What Is the Ryder Cup Format?

scoreboard of singles matches at the 2012 Ryder Cup
The Ryder Cup format includes 12 singles matches on the final day, as displayed on this leaderboard from the 2012 matches. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Ryder Cup format currently in use is this: Play takes place over three days and includes foursomes, fourball and singles match play, a total of 28 matches.

"Singles" means one-vs.-one match play; foursomes and fourball are often called "doubles match play" because they involve two golfers per side. The doubles are played over Days 1 and 2; the singles on Day 3.

Foursomes is alternate shot: Each side plays one golf ball; the golfers on that side alternate playing the strokes.

In fourball, each golfer on a side plays his own ball (hence, there are four balls in play on each hole, one for each golfer in the match), and the lower score among the two partners counts as the team score.

Here is the daily schedule at the Ryder Cup as it is currently played:

Day 1

  • On Day 1, there are four foursomes matches and four fourball matches.
  • One format is played in the morning session and the other in the afternoon session.
  • The order of the formats - which of foursomes and fourball is played in the morning session and which in the afternoon session - is decided by the home team captain.
  • Team USA and Team Europe each have eight golfers in play during each of the two sessions. Since they have 12-person teams, four golfers per team must sit out each of the two sessions.

Day 2

  • On Day 2, there are another four foursomes matches and another four fourball matches.
  • The order - which goes first in the morning session, foursomes or fourball - is the same as on Day 1.
  • This is the final scheduled day of doubles match play at the Ryder Cup, so, overall, there are four doubles sessions consisting of a total of 16 matches over the first two days.

Day 3

  • On Day 3, there are 12 singles matches.
  • Team captains turn in their respective orders of play without knowing what order the other team's golfers will play in.
  • Since there are 12 golfers per team, that means everyone plays on the third and final day of a Ryder Cup.
  • With 12 matches on the final day, the total number of matches played during a Ryder Cup is 28.

Note again that all players on a team must play in the singles session on the third day. However, only eight golfers per team are needed for each of the doubles session.

Ryder Cup Format Changes Over Time

The Ryder Cup format has changed multiple times in tournament history. In the early days golfers at a Ryder Cup played a maximum of two matches each; in some years of the 1960s and 1970s, there were two singles sessions (morning and afternoon) on the final day.

For all the formats used throughout the history of the Ryder Cup, see Page 2 of our Ryder Cup history feature.

These, however, are the biggest changes over time:

  • 1927: Ryder Cup debuts with 12 points total at stake over two days - four foursomes and eight singles.
  • 1961: Matches double from 12 to 24.
  • 1963: Fourballs played for the first time; also for the first time, play extended to three days.
  • 1981: The exact format used today first goes into effect.

As noted, these are merely the biggest changes to the Ryder Cup format; there have been multiple other smaller changes to orders and composition of the matches.

See our Ryder Cup history article for more.

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