Your Guide to the Ryder Cup

Go&Golf is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

The Ryder Cup is without doubt the biggest team event in professional golf, if not one of the biggest events in professional sport. 

Businessman Samuel Ryder donated the trophy; hence the competition is named after the Englishman. 

Crowds at the 9th hole of the ryder up at Le Golf Nationale Paris

It differs from regular golf tournaments for two reasons.

One is that instead of stroke play golf, which is traditionally played on the European and PGA Tour, The Ryder Cup is contested with match play golf. And two, the crowd often plays a big role, cheering on the teams in a style usually found at football matches, not inside the ropes of the golf course.

Continue below where you can find out more about the Ryder Cup, including the format of the event plus where and when it is played.

What is the Ryder Cup?

The Ryder Cup is a men’s team golf competition contested between Europe and the United States. 

The event takes place once every couple of years and has developed considerably from the first Ryder Cup match which took place in 1927. 

Originally, the Ryder Cup saw Great Britain take on the United States and that was the case up until 1979. Then in 1979, after a period of domination from the US, the Great British team sought inclusion of European golfers to make the Ryder Cup a little more competitive and converted into Team Europe under which it plays today.

This has arguably been the single biggest change to the tournament over the years.

Of the first 25 Ryder Cup events, the United States won 21 times, with only 3 victories for Great Britain and the change to include European golfers was actually suggested by Jack Nicklaus! 

The change saw the introduction of talented European players including Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer which quickly changed the dynamic of the competition. 

How is the Ryder Cup Played?

The Ryder Cup is played over three days. 

The first two days include four foursomes matches in the morning and four four ball matches in the afternoon. 

The third and final day is reserved for singles matches and all 12 players from each team are in action. Each match from each session is worth one point. 

In advance of each Ryder Cup, both teams will nominate a captain. The captain is a hugely important role, despite the fact they don’t touch a club during the event! (You have to go back to Arnold Palmer in 1963 to find the last time a captain played in the Ryder Cup). 

The captain’s role is to select the team both before the competition and during it. Some players earn automatic qualification to the team whilst others are chosen by the captain, known as captains picks. 

Throughout the three days, the job of the captain is to choose which players will play together and in what order in both the foursomes and fourballs. 

Not every player will play on the first two days of competition but every player must play in the singles on the third day. Again, the captain chooses the order in which the players go out on the final day. The captain doesn’t have to decide this alone, they will usually pick a number of vice captains to help them out during the competition.

How Many Points to Win the Ryder Cup?

There are 28 points available in total in the Ryder Cup. A team must win a minimum of 14.5 points to win the Ryder Cup or 14 points to retain the Ryder Cup if they are the current holders.

For each match at the Ryder Cup there is one point on offer and a halved game will give each team half a point. 

With 8 games on days one and two and 12 single games on the final day, that means there is a total of 28 points up for grabs. 

The total points for each team are added throughout the tournament and all matches are played, regardless of whether one team has won before the final singles games are complete.

The Ryder Cup Trophy

There have only been two draws in the history of the Ryder Cup, one in 1969 and one in 1989. As above, the winner of the previous Ryder Cup keeps the trophy in light of a draw, with Europe being the latest team to benefit from that rule in 1989.

How Often is the Ryder Cup Played?

The Ryder Cup is a biennial event and the competition alternates between European and American venues. 

When a team hosts the competition, they have the home advantage and can tweak the courses as they see fit to suit their team. In the US that usually means making the courses as long as possible. In Europe it usually means growing the rough high to put a premium on accuracy. 

Bubba Watson on Team USA approaching his ball in the thick rough at the Ryder Cup at Le Golf Nationale Paris

Up until 1999, the Ryder Cup took place in odd-numbered years but the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001 meant the 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed. It will revert back to being played in odd-numbered years in 2021 with the Pandemic postponing the 2020 Ryder Cup a year. 

How Many Players are on a Ryder Cup Team?

There are 12 golfers on each Ryder Cup team. 

Team Europe and Team USA have slightly different methods of selecting their players, which has also changed over the years. 

Half of the current United States team is chosen automatically from the Ryder Cup points list. This is based on the prize money won by players in big tournaments. In addition to the 6 players chosen via the points list, the captain of Team USA will choose 6 players as captains picks.

The European Team is chosen by including the top 4 players on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai Points List and the top 5 players on the World Points List. Following the final qualifying event, the European captain will then select 3 additional players to complete the team of 12.

Who Won the Last Ryder Cup?

The most recent Ryder Cup was contested in 2018 which was won by Team Europe in a comfortable victory at Le Golf National, in France. 

However, Team USA continues to dominate overall and they have recorded a total of 26 Ryder Cup victories in comparison to 11 by the European team. 

Even if you include the 3 wins by Great Britain before Team Europe was born, the total is only 14, so the United States are by far the most successful team in the history of the competition. 

If you’re interested in reliving some of the magic of the Ryder Cup, why play one of the UK Ryder Cup venues dotted around the country.