The Ryder Cup matches grew out of competition between British and American teams of professional golfers at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 1921. James Harnett of Golf Illustrated proposed the match and selected the U. S. team with the help of Walter Hagen. Played before the 2,000 Guineas Match Play Championship, the match was won by the British team, 9-3.
In 1926, the British Open instituted qualifying rounds. As a result, American golfers had to come over earlier than usual and, while they were waiting for the start of the tournament, some of them organized a team for a match against a team of British players. Again, Britain dominated, winning 13½ to 1½.
Among the spectators was Samuel Ryder, a wealthy English seed merchant. Ryder later met with some of the golfers and George Duncan of the British team proposed that Ryder donate a trophy for regular matches between the U. S. and Great Britain. Ryder thought it was a good idea and paid £250 pounds for a specially-designed gold chalice as the prize. The deed of gift called for competition every two years.
The trophy is 17 inches high, 9 inches wide (from handle to handle) and weighs 4 pounds. The golfer atop the chalice is Abe Mitchell, Ryder’s golf instructor, who was supposed to captain the first British team. Mitchell missed the first matches because of appendicitis, but he did play in 1929, 1931, and 1933.
The first Ryder Cup competition took place in June of 1927 at the Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts. This time the United States won, 9½ -2½.
Because of World War II, there was no Ryder Cup play from 1939 through 1945. The matches resumed in 1947 at Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Because of the spectacular rise of professional golf in the United States, the U. S. dominated Ryder Cup competition from 1959 through 1977, winning nine of the ten matches (the tenth was a 16-16 draw). Jack Nicklaus in 1977 proposed that the PGA of Great Britain should widen the selection process to include players from continental Europe in order to improve competition.
The change was approved by the Samuel Ryder’s descendants and the PGA of America. In 1979, Severiano Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, both from Spain, joined British golfers on the first European team to play in Ryder Cup competition. Since then, the teams have split a dozen matches with one draw.
The Ryder Cup has used five different formats. From 1929 through 1959, there were four foursome matches on the first day and eight singles matches on the second day, with each match going 36 holes, for a total of 12 points.
The format was greatly expanded in 1961 to eight 18-hole foursome matches on the first day, four in the morning and four more in the afternoon, followed by eight 18-hole singles matches the morning of the second day and eight singles matches in the afternoon, for a total of 24 points. In 1963, four four-ball matches were added, increasing the number of points to 32.
That was cut to 20 in 1977, when there were five foursome matches on the first day, five four-ball matches on the second, and 10 singles matches on the third and final day. (Note: in foursome matches, partners play alternate shots; in four-ball matches, each player plays his own ball and the lowest score wins a hole for that player’s team.)
When European golfers entered competition for the first time in 1979, the format was changed once more. There were four four-ball and four foursome matches on each of the first two days and 12 singles matches on the third day for a total of 28 points. That format is still in effect.
Although there’s no monetary prize, a spot on the Ryder Cup team is highly valued by professional golfers. Players are selected through complex point systems based on finishes in official tour events.