The Ryder Cup – Through the ages

The Ryder Cup has come a long way since the 1920s

The Ryder Cup – Through the ages

Ahead of the 39th playing of The Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club, Illinois, read this potted history of golf’s greatest team event…

Seeds of The Ryder Cup

There were two unofficial matches between professionals from Great Britain and the United States before the birth of The Ryder Cup in 1927, both won by the British. The first was played at Gleneagles in 1921 but the second of these, held at Wentworth in 1926, was undoubtedly the most significant for among those in the gallery was a man called Samuel Ryder. Ryder was an English seed merchant and entrepreneur from St Albans in Hertfordshire who made his money selling penny seed packets. He had taken up golf relatively late in life to improve his health and employed Abe Mitchell, one of the golfing greats of his era, as his personal tutor. Ryder was enthralled by the idea of a match between the best golfers from Great Britain and America and had offered a cup for the 1926 match but that was withheld against the backdrop of the General Strike. Instead the Wentworth Club presented the British players with gold medals. Following the success of that match at Wentworth, Ryder donated a small but striking gold cup that today epitomises all that is good in sporting competition. It cost £250, with the cost split between Ryder (£100), Golf Illustrated (£100) and the Royal & Ancient (£50). The small golfing figure atop the cup, as requested by the donor, stands as a lasting memorial to Abe Mitchell and The Ryder Cup was born.

The Pre-War years

The Ryder Cup – Through the ages

The Ryder Cup heritage exhibition

The first Ryder Cup was played at Worcester Country Club, Massachusetts, and from a British standpoint, it got off to an inauspicious start as their Captain, Abe Mitchell, had to withdraw with appendicitis and was unable to travel. Ted Ray took over as Captain but the British team was comprehensively beaten 9 ½ - 2 ½ by a strong American team led by Walter Hagen. Two years later, the British got their revenge with a 7-5 victory at Moortown in Yorkshire. It was the first Ryder Cup for Henry Cotton, who would go on to win three Open Championships. Hagen again led the American team while George Duncan took over the reins for the British and it was Cotton, at 22 the youngest member of the team, who would hole the winning putt. The United States duly won The Ryder Cup back when it returned to American shores in 1931 and that home victory trend continued in 1933, when the British levelled the series 2-2 on the return leg on home soil. But, although no-one was to know it then, the 1933 contest at Southport and Ainsdale was to prove a golfing watershed as it was Britain’s last victory for 24 years.

Dai Rees lifts the Cup

After the 1937 match, The Ryder Cup was interrupted by the War years, resuming in 1947 at Portland, Oregon. It was the first time an Irish golfer played although it was not until 1973 that the team became known as Great Britain and Ireland, and the American dominance prior to the outbreak of World War II continued. The British team came close to turning the tables in 1953 at Wentworth and with two games to play, they were ahead but mistakes by Bernard Hunt and Peter Alliss on the final hole turned victory into defeat. But there was no mistake in 1957 at Lindrick when the tenacious Welshman Dai Rees at last led the British team to the promised fairway. The opening day gave no hint of the excitement that was to follow as the Americans took the foursomes 3-1, with Rees himself and Ken Bousfield providing the slender lifeline. But the British responded to win the singles 6 ½ - 1 ½ , Bousfield holing the winning putt. There were rumours of divisions within the British camp surrounding Harry Weetman’s exclusion from the singles, which perversely could well have united the team as they came out with all guns blazing, and some of the Americans were far from happy with the partisan nature of the home crowd, but none of this could take anything away from a glorious victory under Rees’ inspired leadership.

1969 – A sporting gesture like no other

The script could not have been more dramatically written: Great Britain and the United States level, thousands of spectators crammed into every vantage point they could find around Royal Birkdale’s 18th green, one match left on the course and the two greatest players of the time stood on the loneliest stage in the world with The Ryder Cup hanging in the balance. Tony Jacklin, who earlier in the summer had become the first British golfer to win The Open in 18 years, and Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of his era, were all square playing the last and everything hinged on them. Moments earlier Welshman Brian Huggett thought he had holed the winning putt, mistakenly believing Jacklin was one up on Nicklaus in the match behind but in fact they were level. Huggett collapsed into the arms of his Captain, Eric Brown, but the drama was far from over. Under the most intense pressure imaginable, both Jacklin and Nicklaus strode up the 18th. Both found the green in two. Jacklin putted first but the ball came up 18 inches short. Nicklaus, putting for eagle to win the match and The Ryder Cup, ran his ball three feet past and had to putt again. He holed for four, but as Jacklin stepped forward to line up his putt, Nicklaus stooped, picked up the marker and offered his hand. Their game was halved and the match tied. “I am sure you would have holed,” said Nicklaus, “but I was not prepared to see you miss.” The match ended with that one supreme gesture that will forever stand as a memorial to all that is best about The Ryder Cup.

