The Ryder Cup


The Ryder Cup started officially in 1927 and is a biennial competition between teams of professional golfers from America and Europe (formerly restricted to Great Britain). The format, teams and level of competition have changed over the years, although foursomes and single match play have featured right from the word go.

It has been played every two years, with the exception of a ten year period from 1937 to 1947 when it was suspended because of World War II, and 2001, when America was reeling from the terror attacks on 11th September. The 1947 competition was in danger of not taking place and it was only thanks to a wealthy American, Robert Hudson, who paid for the British team to travel, that it was able to happen.


Although the official inception of the Ryder Cup was in 1927, informal competitions between the two nations had started a few years before.

In 1921 there was a series of matches at Gleneagles before the start of the British Open at St Andrews. In 1922 an amateur competition between America and Britain, the Walker Cup, was born and thoughts then turned to the possibility of starting a similar competition for professionals.

In 1925 Samuel Ryder, a keen British golfer and businessman who had made his wealth from selling seeds in small packages, proposed an annual tournament and in 1926 commissioned a gold trophy, That same year, a team of Americans took on the British at Wentworth, with the British winning 13 to 1 with one match halved. This inaugural event, however, came to be recognised as ‘unofficial’, since several of the American team were not actually American.

After this, the two captains, Ted Ray for Britain and Walter Hagan for America, met with Samuel Ryder and it was thrashed out that the matches would be played biennially and that members of the team had actually to have been born in the country which they were representing. This requirement was later changed and it was citizenship which was required. In June 1927 the first official Ryder Cup match was played at the Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, where the Americans won 9.5 2.5.


The format of the current day Ryder Cup is fourballs and foursomes on Days 1 and 2 of the match, with singles on Day 3 and all are 18 holes. It was not, however, always like this. Between 1927 and 1961 all matches were 36 holes and four foursomes were played on the first day, with eight singles on the second.

In 1961 Lord Brabazon, President of the British PGA, proposed extending the match from 12 points to 24. This was passed, but the match remained a two day event, still with foursomes and singles as the format. Two rounds of foursomes were played on the first day (half in the morning and half in the afternoon) and, on the second day, sixteen singles matches were played, again with half in the morning and half in the afternoon.

In 1963 fourballs were introduced to the Ryder Cup and the duration extended from two days to three. Day 1 remained the same. Eight fourballs were played on Day 2 (half in the morning and half in the afternoon) and Day 3 became singles day. 32 points were now at stake.

Ten years later, in 1973, foursomes and fourballs were intermingled on Days 1 and 2. In 1977 the points were reduced from 32 to 20 and the numbers in each category of match were reduced. Four foursomes were played on Day 1, four fourballs on Day 2 and 1, ten singles on Day 3. The singles matches were played consecutively rather than half in the morning and half in the afternoon, meaning that players could only play in one singles match.

In 1979 the number of foursomes and fourballs was doubled and the singles increased to twelve, with half being played in the morning and half in the afternoon but players were not allowed to play in more than one. The points at stake were increased to 28.

The format currently in use was introduced in 1981. The only difference between it and the one introduced in 1979, is that the singles matches are played consecutively rather than morning/afternoon. The winner of each match gets a point for their team with half a point being awarded for a draw. There are twelve players in each team and not every player need play in the foursomes or fourballs, with the captain choosing eight players for each of the four rounds on the first two days of the competition.

American dominance

In the early years of the Ryder Cup, the teams seemed evenly matched with Britain winning in 1929 and 1933 and the Americans winning in 1927 and 1931. After winning in 1933, however, the British team lost every single competition until 1957. This was a one-off victory and they would not win again until 1985, by which time the team had changed from being British to European. Not only did the Americans win in the intervening years but they won convincingly. In 1947 the score was 11-1, in 1963 23-9, and in 1967 23.5 – 8.5.

It is easy to see why they were able to dominate the competition with their teams consisting of some of the greatest names in golf of the era. In the 50s it was greats such as Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Jack Burke Jnr and Lloyd Mangrum. In the 70s, giants such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Tom Weiskopf, Lou Graham and Homero Blancas made up the team. The British were simply unable to compete.

Team Changes

In 1973, in an attempt to loosen the American stranglehold on the competition, Ireland was added to the British team, creating the GB&I team (Great Britain and Ireland). This did little to reduce American dominance and, after the 1977 match, the idea of opening the team to Europeans was introduced. Jack Nicklaus was vocal in his support for the idea and it was agreed by the two governing bodies, the PGA of America and PGA of Britain, that from 1979, the competition would be between America and Europe. A new generation of Spanish golfers boosted the game and, since then, players from France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Denmark have played in the team. The matches soon became far more competitive and entertaining for the fans, making the Ryder Cup the popular event that it is today.

Europe fights back

Even after the formation of the European team, the Americans continued to win the first three Ryder Cups to be contested but players such as Nick Faldo, Seve Ballasteros, and Tony Jacklin soon made the Europeans formidable opponents. In 1985 they won the competition 16.5 – 11.5 and have been successful on six further occasions to date (1987, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2004 and 2006), with 1989 being a tie.

The Prize

The gold trophy, with a figure said to be that of the man who taught Ryder to play golf, Abe Mitchell, is awarded to the winning team. It is seventeen inches in height, weighs four pounds and is nine inches from one handle to the other. Unusually there is no huge cash prize for the players but only the honour of winning for their country.


