Ryder Cup History

The Origins, Formats, Teams and Competitions of the Ryder Cup

Samuel Ryder 1929 Hagen Duncan
Samuel Ryder (center) is flanked by the 1929 Ryder Cup captains, Walter Hagen (left) and George Duncan. H. F. Davis / Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

The Ryder Cup was "officially" born in 1927 as a biennial competition between professional golfers representing the United States and Great Britain.

The competition has been held every two years since (with the exception of 2001, due to the terrorist attacks in the U.S., and 1937-47 due to World War II), and foursomes and singles match play have been a part of the competition since the very beginning.

The formats and the teams have changed through the years, and so has the level of competition.

Origins of the Ryder Cup
While the Ryder Cup matches officially began in 1927, informal competitions between teams of American and British golfers go back a few years earlier.

In 1921, teams of British and American golfers played a series of matches at Gleneagles in Scotland, prior to the British Open at St. Andrews. The British team won, 9-3. The following year, 1922, was the first year of competition in the Walker Cup, an event pitting American and British amateurs in match play competition.

With the Walker Cup founded for amateur golfers, talk turned to the desire for a similar event limited to professionals. A London newspaper report from 1925 mentioned that Samuel Ryder had proposed an annual competition between British and American professionals. Ryder was an avid golfer and a businessmen who had made his fortune by selling seeds - he's the person who came up with the idea of selling seeds packaged in small envelopes.

By the following year, the idea had taken hold. Another London newspaper report, this one from 1926, reported that Ryder had commissioned a trophy for the competition - what came to be the actual Ryder Cup itself.

A team of American golfers arrived a few weeks early for the 1926 British Open in order to play against the British team at Wentworth.

Ted Ray captained the Britons and Walter Hagen the Americans. Great Britain won the matches by a whopping score of 13 to 1, with one match halved.

One of the members of that 1926 British team, Abe Mitchell, is the golfer whose likeness adorns the Ryder Cup trophy.

But the Ryder Cup was not actually presented following the 1926 matches. The trophy likely wasn't ready by this point anyway, but the 1926 matches soon came to be regarded as "unofficial." The reason is that several of the players on the American team were not actually native-born Americans, most prominently Tommy Armour, Jim Barnes and Fred McLeod (how a team featuring Hagen, Armour, Barnes and McLeod could get trounced by a 13-1-1 score is a mystery).

After completion of play, the team captains and Ryder met and determined that team members would henceforth have to be native-born (this was later changed to having citizenship), and that the matches would take place every other year.

But the first "official" match was scheduled for one year hence, in 1927, to be played at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Mass.

In June of 1927, the British team departed for the U.S. It was at the send-off that the Ryder Cup trophy made its first appearance.

The British team set sail from Southampton aboard the sailing vessel Aquitania. The transoceanic voyage took six days. Costs for the British team's travel were covered in part by donations from readers of the British golf magazine Golf Illustrated.

Ray and Hagen again captained the teams, and this time each team was comprised of native-born players only. And this time, the Team USA won, 9 1/2 to 2 1/2. The Ryder Cup was presented to the American team, and the first official Ryder Cup competition was in the books.

Next: How Format Has Changed Through the Years

The matches - their format and duration - played in the Ryder Cup have changed over the years, evolving to the current configuration: fourball and foursomes matches on the first two days, followed by singles matches on the third day, all 18 holes in length.

Here's a rundown of how the match formats have changed over the years.

1927
The very first Ryder Cup competition featured foursomes (two players per side, playing alternate shot) and singles matches.

All matches were 36 holes in length. Four foursomes matches were played on the first day, followed by eight singles matches on the second day.

This format, with 12 points at stake, remained in place until the 1961 competition.

1961
The Ryder Cup competition was expanded from 12 points to 24 points at stake by cutting the matches from 36 holes in duration to 18. Foursomes and singles were still the formats used, and the competition remained two days in length.

But now, there are two rounds of foursomes on the first day, four matches each in the morning and afternoon. On the second day, 16 singles matches were played, eight in the morning and eight more in the afternoon (players were eligible to play in both the morning and afternoon singles matches).

The addition of 12 extra points was proposed by Lord Brabazon, president of the Professional Golfers Association of Great Britain. The process of approving the proposal would result in another change to the Ryder Cup, this one in ...

1963
Lord Brabazon's proposal in 1960 to increase the points at stake from 12 to 24 resulted in the formation of a players committee to study the issue. They approved, and the 1961 matches were doubled in points at stake, but kept the same type of matches (foursomes and singles) and remained two days in duration.

