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Ryder Cup Format and Rules

By Brendan O'Brien

The Ryder Cup is a golf match that pits a professional golf team from the United States and a professional golf team from Europe. The match is played every two years, alternating locations in the United States and Europe. The first unofficial Ryder Cup matches were played in 1921 in Scotland where the British team beat the U.S. team, nine to three. Official Ryder Cup matches began in 1927 in Massachusetts after businessman and golf aficionado Samuel Ryder offered to pay the winning team a prize.

Match Play

Ryder Cup competition is determined by match play. In match play, two players or two teams compete. The player or team with the lowest score on a given hole wins that hole. The winner of the most holes during a 18- or 36-hole match is determined the winner. If players or teams tie a hole, the hole is halved and neither earns the hole. If a player or team is leading by more holes than the number of holes remaining, they are deemed the winner of the match. The team with the most winning matches during a Ryder Cup competition wins.

Early Format

The Ryder Cup format began with four foursome matches on the first day and eight single player matches on the second day. Each match was 36 holes with the foursome matches played in an alternate shot format. In 1961, 24 matches were played with eight foursomes and 16 single-player matches. Two years later, eight four ball matches were played, making the total number of points the two teams completed for 32.

Current Format

In 1977, the format again changed with five foursomes competing on the first day, five four ball matches on the middle day and 10 single-player matches on the third day. The total number of points to be earned was 20. Two years later, the team from Great Britain and Ireland invited European players to compete on its team. From 1979 until now, teams play for 28 points with a point awarded for winning each match, consisting of four foursome and four four ball matches during the first and second days and 12 single-player matches on the last day.

Four Ball, Foursomes and Single Matches

In four ball, each team has two members. Each player plays his own ball. The team with the player who has the lowest score earns the hole. In foursome play, two players are on each team and play one ball, alternating shots. The team with the lowest score, earns the hole. Single play is a match in which one player from each team plays his own ball, competing in match play.


The Ryder Cup captain for each team submits the order at which he wants the members of his team to play the matches. Team captains are not allowed to change the players in each slot unless they are injured or sick.

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