1979 – Europe enter the fray

By 1977 The Ryder Cup was in danger of descending into little more than an exhibition. Great Britain and Ireland had won only once since 1933, but all that was soon to change. Welshman Brian Huggett captained the last British and Irish team but after suffering another heavy defeat at Royal Lytham and St Annes, change was afoot as Great Britain and Ireland was extended to include Europe. Jack Nicklaus was instrumental in calling for the change with Lord Derby, President of the PGA, and in 1978 it was announced that the next Ryder Cup, at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, would be Europe vs the United States. John Jacobs, who established the Tournament Players’ Division of the PGA in 1971, the forerunner to today’s European Tour, was given the honour of captaining the first European Ryder Cup Team. A young Severiano Ballesteros had finished runner-up in The 1976 Open and later that year partnered Manuel Piñero to victory in the World Cup for Spain. Spain won the World Cup again in 1977, Ballesteros this time partnering Antonio Garrido, and it was these two Spaniards who would make history as the first players from continental Europe to compete in The Ryder Cup. The 1979 match may have ended in defeat for Europe but the tide was beginning to turn.

1985 – Joy at last for Europe – and again in 1987

Seve Ballesteros breathed new life into The Ryder Cup and while Europe lost The 1981 Ryder Cup by a considerable margin against arguably the greatest US Ryder Cup Team ever assembled, two years later Europe came within a whisker of victory. For three days Europe and the United States traded blows but ultimately the US team came through to win by a slender single point. But far from being disheartened, the European Team knew they had almost toppled the Americans. They also had the right man as captain in Tony Jacklin and in 1985 the waiting was finally over. Sam Torrance, arms aloft with tears pouring down his cheeks, will forever be remembered as the man who holed the winning putt in front of rapturous crowds on the 18th green at The Belfry. For Jacklin, the Captain, in many ways it meant more to him than his Open victory in 1969 and US Open triumph in 1970. “This was the day European golf came of age,” he said at the time. Still basking in the glory of that victory, Europe then recorded their first victory on American soil in 1987 in front of jubilant fans at Muirfield Village. And it was Ballesteros, the inspiration to the whole team, who holed the winning putt to spark the joyous scenes of celebration.

2002-6 – Woosnam completes the hat-trick

With the dawn of a new century came a period of European domination. The 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in America and when the match resumed in 2002 it was deemed the matches would take place in even years. The players who qualified for the team in 2001 kept their place in the team for The Belfry the following year and Sam Torrance was again a hero, just as he had been 17 years earlier. This time he was non-playing Captain and he led his unheralded team to water and they drank. Two years later Bernhard Langer, the master tactician, masterminded Europe’s record nine point winning margin at Oakland Hills, Colin Montgomerie holing the winning putt. That margin was repeated at The K Club, Ireland, in 2006 when Welshman Ian Woosnam led Europe to another 18 ½ - 9 ½ victory. It was the first time in history that Europe had won three successive Ryder Cups, Woosnam completing the hat-trick in emphatic style.

The United States, led by Paul Azinger, bounced back to win in 2008 at Valhalla to bring parity back into the scores. In the 15 matches since Europe entered the fray in 1979, the two sides had won seven matches each and halved one.

2010 – Magic Monday

The first Ryder Cup to be played in Wales was always going to be an historic occasion but what transpired over the Twenty Ten Course at The Celtic Manor Resort is already part of Ryder Cup folklore. After years in the planning, The 2010 Ryder Cup was almost in danger of being washed out as torrential rain fell. Only two hours of play was possible on the Friday, more rain fell on the Sunday and as the delays stacked up, a new format was devised to ensure 28 points would still be played for and after thrust and counter-thrust through the fourballs and foursomes, it meant the final singles session would, for the first time in history, have to take place on a Monday - the three-day Ryder Cup had become a four day Ryder Cup. And under glorious blue skies, the 35,000 spectators who gathered for that final day bore witness to one of sport’s great occasions. Europe started the final session three ahead but gradually their lead slipped away until there was only one match left. The scores were tied at 13 ½ - 13 ½ and it all rested on Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan. Somehow, unbowed by the weight of expectation, McDowell hit the approach of his life to the 16th and holed a curling downhill putt to go from one up to two up. Mahan had nothing left to give and when he conceded the 17th, Europe had regained The Ryder Cup and there was no holding back as fans swamped the players. And Colin Montgomerie, his career already defined by The Ryder Cup as a player, finally had his victory as a Captain.

To delve deeper into the rich history of The Ryder Cup, click here to read about unique exhibition now on at a London BMW showroom.