For our money, there is no more compelling sporting event than the raucous biennial contest between 24 of the greatest American and European golfers known as the Ryder Cup.
It's unlike any other sporting event and has some significant differences between the normal tournament golf that we watch every week. That is where this viewer's guide comes in. We set out here to give you everything you need to know about this year's event, including the players in the Ryder Cup, how it is scored, where and when it is, a look at some of the strategic decisions captains make and some of the ways teammates can help each other.
Here is our ultimate Ryder Cup viewer's guide.
What is the Ryder Cup?
In its current form, the Ryder Cup is a competition between one golf team from the United States and one from Europe that is played every other year. The first Ryder Cup was played in 1927. Since 1979, the competition has consisted of two days of four-ball and foursome matches, and one day of singles matches.
When is the Ryder Cup?
The Ryder Cup is from September 25-30, 2018, with competition officially starting on Friday, September 28.
Where is the Ryder Cup?
The 2018 Ryder Cup is at Le Golf National outside Paris, France. The parkland-style course is about five miles from the Chateau of Versailles, once the home of Louis XIV. The Albatross stadium course was designed by Hubert Chesneau and von Hagge Design Associates.
Who are the players?
|Brooks Koepka||Francesco Molinari|
|Dustin Johnson||Justin Rose|
|Justin Thomas||Tyrrell Hatton|
|Patrick Reed||Tommy Fleetwood|
|Bubba Watson||Jon Rahm|
|Jordan Spieth||Rory McIlroy|
|Rickie Fowler||Alex Noren|
|Webb Simpson||Thorbjorn Olesen|
|Tiger Woods||Paul Casey|
|Phil Mickelson||Sergio Garcia|
|Bryson DeChambeau||Ian Poulter|
|Tony Finau||Henrik Stenson|
Who are the captains?
Jim Furyk is the U.S. captain and Thomas Bjorn is the European captain.
Who are the vice-captains?
David Duval, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Davis Love III and Steve Stricker are the U.S. vice-captains, while Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Robert Karlsson, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood are the European vice-captains.
How are the teams selected?
The European Team will comprise the first four players from the European Points List, followed by the leading four players from the World Points List and completed by four wild cards. The US Team will be made up from the top eight in the points rankings with four captain's picks.
What is the format of Ryder Cup matches?
Each of the first two days includes one four-match session of four-ball and one four-match session of foursomes. The final day is reserved for 12 singles matches.
In four-balls, each member of a two-man team plays his own ball, so four balls are in play on every hole. Each team counts the lowest of its two scores on each hole, and the team whose player has the lowest score wins the hole. If the low scores are tied, the hole is halved.
In foursomes, each two-man team plays one ball per hole with the players taking turns until each hole is complete. Players alternate hitting tee shots, with one leading off on odd-numbered holes, and the other hitting first on even-numbered holes. The team with the low score on each hole wins that hole. If their scores are tied, the hole is halved.
In singles, each match features one player from each team. The player with the lower score on each hole wins that hole. If their scores are tied, the hole is halved.
Unlike stroke play, players don't have to complete each hole in match play. If a player concedes a stroke – almost always a putt – to his opponent, the opponent picks up his ball, takes the score he would have made on the next stroke and moves on to the next hole.
How is it scored?
Each match is worth one point, with matches ending in a draw worth ½ point to each side. The first team to reach 14 ½ points wins the Ryder Cup. If the matches end in a 14-14 draw, the team holding the Ryder Cup retains it.
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What do the captains do?
While Ryder Cup captains no longer play in the event, they play incredibly important roles, perhaps none more so than choosing the final four players for their roster. For example, it was Furyk's decision to add Tiger, Phil, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau to the U.S. squad. Both skill and compatability with the rest of the team play important roles in the selections.
Captains also decide the playing order and help with the overall strategy for their team.
Here is a table showing the full history of American Ryder Cup captains.
What do the vice captains do?
In the words of Davis Love III, who will be a vice-captain for the third time: "The role of the vice captains has changed so much since 2014. We made it more of a defined role that isn't just 'show up at the Ryder Cup and help out.' It's a year-round job. You're helping the captain with specific duties that each can handle so the captain can focus on what he needs to focus on. The job gets bigger and bigger. It's dividing responsibilities and working toward the same goal."
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Responsibilities and abilities for vice-captains include everything from determining the team's pairings, deciding which golfers tee off on which holes, analyzing the course, being able to communicate well with the players and even studying weather patterns. Love shared a story with RyderCup.com about Tiger Woods obsessing over his vice-captain duties for nearly a year before the 2016 Ryder Cup.
"Tiger was putting together potential pairings eight months before Hazeltine," he said. "Based on the strategy of the course, he had already picked out which holes which players would tee off on. Six months before those matches, he was making pairings based on good weather and bad weather situations."
Foursomes, or alternate-shot, is the trickier and more difficult format of the two-team formats because it’s a game that most players simply do not play very often. A two-man team alternates shots with a single ball until the hole is completed.
One player on a two-man team will tee off on the odd holes and his partner will tee off on the even holes. Beyond that, there is little predictable about foursomes. A player might go four or five holes without putting, for instance. Foursomes can be awkward because a player can put his partner in a bad spot with one poor shot, so it’s best to pair two players who are familiar with one another, and players comfortable knowing their partner’s game and strengths.
One key in quality foursomes pairings is finding two players adept at keeping the ball in play. A team might line up a long hitter to tee off on the par-5 holes, or align a great iron player to tee off on the par-3 holes (three of the four par-3 holes at Le Golf National are even holes). Whereas players usually require birdies to win holes in the four-ball format, in foursomes, par on a hole can be a very good score.
