s Golfer as a regular contributor in 2023 and offers insight into the professional game from her life working on the world’s biggest tours.

Stephen’s career has seen her work for Sky Sports Golf, CBS, the BBC, and NBC Golf Channel covering everything from The Masters and The Open, to the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup. She has also hosted prize presentations to a global audience at some of the DP World Tour’s flagship events.

Alongside her television work, Stephen also has her own YouTube channel – On The Road With Iona – which has welcomed guests including Jon Rahm, Niall Horan, Rick Shiels, Bronte Law, and Martin Slumbers.

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