A Beginner's Guide to the Ryder Cup

By: | Fri 09 Sep 2016 | Comments

Post by Golf Journalist Josh Carr

The Ryder Cup is arguably the most anticipated event on the golf calendar, and the fact it only comes round twice a year makes it even more exciting. This year the event is held at Hazeltine National Golf Club in the USA, and Europe will be looking to hold onto the trophy for a third consecutive year. However, if you’re new to the game, you probably won’t understand the hype right away. I can guarantee once you have witnessed your first Ryder Cup, whether it be on television or in person, the two-year wait for the next one will feel like an eternity.

What is the Ryder Cup?

The Ryder Cup is held every two years and sees 24 of the best players from Europe and the United States of America go head-to-head in match play competition. It is not often you get to see the professionals compete against each other in match play and the drama and tension that unfolds from this format is incredible. These matches create an atmosphere reminiscent to a football match and is probably the only golfing event where chanting before a player hits their shot is deemed acceptable.

The two teams are picked in different ways so let’s start with this year’s home side, the USA. Captain Davis Love III will have eight players determined by points and then a further four players that are his own picks. You will hear a lot about the “captain’s picks” in the run up to the event. The European side however has nine players determined by points, the first four coming from the European Points Lists and the next five from the World Points List. Europe’s captain, Darren Clarke, then added a further three picks to complete his squad.


How the match play format works

There are three different game formats that take place during the three days. These are foursomes, four-ball and singles but we’ll look deeper into those after. Each match is worth one point for your team, however there are no extra holes if the scores are All Square after 18 holes. If this occurs, each player earns half a point for their team. Another thing that may confuse you about the match play format if you are relatively new to the game is when you see the players not completing the hole. This is because, unlike strokeplay, you do not have to complete the hole if your opponent concedes the hole.

In order to win the Ryder Cup outright, a team must reach the 14.5 point mark from the 28 available. In the event of a 14-14 draw, the team that won the previous event retains the trophy. You may hear the commentary teams saying “Europe need just 2 more points to retain the Ryder Cup”.

The formats may also cause some initial confusion if you’re new to the game so we’ll start by walking through the foursome and four-ball formats as they take place on the first two days, four of them in fact. The singles take place on the final day and sees all 12 players compete.


The four-ball format sees each member of the two-man team play their own ball and hence four balls are in play on every hole. Each pairing counts the lowest score of its two scores on each hole and if this beats the oppositions best score, then you win the hole. If the scores are tied, then the hole is halved.

Foursomes works a little differently than the four-ball format as each two-man team plays one ball, and take turns hitting the ball until the hole is complete. This is why you will often hear this format referred to as “alternate shot”. Players alternate hitting tee shots, with one hitting the tee shot on the odd holes and the other playing off the even holes, even if they played the last shot on the previous green. Once again, if one pair has a lower score than the other they win the hole. It is key to note that only eight of the 12 players play in each of these formats, with some players being saved until the final day singles.

The individual singles on the final day is the easiest format to understand as it just a straight up head-to-head and it is where you tend to see most of the drama unfold. Again, like the other two formats, if you score lower than your opponent you win the hole and if you have the same score you half the hole.


The Ryder Cup has gone through four distinctive eras, including various changes to the format and teams. The first ever Ryder Cup took place in 1927 and saw the USA take on Great Britain, with the Americans winning 9.5-2.5 on this occasion. It is of note that no Ryder Cups took place during World War II, and ultimately meant this great event took a ten-year absence.

The formative years, between 1947 and 1967, saw the USA win 10 of the 11 Ryder Cups competed. It was at the 1961 event held at Royal Lytham and St Annes that the format began to chance. This year’s event saw two sets of foursomes played on the first day and two sets of singles played on the second. It was then also proposed, for the 1963 Ryder Cup, the match should be played over three days with two sets of four-ball matches being played on the extra day.


Between 1969 and 1983 the American’s really began to dominate the event, as they won or retained every match during this period. The introduction of a GB & Ireland team in 1973 wasn’t enough to put off the Americans and their extreme dominance of the event. This is why in the 1985; there was the introduction of the European team.

This turned out to be a major change in the Ryder Cup’s history as Europe won the first two events since their introduction, and retained it in 1989. Since then, the matches have been a lot closer than ever before and the European’s have enjoyed a lot more success, which I guess if you’re American isn’t a good thing.

This year’s event takes place on 27 September and is set to be another classic as the best from Europe and the USA battle it out to hold bragging rights for another two years.

The Ryder Cup is unlike any other tournament in golf and the atmosphere is something that every golf fan should experience. The experts at Golfbreaks.com can help with all aspects of your Ryder Cup experience, from accommodation and ticket packages to hospitality and travel and playing some of the fantastic nearby courses.

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