With the growing success of the European team since 1985, the Americans decided in 2006 to change the way in which they select their team. For the Kentucky Ryder Cup in September 2008, eight of the team’s twelve players will be chosen from the ranks of those successful in the PGA Tour and the Majors. The captain will have four wild cards with which to fill the remaining four places.

The European team will consist of ten players who have earned maximum points on the PGA European Tour and the Ryder Cup World Points List, with the captain having two wild cards.


Despite golf being very much a gentleman’s game, the Ryder Cup has not been without its controversial matches.

In 1969, at Royal Birkdale, one of the most competitive and, at times, unsporting matches took place. Emotions were running high but in sharp contrast to some of his fellow competitors’ behaviour, Jack Nicklaus conceded a tricky putt to Tony Jacklin. This resulted in a tie and Nicklaus’ spirit of generosity did not go down too well with some of his team mates, including captain Sam Snead.

In 1991 at Kiawah Island Golf Club, the bad blood which had been festering since the 1989 competition between Seve Ballasteros and Paul Azinger erupted once more, with Azinger saying, "I can tell you we’re not trying to cheat" and Ballasteros retorting, "Oh no. Breaking the rules and cheating are two different things". The heightened emotion ironically produced one of the best matches in the Ryder Cup’s history.

In 1999, at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, controversy turned on the American exuberance at the 17th hole when Justin Leonard succeeded in a 45 foot putt. Players, wives, girlfriends, caddies and fans rushed on to the green despite the fact that this was not the decider. Spaniard, Olazabal, unable to regain his concentration, missed the putt, giving victory to the American team. Although no rules were actually broken, the European team felt that many unwritten rules had been violated. The Americans responded by accusing the team of hypocrisy, given Ballasteros’ long standing reputation for over-exuberance. Many of the Americans, however, eventually apologised.


As is to be expected for such a hugely popular event, the matter of obtaining tickets is not easy. The ballot for tickets for the 2008 event to be held at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky is now closed, although a quick search on the Internet will provide you with details of numerous specialist ticket agencies who, for a price, will sell you a ticket.

Over the years the matches hosted by the European team have been predominantly held in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Surrey and Warwickshire, the notable exception being 1997 when it was held in Spain at the Valderrama Golf Club in Andalucia. However, in 2010, Wales will have the honour of hosting the event at Celtic Manor on the outskirts of Newport in South Wales. Details of the application process and ballot will appear on the websites of the Ryder Cup and European Tour once details have been finalised.

Ryder Cup Records

Most Appearances in team


Nick Faldo – 11
Christy O’Connor Sr, Bernhard Langer – 10


Billy Casper, Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins – 8

Most Matches Played


Nick Faldo – 46
Bernhard Langer – 42
Neil Coles – 40


Billy Casper – 37 Lanny Wadkins – 34 Arnold Palmer – 32

Most Matches Won


Nick Faldo – 23
Bernhard Langer – 21
Seve Ballasteros, Colin Montgomerie – 20


Arnold Palmer – 22
Billy Casper, Lanny Wadkins – 20

Most Points Won


Nick Faldo – 25
Bernhard Langer – 24
Colin Montgomerie – 23.5


Billy Casper – 23.5 Arnold Palmer – 23 Lanny Wadkins – 21.5

Most Matches Lost


Neil Coles, Christy O’Connor Sr. – 21
Nick Faldo – 19


Raymond Floyd – 16
Tiger Woods – 13
Davis Love III, Curtis Strange – 12

Most Singles Played


Neil Coles – 15
Christy O’Connor Sr. – 14
Peter Alliss – 12


Arnold Palmer – 11
Billy Casper, Gene Littler, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino – 10

Most Singles Won


Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Peter Oosterhuis – 6


Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino – 6

Most Singles Lost


Christy O’Connor Sr. – 10
Tony Jacklin – 8
Neil Coles, Harry Weetman, Ian Woosnam – 6


Raymond Floyd, Mark O’Meara, Jack Nicklaus – 4

Most Foursomes Played


Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer – 18
Seve Ballasteros – 14


Billy Casper, Lanny Wadkins – 15 Tom Kite – 13

Most Foursomes Won


Bernhard Langer – 11
Seve Ballasteros, Nick Faldo – 10


Arnold Palmer, Lanny Wadkins – 9
Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus – 8

Most Foursomes Lost


Bernard Hunt – 9
Neil Coles – 8
Mark James, Sam Torrance – 7


Raymond Floyd – 8
Fred Couples, Lanny Wadkins, 6

Most Fourballs Played


Nick Faldo – 17
Seve Ballasteros – 15
Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie – 13 ‘


Billy Casper – 12 Raymond Floyd, Davis Love III, Lanny Wadkins – 11

Most Fourballs Won


Ian Woosnam – 10
Seve Ballasteros – 8
Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal – 7


Arnold Palmer, Lanny Wadkins – 7
Billy Casper, Lee Trevino – 6

Most Fourballs Lost


Nick Faldo – 9
Neil Coles – 7
Bernhard Langer – 6


Davis Love III – 6
Paul Azinger, Jim Furyk, Curtis Strange, Tiger Woods – 5

Youngest Player


Sergio Garcia (1999) – 19 years, 8 months, 15 days


Horton Smith (1929) – 21 years, 4 days

Oldest Player


Ted Ray (1927) – 50 years, 2 months, 5 days


Raymond Floyd (1993) – 51 years, 20 days

Ryder Cup Results

To find out the results of each match from 1927 to 2006 have a look here. To see the results of individual matches click on the score for the particular year that interests you.