It may have been delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic — what hasn’t been, at this point — but the Ryder Cup makes its triumphant return, with the United States looking to break through a historic slump against Europe.
This year, Team USA fields six Ryder Cup rookies against a European team that has a significant experience advantage in the competition. Add to that the fact the U.S. has only won three of the last 12 matches in this competition — not to mention a smouldering feud between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka — and the pressure is on for Team USA, which still finds itself the betting favorites.
This year’s competition will take place at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, home to the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships.
That said, the match-play terminology, rules and format of the Ryder Cup may be unfamiliar to those golf fans who typically only watch stroke play. No worries: Sporting News is here to explain the 2021 Ryder Cup in its entirety, including scoring methodology, Team USA and Europe rosters, types of competition — including fourball, foursome and singles matches — and more:
Ryder Cup 2021 rules and format
The Ryder Cup is a biennial competition that has taken place since 1927 between Teams USA and Europe (though some years have been skipped). It comprises 28 overall matches, each worth one point, split into three different forms of competition: fourball, foursome and singles matches.
Friday, the first day of competition, will consist of eight overall matches: four fourball matches in the morning and four foursome matches in the afternoon. Saturday will follow the same format, resulting in 16 possible points through two days. Sunday, the final day of competition, will consist of 12 singles matches.
The first team to 14 1/2 points wins, though competition will not stop once a team meets that threshold. That’s why Team Europe finished with 17 1/2 points in the 2018 Ryder Cup, despite needing only 14 1/2 to win. Unlike other match-play events such as “The Match,” there are no overtime rules in place should the teams tie. Instead, the current holder of the Ryder Cup — Team Europe — would retain its champion status.
Teams consist of 12 competitors, a captain and vice captains. Only the 12 competitors will play. Because each of the first two days of competition needs 16 individual golfers, four golfers from each 12-person team will need to play a round in the morning and in the afternoon, creating another layer of strategy for both teams.
Captains must submit lineups for Friday morning’s matches at 5:15 p.m. ET on Thursday; the deadline for Friday afternoon’s matches is 2:05 p.m. the same day. Saturday’s morning lineups must be submitted no more than an hour after play concludes on Friday, and the deadline for afternoon lineups is again 2:05 p.m. ET the same day.
How does Ryder Cup scoring work?
Matches are worth a point for the winning team, a half-point in the case of a draw and no points for the losing team. The first team to reach 14 1/2 points (the minimum score needed to ensure a non-tie finish) wins the Ryder Cup.
Scoring for each individual competition mirrors overall Ryder Cup scoring: Individual holes won are worth one point, with draws on a hole resulting in a half-point for both teams. The team with the most points at the end of a match wins the point for their team in the final Ryder Cup scoring.
If after the 28 competitions both teams remain tied at 14 apiece, then the team currently holding the Ryder Cup retains it. So if the 2021 Ryder Cup finishes in a tie, then Team Europe, winner of the 2018 competition, would remain champion.
2021 Ryder Cup rosters
Team USA comprises the top six point earners from 2019 through the end of the 2021 BMW Championship, plus six captain’s selections from Wisconsin native Steve Stricker. His vice captains are Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson. Points earned were determined by winnings from 2019 major championships and World Golf Championship events; 2020 major championships and PGA Tour events; and 2021 major championships and PGA Tour events.
*Denotes selection by Stricker
Team Europe comprises the first four players from the European points list, then the top five players from the world points list who didn’t qualify among the top four European points rankings. Following those selections, captain Padraig Harrington chose three at-large picks. His vice captains are Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson.
|Golfer||European points rank||World points rank|
*Denotes selection by Harrington
What is fourball in golf?
Fourball is a type of competition in which two teams of two golfers each — Team USA and Team Europe, for the purposes of the Ryder Cup — play through 18 holes. Each individual golfer plays their own ball for a given hole, so four balls will always be in play (hence the name).
Once the hole is concluded, each team will count the lowest of its two individual scores for that particular hole; the team with the lowest score wins the hole and the point associated with it. If the teams are tied for the lowest individual score, then the hole is considered a draw and both teams are awarded a half-point.
For example: If Team A’s members shoot 2 over and 3 under on a given hole, only the 3 under score would count for the purposes of score-keeping. If Team B’s members both shot 2 under, then that would be the only score submitted for the hole. In this scenario, Team A would win because its lowest individual score (3 under) was lower than Team B’s (2 under).
What is foursomes in golf?
Foursomes is slightly more complicated than four-ball, though it’s similar in that it’s played between two two-person teams. There difference is, instead of each individual golfer playing their own ball, teammates alternate playing the same ball on a given hole. They also alternate tee shots.
For example, Teammate A would drive on Hole 1, with Teammate B playing the ball next; assuming the teammates reach par on a par-3 hole, then the hole would conclude with Teammate A sinking the ball on the team’s third overall stroke. On Hole 2, Teammate B would drive, followed by Teammate A, and so forth.
The team with the lowest score on each hole wins the point associated with that hole. If the score for the hole is tied, then half a point is awarded to each team.
What is singles scoring in golf?
Singles scoring will likely be most familiar for fans who watch stroke play. In singles, each match features one player from each team and takes place over the course of 18 holes; unlike fourball and foursomes, each golfer needs worry only about themselves.
The players progress through the course, earning points for lower scores on a given hole and half-points for draws. The player with the most holes won at the end of the match (at least 10 is necessary to win) earns a point for their team in overall Ryder Cup scoring. A tie (nine holes won for each golfer) nets a half-point for Ryder Cup scoring.
What are concessions in the Ryder Cup?
Unlike stroke play, players don’t have to complete each hole in match play. So if a player concedes a stroke — almost always a putt — to their opponent, then the opponent picks their ball up, takes the score they would have made on the next stroke and moves on to the next hole.
Likewise, it’s possible to take an insurmountable lead in match-play competition. In such an instance, a team or individual golfer can concede a match when it’s clear there aren’t enough holes remaining to make up the difference against their opponent.
For example, if you see a match was won “3 and 2,” it means a team or individual golfer had a three-hole lead with only two holes remaining; even if their opponent won the remaining holes, they would still face a one-hole deficit. Likewise, “2 and 1” means a team/golfer has a two-stroke lead with only one hole remaining. The largest insurmountable deficit from the 2018 Ryder Cup came from Tony Finau, who won “6 and 4” over Europe’s Tommy Fleetwood in singles match play.
Other Ryder Cup terminology
- 1 up: If a golfer or pairing is tied through 17 holes, then the winner of the 18th and final hole wins by going “1 up” over their opponent.
- 2 up: If a golfer or pairing has a one-hole lead going into the 18th hole and wins that hole as well, they win the match by going “2 up” over their opponent. In such an event, the final hole is played because there’s a chance the losing golfer(s) can win the final hole, resulting in a tie.
- Halved: If no golfer or pairing wins a hole, it is considered halved, where both teams are awarded a half-point.
- AS: If a match is tied while it’s being played, then it’s considered all square — or “AS” for short.
- Dormie: A team or golfer referred to as “dormie” leads by as many strokes as there are holes remaining in a match: two holes up with two holes left, three holes up with three holes left, etc. Being “dormie” means you can do no worse than tie, and need only another half-point to ensure victory.