The players committee, however, also proposed adding a new format to the Ryder Cup: fourballs. Fourballs involve two players per side playing best ball (the best score of the two counts as the team score).

Fourballs were first played at the 1963 Ryder Cup, and the '63 Cup was the first one played over three days. Day 1 consisted of eight foursomes matches (four in the morning, four in the afternoon), Day 2 of eight fourballs (four in the morning, four in the afternoon) and Day 3 of 16 singles matches (eight in the morning, eight in the afternoon). Players could play in both the morning and afternoon singles if their captains so desired.

Points at stake increased to 32.

1973
For the first time, foursomes and fourballs were intermingled. Previously, all foursomes were played on one day, and all fourballs the next. In 1973, four foursomes and four fourballs matches were played each of the first two days.

1977
At the urging of the British team, the Ryder Cup competition was reduced in size in 1977. There were now 20 points at stake, rather than 32.

This was the result of playing only four foursomes and four fourballs total, rather than four each per day over the first two days. Day 1 featured the foursomes matches, Day 2 the fourballs and Day 3 the singles.

Singles matches were also reduced. Previously, there had been 16 singles matches, eight played in the morning, eight in the afternoon, with a player being eligible to play in both morning and afternoon singles.

The new format called for 10 singles matches total, played consecutively so that a player could play only one singles match.

1979
The competition format changed again this year. The second round of foursomes and fourballs was added back to the Ryder Cup (so eight foursomes and eight fourballs were played, total, divided over two days).

The points at stake rose from 20 to 28. Singles matches went back to a morning/afternoon format, but players were limited to playing just one singles match. A total of 12 singles matches were played.

1981
The point total remained the same (28), with just a slight change to singles.

Rather than a morning/afternoon format, all singles matches were played consecutively.

And that is the format still in use today: A 3-day event with four foursomes and four fourballs on both Days 1 and 2, and 12 singles matches on Day 3.

Next: How Teams Have Changed Through the Years

There have been two changes to the composition of the teams involved in the Ryder Cup, one minor and one a truly continental shift.

From the Ryder Cup's debut in 1927 through the 1971 competition, the Ryder Cup pitted the United States against Great Britain.

In 1973, Ireland was added to the British to create a new team name: Great Britain & Ireland, or GB&I. We say it created a new team name because in reality only the name of the team changed.

Fact is, Irish golfers - both from Northern Ireland and from the Republic of Ireland - had been playing on the Great Britain team since the 1947 Ryder Cup. This change merely recognized that fact.

So the "Great Britain & Ireland" team name was used in three Ryder Cups, 1973, 1975 and 1977. And American domination continued.

Jack Nicklaus helped lobby for an effort to truly change the team compisition and introduce more competitiveness into the Ryder Cup. Following the 1977 matches, the PGA of America and PGA of Great Britain met to discuss ways to increase the competitiveness. While the idea of opening the Great Britain side to players from across Europe didn't originate with Nicklaus, his pitch to the British PGA and lobbying for the idea helped make it happen.

The two PGAs agreed to open the matches to all of Europe and announced that 1979 would be the first year in which the Ryder Cup would pit the U.S. against Europe.

It was a continental shift in every way: the matches soon became competitive and hard-fought and interest from the public shot way up.

Once the European team achieved competitive balance (within a decade of the change), the Ryder Cup emerged as one of the most popular sporting events in the world.

Next: U.S. Dominates Middle Years

(Note: Yearly results - and match-by-match results for each competition - can be found on our Ryder Cup Results page.)

When the British team disembarked from the ship Aquitania following a 6-day journey in 1927, its players headed for Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Mass., for the first official Ryder Cup.

The U.S., captained by Walter Hagen and featuring Gene Sarazen, Leo Diegel, "Wild" Bill Mehlhorn and Jim Turnesa, defeated the Brits, 9.5 to 2.5.

The teams traded victories in the first four Ryder Cup competitions, the British winning the 1929 and 1933 competitions in England, and the U.S. taking the 1927 and 1931 events.

The 1929 matches at Moortown Golf Club in Leeds, England, were notable for an equipment issue: The R&A, the governing body of golf in Great Britain, would not approve steel-shafted clubs until 1930, so all matches had to be played with hickory-shafted clubs. Horton Smith, who would go on to win the first Masters, had never before played hickory clubs. That didn't stop him from winning his singles match, 4 and 2.

