Like the four major championships, the Ryder Cup attracts more casual sports fans to golf than any run-of-the-mill event could. For them, and even some espoused golf fans, the format of the Ryder Cup is a bit confusing. Played every two years, it’s easy to forget how it all shakes out. So let us explain it to you.
The Ryder Cup is played over three days, Friday to Sunday — that is unless it’s like the last time Europe hosted the Ryder Cup, then it could go into Monday or Tuesday.
The match pits 12 American players, captained by Tom Watson, against 12 players from Europe, captained by Irishman Paul McGinley, a devout Watson supporter. Nine members from each team made the team automatically based on tournament performance and/or world ranking. Each captain hand-picked three players after their automatic nine made the squad.
There are 28 matches over three days: eight on Friday and Saturday and 12 on Sunday. They unfold over five sessions, with two four-match sessions on Friday and Saturday and one 12-match session on the final day.
Each match is decided using the match play format. On each hole, players for each side in the match compare scores. The lowest score wins that hole. Win the most holes and you win the match. If the match is tied after 18 holes, then the match is halved. The winner of each match earns one point for their team. The loser gets nothing. A halved match means each team gets one-half point.
There are three match play formats played over the five sessions:
The first, kicking off the matches on Friday morning, is called fourballs or best ball. Two players from each side team together against an opposing duo. All four players play out their ball on each hole and put forth the best score of the two teammates against the best of their opponents. The lowest score on each hole wins.
On Friday afternoon, the format shifts to foursomes or alternate shot. Again, two players from each side team together, but this time they play off of one ball. Player A for each team hits the tee shot on No. 1, then Player B hits the second shot and so forth until the ball is holed. The lowest score between the two teams wins the hole. Players alternate teeing off on each hole to keep things honest.
The final session on Sunday is classic match play — mano a mano. Two players face off against each other over 18 holes with the lowest score winning each hole.
The team that earns 14.5 points first wins the matches. If the matches end in a 14-14 tie, then Europe, as defending champion, retains the cup.