How the Ryder Cup works: Format, rules, points, matches
Ryder Cup

How the Ryder Cup works: Format, rules, points, matches

VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  A staged photograph of The Ryder Cup trophy as the five-man Ryder Cup panel meet to discuss the 2016 Ryder Cup Europe Captaincy at Wentworth on February 18, 2015 in Virginia Water, England.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: A staged photograph of The Ryder Cup trophy as the five-man Ryder Cup panel meet to discuss the 2016 Ryder Cup Europe Captaincy at Wentworth on February 18, 2015 in Virginia Water, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The Ryder Cup happens every two years (it's a biennial event), pitting 12-men teams representing the United States and Europe against each other in 28 matches over three days to determine a winner.

Each team is headed by an appointed captain, with the PGA of America selecting the United States captain and the European Tour picking the European captain. The host team alternates each match, as well, with the matches played in even-numbered years since 2002, following the cancellation of the 2001 matches after the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.


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The two teams are determined by qualifying systems created by the captains and co-owning organizations.

The American team is currently crafted from eight automatic qualifiers, who earn a spot on the team based on a points-for-dollars system that spans approximately 20 months from March of the off-year in the cycle to the end of August in the final year of the cycle. After those eight players are determined, the American captain then hand picks a total of four wild-card players to round out the team, with three coming after the BMW Championship and another at the conclusion of the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour.

The European team is currently decided first from nine automatic qualifiers, with the first four coming from the European Points List, which is based on earnings in European Tour events during the specified earning period in the two-year cycle. The next five automatic qualifiers come from the World Points List, which is a total of Official World Golf Ranking points earned in sanctioned events in the two-year cycle. After those nine players are decided, the European captain currently makes three wild-card picks to get to 12 players.

During the week of the Ryder Cup, the matches are scheduled from Friday through Sunday, with 28 matches altogether. If either team earns at least 14.5 points, they win the Ryder Cup. If the team who last won the Ryder Cup earns 14 points, then they retain the trophy.

On each of the first two days, a total of eight matches are played over two, four-match sessions featuring two different types of two-man match-play matches.

In each of those days, there will be one four-match session of what's called foursomes. There's also a session of what's called fourball.

Foursomes is also called alternate shot. On each hole, one player (Player A) from each team hits their team's respective tee shots. Then the other player (Player B) from each team hits the second shot. Then the third shot is hit by Player A, and so on, until the ball is holed. The teams compare scores, and the team with the lower score wins the hole. Whichever team wins the most holes wins a full point. If the match is even after 18 holes, then the match is halved and each team earns 0.5 points.

Fourball is also called best ball. On each hole, all four players play out the hole using their own ball, just like they were playing individually. At the end of each hole, each team uses the better score of the two partners and compares it to the other team. The team with the better score wins the hole. Whichever team wins the most holes wins a full point. If the match is even after 18 holes, then the match is halved and each team earns 0.5 points.

The teams for each of the four-match sessions are

Neither side is required to player at any time. They can be excluded from all four sessions or they can play in all four sessions, or anywhere in between. All of the teams are blindly submitted before the session starts, slotted by match position.

On the final day, a total of 12 matches are played in one session. All 12 players from each side are blindly submitted before Sunday play, slotted by match position. It's classic match play, with the player winning the most holes winning the match and a full point. If the match is even after 18 holes, then the match is halved and each team earns 0.5 points.

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