Hagen captained the first six American teams - all the pre-World War II cups.

The 1933 matches marked perhaps the greatest matchup of captains. Hagen, of course, led the Americans, and J.H. Taylor, part of Britain's legendary "Great Triumvirate," guided the Brits. Taylor's team won, 6.5 to 5.5, in what would be the final victory for Great Britain for 24 years.

Following the 1933 win, Britain would not win again until 1957 - and the 1957 victory was Britain's only one from 1933 through 1985. That dominance by the Americans is easily understood when one takes a look at some of the teams the U.S. was able to field in those years. Pick just about any year from that time period and you'll find American teams stocked with legends and major championship winners.

For example, 1951: Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Jack Burke Jr. and Lloyd Mangrum are on the U.S. team. Another, 1973: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Tom Weiskopf and Lou Graham lead the U.S. Those are just a couple teams we chose randomly. And the Americans didn't always have all their best players; Jack Nicklaus didn't play in a Ryder Cup match until 1969 because of a rule - no longer in effect - that a player had to be a PGA Tour member for five years before he was eligible for the U.S. team.

The British and GB&I teams of this era might be led by a great player, such as Henry Cotton or Tony Jacklin, but the Brits simply didn't have the depth to compete on equal footing. Many of the scores reflect the American dominance: 11-1 in 1947, 23-9 in 1963, 23.5 to 8.5 in 1967.

When the U.S. won, 8-4, in 1937, it was the first time a team won back-to-back Cups. The Ryder Cup wasn't played again until 1947 because of World War II, and it almost wasn't played again at all.

Next: Team Europe Emerges

The Ryder Cup was set to resume in 1947, but Great Britain was reeling from the aftereffects of World War II. The British PGA simply didn't have the money to send a team to the United States.

The 1947 Ryder Cup likely wouldn't have been played had a wealthy benefactor not stepped forward. Robert Hudson was a fruit grower and canner in Oregon who offered the use of his club, Portland Golf Club, for the matches, and paid the way for the British team to make the trip.

Hudson even flew to New York to meet the British team as it disembarked from the Queen Mary passenger ship, then took the cross-country train journey with them to Portland (a trip that took 3 1/2 days).

Hudson's hospitality was far greater than that of the American team, which thrashed the war- and travel-weary Brits, 11-1. It was the worst loss in Ryder Cup history - only Sam King's defeat of Herman Keiser in the final singles match prevented a shutout.

And the 1947 U.S. team was surely one of the strongest in the event's history: Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead led the squad, joined by Jimmy Demaret, Lew Worsham, Dutch Harrison, Porky Oliver, Lloyd Mangrum and Keiser.

The Ryder Cup competition was never in danger again following 1947, but the continued dominance of Team USA did lend the event a collegial feeling in many years. The British teams often found themselves mathematically defeated before the singles matches even began.

But the competition was always played out, with all matches completed in a show of sportsmanship.

Britain's lone victory between 1935 and 1985 came in 1957, when the team dominated singles play. Ken Bousfield, captain Dai Rees, Bernard Hunt and Christy O'Connor Sr. all won by large margins.

The competitive balance in the Ryder Cup began to change, however, in 1979, the first Ryder Cup to feature Team Europe.

The U.S. won the first two U.S.-vs.-Europe Cups easily, 17-11 in 1979 and 18.5-9.5 in 1981.

But the European team was welcoming players who would soon turn the tide. Nick Faldo's first Ryder Cup was 1977; Seve Ballesteros first played in 1979; and Bernhard Langer made the scene in 1981. These three players, along with fiery captains such as Bernhard Gallacher and Tony Jacklin, helped Europe quickly establish equal footing with the U.S.

Europe's first victory came in 1985, and Europe would win again in 1987, and retain the Cup with a tie in 1989. Between 1985 and 2002, Europe won five times, the U.S. three times, with the one tie in '89.

European success not only rekindled interest in the Ryder Cup in Great Britain and Europe, but also in the U.S., where American golf fans had come to take the Ryder Cup for granted.

Emotional, hard-fought and closely contested competitions have been the result, with golf fans around the world the ultimate winners.

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Kelley, Brent. "Ryder Cup History." ThoughtCo, Jun. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/ryder-cup-history-1566050. Kelley, Brent. (2017, June 3). Ryder Cup History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ryder-cup-history-1566050 Kelley, Brent. "Ryder Cup History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ryder-cup-history-1566050 (accessed November 21, 2017).