The Ryder Cup is back this week, with the best golfers in America travelling to France to take on Europe’s best to defend their 2016 Ryder Cup win.
While everyone knows the Ryder Cup is one of the best events in golf, it can be easy to lose some of the details of how the tournament works due to its biannual schedule.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan just looking for a quick refresher, or a casual golf fan looking for an introduction to the tournament, here is everything you need to know heading into the 2018 Ryder Cup.
What is the Ryder Cup?
The Ryder Cup is a match play golf tournament contested between the best players in the United States and Europe every two years. Though the competition awards no prize money, the format of the tournament, team pride, and a rowdy crowd go a long way in making it one of the most exciting competitions in golf.
Where is it this year?
Europe and the United States take turns hosting the tournament, alternating the home-field advantage. The Americans hosted in 2016, so this year the tournament is in Europe, at the Albatros Course of Le Golf National in Guyancourt, France, just outside Paris.
As you can see above, it’s a beautiful course, and plays host to the European Tour’s French Open every year.
How does it work?
Each team consists of 12 players who compete over three days of golf. On Friday and Saturday, there are four “fourball” matches and four “foursomes” matches each day. On Sunday, all 12 players on each side compete in singles match play.
Wait, did you say different types of Match Play?
Yes. While Sunday’s singles pairings are straightforward match play rules, the rules and pairings on Friday and Saturday are a big part of what makes the Ryder Cup great.
Four ball: Two American and two European players compete against each other in each group. Each person plays their ball as you might in a standard round of golf. If one player has a lower score than the others or if both players on one team have the same lower score, that team wins the hole. If players from both teams tie for the lowest score on the hole, it is halved, and nobody wins the hole. Whichever team wins the most holes wins the match.
Foursomes/Alternate shot: American and European pairs again face off, but rather than playing their ball, players on a team alternate hitting the same ball until a hole is completed. The players on the same team also take turns teeing off. Again, if one team has a lower score, they win that hole. The team that wins the most holes wins the match.
These formats set the stage for great drama, with players sometimes saving a poor shot by their partner. It also adds a fascinating team element to the notoriously lonely sport.
How do you win?
There’s one point up for grabs in each match, and 28 total points up for grabs over the weekend – 16 through paired matches on Friday and Saturday, and 12 through the singles matches on Sunday.
It takes 14.5 points for a team to win the Ryder Cup. If the two teams are tied at the end with 14 points each, the reigning champions keep the cup.
Who won last year?
Since Team USA won the cup in 2016, they only need 14 points to keep the cup, while Europe would need at least 14.5.
Do you think they’ll repeat?
Oddsmakers in Las Vegas seem to be leaning that way – the Americans are currently listed as -140 favourites (bet $US140 to win $US100), with the Europeans as +150 underdogs (bet $US100 to win $US150).
Which players made the team this year?
Playing for the United States: Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Tony Finau
Playing for Europe: Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson
How are the teams selected?
Each team is lead by a team captain – this year its Jim Furyk for the Americans and Thomas Bjorn for the Europeans. The first eight spots on each team are reserved for players who qualify over the course of the season, while the final four spots are awarded as “wild cards” or “captain’s picks.”
These usually go to other players who are close on the qualifying list, but preference can be given to veterans who have proven themselves in previous Ryder Cups or players who are coming into the tournament playing well.
Is that all the captains do?
No. Captains are also responsible for setting the team’s pairings and putting them in order for play. Because neither side reveals its pairings or order to the other, the scheduled matches are a surprise to all when they come out. This also creates a bit of a mental chess match between the teams – where do you play your best player, and where will your opponent play theirs?
When does it start?
The opening ceremony takes place on Thursday, welcoming the teams and ringing in the start of the event.
After that, there’s a morning and afternoon set of four matches on both Friday and Saturday, before 12 straight rounds of singles match play on Sunday to determine a winner.
What storylines should I be following heading into the 2018 Ryder Cup?
Oh man, there’s so much! Between the unique nature of the Ryder Cup and the unbelievable talent in this year’s field, there’s no shortage of compelling stories to follow. But for casual golf fans, here’s a run down of narratives you’ll want to have on your radar.
1. Rory McIlroy vs. Patrick Reed, Round 2
In 2016, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy played what might have ben the most thrilling round of match play in the history of the Ryder Cup.
At the time, McIlroy was the third-ranked player in the world, already with four majors under his belt, while Reed had yet to win a major and had won just once on tour that year. But Reed matched Rory shot for shot, including an unreal sequence near the end of the front nine where neither man could miss a putt.
They both played off the crowd, offering wagging fingers to one another, and screamed with fury after sinking shot after shot, with Reed eventually prevailing for Team USA. A rematch this year on Sunday would certainly make for extra drama.
2. Who will Tiger Woods partner with?
Tiger Woods is a great golfer, and his return has been one of the best stories of the 2018 season. But Woods’ talent has not always translated to Ryder Cup success.
While Woods does fine as a singles player, finding a dance partner for Tiger has proven difficult over the years. As ESPN’s Bob Harig noted, Woods has gone just 9-16-1 when playing with a partner at the Ryder Cup.
It’s not hard to imagine why – if Tiger is known as one of the most intimidating players in the sport to be holding a lead against, imagine the pressure involved when alternating shots with him.
This year, chances are they pair him with one of the young guns, but Furyk teased the longshot idea of putting him and Phil Mickelson together for a round, a move that would no doubt be thrilling to golf fans if possibly not the most prudent for the tournament.
3. Can the Europeans defend home turf?
Being the home team really matters at the Ryder Cup – the Americans haven’t won on foreign soil since 1993.
Further, the Albatros Course of Le Golf National is especially friendly territory to some players on Team Europe – Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood have won the past two French Opens held at the course – and will certainly know its lines and greens better than their American counterparts.
4. Will Rickie Fowler finally get a Ryder Cup shot with his fiancée?!
When Team USA won the Ryder Cup in 2016, Rickie Fowler was still a bachelor, leading to one of the greatest celebration shots in the history of golf.
But with Fowler’s engagement in June of this year, he’ll have a chance to celebrate with all of the other happy couples this year should the Americans retain the title.
Now check out the best photos from golf’s most famous tournament
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