A Look at the Ryder Cup

 Courtesy of Dan Perry

Courtesy of Dan Perry

Samuel Ryder made his money selling seeds in packets in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  By 1908 Ryder began to experience health problems and at the behest of a local church minister started to play golf for exercise. He joined the Verulam Golf Club in St. Alban’s near London and quickly fell in love with the game.  Ryder hired Abe Mitchell, a professional golfer, to coach him.  Over a decade later, in 1921, a group of 12 American golfers came to the Gleneagles Golf Club in Scotland hoping to showcase their skills in order to compete in the British Open a couple of weeks later.  Ten Americans actually competed against a team of 10 British golfers, including Mitchell, on June 6.  The two sides competed in foursomes in the morning and singles in the afternoon.  The British team scored a resounding 9-3-3 victory.

The Walker Cup, a match play event featuring amateur American golfers against amateur British golfers, began the next year.  Ryder believed a similar event should take place between professionals and offered to present a special trophy to the winning side.  In 1926, another group of American golfers agreed to compete against a group of British golfers at the Wentworth Club in England as a tune up for the British Open. Again 10 golfers competed on each side.  The event consisted of five foursomes on the first day and ten singles on the second day.  As in 1921, the British scored a lopsided victory, this time by a score of 13-1-1. Mitchell again played for the British.  Some historians believe this outing was meant to be the first Ryder cup match and that Ryder would present a trophy to the winning team.  However, according to Golf Illustrated, it was unclear how many Americans would be able to compete in the contest because of a national strike in Britain, so Ryder decided to present a trophy the following year.

The first official Ryder Cup match took place at the Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Massachusetts from June 3-4.  A formalized Deed of Trust detailed the rules of the match well before the contest and the respective PGA organizations selected the teams. Players were not to be paid for their participation in the event. Each team carried nine golfers.  The format consisted of four foursomes playing alternate shot on the first day and eight singles matches the second day.  Led by team captain Walter Hagen, the American team won 9.5-2.5.  According to www.europeantour.com, Ryder paid 250 pounds for the construction of a 19 inch solid gold cup with a golfer on the top resembling his longtime coach, Abe Mitchell.  Even though Ryder could not make the match because of health reasons, the Cup was still presented to the American team.  Officials from both sides agreed that future matches would be held every other year because of the impracticality of trying to host one every year.  So the Ryder Cup was born.

The event would change in player inclusion and format over time.  For the first 22 Ryder Cups, the United States competed against Great Britain (including Ireland).  The United States won 18 of those, Great Britain won three and the 1969 match ended in a draw.  No matches were played in 1939, 1941, 1943 and 1945 because of World War II.  At the suggestion of Jack Nicklaus, the Great Britain team expanded its membership to all of Europe beginning with the 1979 match in an effort to make the matches more competitive.  The suggestion clearly has worked for the European team as they sport a 10-7-1 record since 1979.  The current overall record has the United States with 25 wins, Great Britain/Europe with 13, and two matches that ended in a draw.  The event switched to even years after the 2001 match was cancelled because of the 9/11 tragedy.  The Ryder Cup started anew the following year.

The process for selecting team members has changed over the years.  In the early matches the players were selected by their respective PGA organizations.  Later, team members earned their way onto the team based on performance standards. From 1929 through 1967 each team consisted of 10 players.  Beginning in 1969, each roster increased to 12 players.  From 1989 through 2014, nine team members on both sides earned their membership based on performance standards while the team captains picked three additional players.  For the 2016 Ryder Cup, the European team adhered to the three captain’s picks while the United States team decided to name four captain’s picks to go along with eight players who earned their way onto the team.

The format of the Ryder Cup has also changed over the years. From its inception through 1959, the Ryder Cup took place over two days, four 36-hole foursomes the first day followed by eight 36-hole singles matches the second day.  For the 1961 match, the format changed to four 18-hole foursomes in the morning and afternoon of day one while eight 18-hole singles matches took place in the morning and afternoon on day two.  From 1963 to 1971 the event spread to three days.  The first day witnessed four foursomes in the morning and the afternoon, the second day consisted of four four-balls in the morning and afternoon, and the third day eight singles matches took place in the morning and the afternoon.  The format changed some during the next three matches but remained contested over three days.  Beginning with the first European team in 1979 the format morphed into what it is today.  For the first two days eight foursomes/four-ball matches are played and 12 singles matches are played on day three. A total of 28 matches are played over the three days of competition under the current format.  The winning team must secure 14.5 points.  In the event of a 14-14 tie the defending champion keeps the Cup.  Team members on both sides still receive no pay for Ryder Cup participation.

From the dream of a man enthralled with the game of golf to the passionate event that it is today, the Ryder Cup has indeed evolved into one of the must-see spectacles in the world of sports.  Cheers to the vision of Samuel Ryder!

 

 

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