Everything you need to know about the Ryder Cup -- golf's most fun team event

The most fun event in all of golf begins on Friday from Chaska, Minnesota, where Team USA and Team Europe will square off in the Ryder Cup.

Held every other year — alternating between Europe and the states — the Ryder Cup is a three-day team event, featuring many of the sport’s best golfers as they compete for country and continent in a variety of individual and team match play events.

If you’ve never watched before, now is the perfect time to start.

The only problem with the Ryder Cup is that the format can, admittedly, get a bit confusing. What’s the difference between foursome match play and four-ball match play? What do those phrases even mean? How does the scoring work again?

Don’t worry; this year we’ve got you covered. Below is a full breakdown of the event. Everything you could possibly wonder about the Ryder Cup, explained.

Now all you have to worry about is finding an excuse to plant yourself on the couch this weekend.

The course: Hazeltine National, in Chaska MN. The weather for the weekend is perfect: low 70s, no rain.
The history: Since 1979, when golfers from continental Europe were included (before it was just Team Great Britain), Team Europe has won 10 times and retained the trophy once as a result of a tie. Team USA has won seven times.

The scoring: Every event in the Ryder cup is match play.

Wait, what’s match play again? If you score better than your opponent on a hole, you get one point. So: If, for example, Jordan Spieth birdies a par-4 and Rory McIlroy makes a quintuple bogey (here’s hoping!), Spieth wins the hole. If Spieth makes a quadruple bogey and McIlroy makes a quintuple, Spieth wins the hole.

A player or group who has won one more hole than its opponent is said to be “1 up.” The player or group to win the most holes in a match wins a point (more on this in a bit).

You get it.

A match can also end early if a golfer is leading his opponent by more shots than holes they have left to play. If, say, Spieth is 7-up on McIlroy after 12 holes, that match is over. Spieth wins, in golf parlance, “7 and 6” because, again, he led by seven strokes with six holes to go.

Some additional match-play terms to know:

“All square”: when a match is tied.

“Dormie” : when a golfer or team leads by the same number of strokes as holes remaining in the match. If, say, Spieth leads McIlroy by two shots with two holes to go, Spieth is dormie. At worst, Spieth can only tie the match.

The Ryder Cup format: There are 28 matches over the three days, meaning that there are 28 points to be collected by either Europe or the United States. If, say, Spieth beats McIlroy, Team USA gets one point. If they tie, both teams earn half a point.
The first team to 14.5 points wins the Ryder Cup. If the tournament finishes tied at 14-14, Europe would keep the Ryder Cup because they are the reigning champs.

The schedule: On Friday and Saturday, a total of 16 team matches take place over four sessions. More specifically: on the first two days, eight four-ball matches and eight foursome matches happen (we’ll get to these), on Friday morning, Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon. Sixteen matches equals 16 points up for grabs.

On Sunday, the remaining 12 points will be contested in singles match play. Dustin Johnson vs. Sergio Garcia, etc.

Four-ball: Teams of two face off, with each golfer playing his own ball on every hole throughout the match. Whichever of the four golfers makes the best score on an individual hole wins the hole for his pair, and match play rules apply: whichever pair wins the match subsequently earns a point for their Ryder Cup Team.
So: say Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson are playing Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose in four-ball. If Spieth, Watson, and McIlroy all make par on the 1st hole, and Rose makes birdie, McIlroy/Rose win the hole and go one up. If all four players make the same score, they remain all square.

Now, even if the aggregate score is the same between the two teams (one team makes a birdie/bogey, say, whereas the other team makes two pars — which would total the same number of strokes), the team with the lowest individual score takes the hole.

Foursomes: The most fun event of the Ryder Cup. Here, teams of two alternate shots, playing one ball between them.

So: if Rory McIlroy tees off and pushes his drive into the woods, Justin Rose would have to play that next shot, and if he hits into a bunker on the edge of the green (again, here’s hoping!) then McIlroy would have to scramble out of the sand, and so forth. Again, standard match play rules apply: whichever team takes fewer shots to get the ball in the cup wins the hole, and whichever duo wins the match collects a point for either Team USA or Team Europe.

Note: the alternating shots do not carry over from one hole to the next. If McIlroy makes his putt, he can still tee off on the subsequent hole.

What’s fun about the foursomes is the strategy: who is the more reliable with the driver? On par-3s?

The teams: The qualification process is slightly different for each team. Basically, the top seven European players (in terms of ranking) qualify automatically, as do the top eight Americans. The rest of the teams are picked by team captains.
Davis Love III is the captain of Team USA and Darren Clarke is the captain Team Europe.

Both teams also have a collection of “vice captains”, including Tiger Woods. The captains and vice captains are effectively coaches, so expect to see Tiger, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, and others pop up over the course of the weekend.

The maximum number of matches an individual golfer can play is five: two matches Friday, two matches Saturday, and a singles match on Sunday. That’s highly unlikely (not to mention tiring) and most will play fewer than that.

Before the start of each day, the captains share their teams. There’s strategy here, obviously, but what’s so fun is that the pairs are secrets until just before the start of the session.

Team USA:

Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, *J.B. Holmes, *Rickie Fowler, *Matt Kuchar, *Ryan Moore. (* to denote captain’s pick.)

Team Europe:

Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson, Chris Wood, Sergio Garcia, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Justin Rose, Andy Sullivan, Matthew Fitzpatrick, *Lee Westwood, *Martin Kaymer, *Thomas Pieters.


Session 1: 8:35 a.m. ET to 1. p.m. — foursome or four-ball matches

Session 2: 1 p.m. ET to 7 p.m. — foursome or four-ball matches


Session 3: 8:35 a.m. ET to 1. p.m. — foursome or four-ball matches

Session 4: 1 p.m. ET to 7 p.m. — foursome or four-ball matches


Session 5: 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. — 12 singles matches


Friday: Golf Channel coverage begins at 8:30 a.m. and goes until 6 p.m.

Saturday: NBC coverage goes from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Sunday: NBC coverage begins at noon and goes until the end of the tournament.

The advantage: Just by the look of the rosters, Team USA enters with a big advantage. Six of Team Europe’s players have never played in a Ryder Cup, whereas only Koepka and Moore have no Ryder Cup experience for Team USA.

Team USA also has home-course advantage, and both sides like to talk about how important the fans are to their overall success. Still, despite all this, Team Europe seems to have had Team USA’s number over the past decade.

Team USA should win, but don’t be surprised if they figure out a way not to.

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