What is the Ryder Cup?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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The Ryder Cup is a trophy given to the winning team of a golf competition between the United States and Europe. Originally beginning as a tournament between America and Great Britain, the competition has expanded to allow representation by other European nations, in the hope of leveling the playing field. Since the Ryder Cup began in the 1920s, the rules and regulations regarding the tournament have been in a constant state of flux, yet the match remains one of the most highly regarded competitions in the golf world.

After World War One, the idea of a friendly United States versus United Kingdom golf competition was suggested by several people, before being officially started by a British merchant named Samuel Ryder. Ryder is something of a golf legend himself, having become an accomplished golfer after picking up the game at age 50. According to most historical accounts of the Ryder Cup, Samuel Ryder attended one of the early versions of the competition and offered suggestions, later putting up the money to found the tournament.

Despite being severely beaten in the previous unofficial matches, the United States won the first Ryder Cup tournament in 1926. Rather than being a traditional golf competition, the tournament featured several different types of playing styles and a tabulated points system. The games use a match play format, where contestants are awarded points for beating their opponents, rather than based on how many strokes they take to finish a hole.


The two teams, each consisting of 12 players, take part in three different types of competitions. In singles matches, competitors go head to head for match points. Foursomes use two teams of two players, with each team alternating shots on the same ball until the hole is finished. The third type of contest, called fourballs, also uses two teams of two players, but each uses their own ball and points are awarded to the player with the lowest individual score.

The format of the games has changed repeatedly over the years; in 1961, 1963, 1977, 1979 and 2008, the basic competition requirements of the Ryder cup shifted in some way. The tournament, which was originally a two-day affair, now stretches over a three-day weekend and is undergoing additional changes for the 2008 competition. Originally held every year, the Ryder Cup is now held biennially, and has been since the games were postponed of a year in the wake of the terrorist attacks in America on 11 September 2001.

Being chosen to participate on a Ryder Cup team is a tremendous honor, coveted by the world’s most accomplished golfers. European teammates are chosen by their performance on the European tour and by their current world ranking. America has recently implemented a new standard of selecting team-members, calculating points towards participation gained through prize money won in specific tournaments. The top eight American players of the previous year’s US Open, Masters, Open Championship and PGA Tournament are automatically given spots, while the team captain chooses the four remaining places.

The tournaments of the 21st century have been dominated by the European team, which has won all three of the competitions since 2002. Yet the American team dominated the game since its earliest days, losing only 10 times and tying twice since 1926. With the new rules of qualification and game play, the Americans hope to regain their streak, but the feeling behind the Ryder Cup remains a primarily friendly one. Citizens of all involved countries can always look forward to a rousing competition, regardless of the outcome.


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