English businessman Samuel Ryder first donated the Ryder Cup trophy in 1927 at the inaugural event between Great Britain and the United States of America (USA). Over the years, players from Ireland were permitted to qualify for team selection and since 1979 the Ryder Cup as we know it – Europe against USA – was formed to make the contest a closer contested event than it had been in previous years.
As a result, the Ryder Cup has become one of the world’s greatest sporting events. Every two years, 24 of the finest players from Europe and the United States go face-to-face in match play format. Theatre, improbable acts of greatness, team cohesion and sportsmanship under the highest possible pressure are on show during three of the most fascinating days in sport, capturing millions of viewers around the globe. It’s an event that exceeds sport fans’ expectations, not just the diehard golf audiences.
Of the 40 matches participated in cup history, USA overwhelmingly lead Europe by 25 wins to 13. However, with Team Europe only forming in 1979, this is a misleading statistic and one many disregard when assessing the modern day Ryder Cup.
Since the introduction of European players, of the previous 18 editions Europe have been the superior team, winning a total of 10 Ryder Cup events, losing seven and drawing one. Notably, Team Europe have been dominant on home soil, winning six and drawing once from nine matches, whereas USA have only won five from the nine editions to date. Furthermore, the Europeans have been strong away from home also, winning four from nine in what are regarded as intimidating and hostile conditions, while the Americans have only managed two wins and one draw on European soil. Overall, Europe have produced their best golf more often than not, but with Team USA more likely to win at home, the chances of them preventing four European wins in a row is greater.
For the 2016 edition, the European team comprises of the first four coming from the European Points List and the next five from the World Points List, including three Captain Picks which provides the world’s best who play in the bigger events in America a fairer opportunity. Conversely, the United States will have eight players determined by points including four picks. Over the years, the number of wildcard selections has been dependant on the respective Captain’s decision and at times has been the difference between a team winning and losing.
The American dominance during the early stages of the Ryder Cup was predominantly down to the skill of individual players and the lack of depth of quality in the GB&I teams. Nevertheless, over the years Europe have fielded some of the world’s best players of their generations, including Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros, which provided a more evenly matched competition. However, world ranking in recent times has had far less correlation towards which team would be triumphant, and in some circumstances has led to USA’s downfall.
Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, two of Europe’s most successful Ryder Cup players ever, have combined for a total of 33.5 points from just 50 matches, and yet have never won a major championship between them. However, two of the most successful golfers ever to play the game, who have recorded 19 majors between them, have only collected 28 points from 63 matches. This statistic potentially highlights where Team USA have underperformed, whereas Europe’s lesser ranked individuals have stepped up their games when needed.
The Ryder Cup consists of 18-hole match play that is broken down into eight fourball and foursome matches over the first two days, and 12 single matches on the final day. Each match is worth one point, with matches ending in a draw worth 1/2 point to each side. The first team to reach 14 ½ points wins the Ryder Cup, but if the contest ends in a 14-14 draw, the team holding the Ryder Cup retains it.
With America leading overall matches 25 to 13, it is to be expected that their total points in each format is higher. However, the fourball – which was only introduced in 1963 – has been the closest contest with America leading by just 12 points from the 205 matches played. Over the 40 editions competed, Team USA have dominated in the singles, collecting 260.5 points from the 458 matches, with a point percentage of 56%.
Team USA have outperformed Team Europe in the singles format when played in America, but on average have underperformed against their opposition in the fourball and foursome format. With Team USA’s record being poor on home soil – only winning five from nine contests – it is evident that they do not score enough points during the team setups, meaning they are relying too heavily on individual performances, further enhancing the cohesive nature of the European team.
Again, Team USA are generally stronger in the singles format and this is highlighted more in their ability to outscore the Europeans. Notable however is the supremacy of the Europeans in the fourball format on home soil where they have outscored the Americans by 12 points since 1979, which correlates with them losing six out of nine away matches. Yet again, the team format proves to be the difference between the two sides.
Overall, Team USA have scored more points during home matches paralleled to away, but the difference is much less than is perhaps expected and suggests the contests are much more closely matched than the dominance of Europe proposes.
This is further heightened by Team Europe’s home and away points record. Nonetheless, there is an authority overall in the fourball format which is perhaps the secret to Europe’s winning formula.
Since 1979, Europe lead USA by 15 points in the fourballs, nine points in foursomes and 14 in total points, whereas USA lead the singles by 10 points. Staggeringly, on average there is nothing to split between the two teams, excluding the fourballs, proving just how close the competitions have actually been. Like in all team sports at the highest level, the difference between winning and losing has often come down to one individual performance to make the difference.
During 2012, Europe required 8.5 points from 12 singles matches to win and complete one of the greatest and rarest come backs in Ryder Cup history; this they achieved, and it was labelled ‘the miracle in Madinah’. Significantly though, Team USA have required the same amount or more during six of the last 18 editions. Furthermore, they have needed seven or more during three further matches, resulting in them needing to win 50% or greater of their singles matches from 10 of 18 contests. During the 1981 (2) and 2008 (15) matches, where they only required 4 and 5.5 points respectively to win, this compounded with their two biggest victories.
Moreover, Team Europe have only needed to win more than six singles matches on seven of the 18 editions, proving just how essential the team formats have been for them and how costly they have proved to be for the Americans.
With Europe’s dominance in recent years seemingly down to their team play predominantly in the fourballs and USA’s lack of cohesion - especially from the bigger names - the ability to form great partnerships can be the difference between the winning and losing teams.
Notably, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson proved this point in 2014 at Gleneagles when they produced a formidable team, winning all of their matches together including 12 birdies during 16 holes, comprising a record 10 in a row. Of the above names, Europe have six partnerships compared to just four from America, further proving the effectiveness of the duos Europe have produced when dominating the cup in recent times.
Although Europe leads USA 10.5 to 7.5 since 1979, during the modern day Ryder Cup as we know it, the contest has been much closer than many suggest, with the difference often being down to individual brilliance and legendary pairings. Nevertheless, if Team USA figure out their best combinations and the ‘Task Force’ has identified and created genuine team cohesion then Europe – like so many times before – are in for their most difficult challenge to date.