One other challenge in foursomes that players will not encounter when playing four-balls: Because a team must play a single ball on a hole, a player sometimes will be hitting a different brand golf ball, with different characteristics, than the ball he usually plays. With precision at a premium, that can be significant.
“I love alternate-shot,” said Rickie Fowler, who will play in his fourth Ryder Cup for the U.S. “We played it in Walker Cup and I played well there. It’s been something where I love the challenge of it. You’re not hitting the next shot. It’s interesting because there’s not necessarily a rhythm to it. You just hit your shot and try to put your partner in a good spot. It’s a fun dynamic.”
Germany’s Bernhard Langer, who often paired with Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, holds the record for most wins in foursomes, with 11. Arnold Palmer and Lanny Wadkins each won nine points in foursomes for the U.S. The foursomes matches will be staged as the day’s second session on Friday and Saturday. With one ball in play, and the Ryder Cup sometimes racing darkness in autumn, it’s the quicker of the two formats.
The format for the four-ball matches is pretty straight-forward: Find two birdie-makers, pair them together and turn them loose. In four-ball, two players represent a team and use the better score of the two as the team score. For example, if Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson are partnered and Johnson makes a birdie and Koepka an eagle, the team uses the eagle as its score on that hole.
Some captains like the strategy of pairing two players with similar games. Some lean toward the concept of pairing players with similar personalities. U.S. Captain Jim Furyk said he likes a hybrid of the two. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed are two fiery personalities who try to beat one another each hole and have formed a terrific pairing in the last two Ryder Cups (they are 4-0-1 together).
Sometimes, a player on a team can catch fire in four-ball and all his partner can do is watch. That was the case with Rory McIlroy at Medinah in 2012, as he watched partner Ian Poulter make birdies at his final five holes to win, 1 up. That same year, European rookie Nicolas Colsaerts was paired with veteran Lee Westwood, the thinking being that Westwood could use his experience to help guide Colsaerts around his first Ryder Cup match. Instead, Colsaerts made an eagle and eight birdies in one of the event’s more amazing displays of golf, and the two beat Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, 1 up.
A team is taking a chance by putting out two top players with one another; an opponent that can pull off the upset against two giants can give its team a tremendous lift. That was the case in 2004 with Europe took down Woods and Phil Mickelson not once, but twice on opening day.
Being that a golfer is playing his own ball in four-ball, it is a format more conducive to getting rookies out for a first time. Should they be nervous and hit a few errant shots, a partner is there to bail them out.
In singles, each team captain blindly submits his 12-man lineup on Saturday evening (in 1 through 12 order) that then is matched up against the opposing team’s 1-12 lineup. When a team trails by a significant margin, the team that is down is likely to front-load a lineup – that is, stack the top with its best players trying to seize early momentum in the singles session.
This was the situation at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1999. The U.S. went into singles trailing Europe by a 10-6 margin. So U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw put out several of his stronger players early – and one by one, those players started placing red U.S. numbers on the scoreboard (U.S. is red, Europe blue), totally flipping the tenor of the matches. The top six U.S. players – Tom Lehman, Hal Sutton, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Tiger Woods and David Duval – all returned victories. The U.S. won the singles, 8.5-3.5, to win the Ryder Cup by a point.
Conversely, Europe trailed 10-6 heading into singles at Medinah outside Chicago six years ago. So Captain Jose Maria Olazabal put his week’s strongest performers out early. Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Paul Lawrie delivered Olazabal five points in the first five matches, and Europe stole all momentum. Europe went on to win, 14.5-13.5.
In a tight competition, it’s good to have a strong player in the 12th spot should the matches come down to that, but a Captain also runs the risk that he could waste a top player in a match that potentially has no bearing on the outcomes. Such was the case in 2012, when Tiger Woods, in the 12th spot for the U.S., was standing in the 18th fairway against Francesco Molinari when Europe clinched retention of the cup.
How teammates can help one another
In a regular stroke-play event on the PGA Tour, a player offering assistance to another (such as telling him what club he hit on a particular hole) would be penalized, deemed to have given another player “advice.” If Player A asks for advice (“Is the wind right into us?”), he faces a penalty of two shots; if Player B gave Player A advice, he also would be penalized two shots.
But in a team competition, partners are allowed to share thoughts with their partner on club selections and assist one another in reading putts. Some players tend to operate as they do the other 51 weeks a year and go it alone, staying in their routines, but sometimes you’ll see players trying to be decisive on the read of a putt who ask their partner to come in and give a second opinion.
The sequence of play is determined by teams and not individuals. Let’s say Europe had two balls 20 feet from the hole in a four-ball match, and Jordan Spieth had a 30-footer and Patrick Reed a 6-footer for the U.S. With the U.S. team away on the hole and controlling the next shot, Spieth could have Reed step up and putt his 6-footer. If Reed misses, Spieth would then putt.
Also, as a condition of competition, one captain per team (it could be a Vice-Captain if the Captain so designates) is allowed to give advice to players. So you might see a captain station himself on a par-3 hole, say, to help his players with decisions on clubs, offering inside information on how previous players have played the hole.
How can I watch the Ryder Cup?
The 2018 Ryder Cup will stream live on RyderCup.com and be broadcast by the NBC Sports Group, including NBC and Golf Channel.
Ryder Cup History
The American team leads the all-time series, 26-13-2. You can see a year-by-year listing of Ryder Cup winners here.
We found the 51 greatest Ryder Cup photos of all-time and compiled them into a photo gallery. Here's one of our favorites from 2016:
What happened in the the last Ryder Cup?
Here are highlights from the 2016 Ryder Cup.
Additional reporting by RyderCup.com's Jeff Babineau.