A beginner’s guide to the Ryder Cup: Scoring, golfers, details of the event at Whistling Straits

·12 min read
A beginner’s guide to the Ryder Cup: Scoring, golfers, details of the event at Whistling Straits

HAVEN, Wis. — The Ryder Cup has arrived in Wisconsin. So what is the Ryder Cup?

Perhaps you have some sense of the biennial (not biannual; we double-checked) extravaganza that pits the best golfers from the United States against the best from Europe. Sure, that might seem a shade ethnocentric, but it dates back to 1927 and provides a unique experience on the golf calendar, with the top prize for a team and not an individual.

What should beginner fans expect at Whistling Straits this week? Let’s examine the key bullet points for this tête-à-tête (it’s French, and we’re involving Europe, so it works).

What is this Ryder Cup thing, anyway?

Photo by Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Every two years since 1927 (there have been a couple of exceptions), 12 of the best United States golfers square off against 12 of the best from Europe. After three days of different match formats, one side or the other gets to bring home the golden Ryder Cup trophy.

Ryder Cup: Scores | Updates | Yardage book | How to watch

The United States won most of the early matches, but the tide has shifted in the 21st century, with Europe winning seven of the nine contests since 2002. Preceding that, the United States earned a particularly memorable triumph in 1999, where everyone got mad because the Americans danced on the green and stuff following a ridiculous comeback. Also, the fans in Massachusetts were apparently kind of bonkers. Bet you’ll see the video at least once this weekend.

Who won the last Ryder Cup?

The Associated Press

Europe won in France in 2018, 17 ½ to 10 ½.

Note that if the two sides end up in a tie, the reigning champ gets to keep the title.

The event at Whistling Straits was originally scheduled for 2020 before it was bumped a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remind me where Whistling Straits is again

Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The course is in Haven, Wisconsin. It’s associated with The American Club and owned by the Kohler Company, a crown jewel of Sheboygan County. The campus has two 18-hole courses (the Irish and Straits courses), both of which are among the top 100 public courses in the United States. Whistling Straits has hosted three PGA Championships (2004, 2010, 2015) in addition to a U.S. Senior Open.

The Ryder Cup will be held on the Straits Course.

What’s the format?

This isn’t one of those typical golf tournaments with a leaderboard and a bunch of guys “x strokes under par.” It’s completely different, and there are several different formats at work.

Each match is worth one point to the overall team score, and, obviously, the team with the most points at the end of the three-day spectacle is the winner.

The first two days feature one session of four “foursome” matches and a second session of four “four-ball” matches. The final day features 12 singles matches.

Slow down, what does that all mean?

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Four-Ball: You might call it “best ball” at a golf outing. Each side pairs players up in two-person teams. It’s like a normal foursome out there on the course, with partners, and everybody plays their own ball just like a normal day on the course. Except they don’t lose their golf balls like our normal day on the course.

Each team counts the better of its two scores on each hole, and the team whose player has the lowest score wins the hole. If the low scores tie, then the hole is halved.

The team that wins the most holes wins one point for the team score. And if they tie, the point is halved.

Foursomes: This is weirder. The players are once again in two-man partnerships but they alternate taking shots and play one ball per hole. Player A tees off on the odd-numbered holes, and Player B tees off on the even-numbered ones. The team with the low score on each hole wins that hole, and if they tie, the hole is halved.

Once again, the team with the most holes wins the single point.

Since there are 12 players on a team and 16 players needed for the two sessions on Day 1 and Day 2, that means four players on each side will pull double duty in both a four-ball and foursome match on the same day.

Singles: No more partners, just one U.S. and one European player per hole. The player with the lower score wins the hole. Most holes wins. If they tie, the team point gets halved. Pretty simple stuff.

Overall team scoring: Each of these matches is worth one point, and draws are worth one-half point. So if a U.S. pair in the four-ball wins 10 of 18 holes, that’s one point for the U.S. team. With eight four-balls, eight foursomes and 12 singles, that’s a grand total of 28 points. So, essentially, the first team to reach 14½ points wins. But if it ends in a 14-14 draw, the team holding the Ryder Cup gets to keep it. In this case, that’s Europe, so Europe just needs to get to 14.

What’s the ‘3 and 2’ scoring about?

Often you’ll see that a match was won “3 and 2” or “2 and 1” — that simply means one golfer took an insurmountable lead given what was left. If a golfer is up three holes with two to play, there’s no reason to play those last two, so he wins “3 and 2.” Likewise, if he goes up two with one to play, he wins “2 and 1.” They call it a day early and skip what’s left.

If the golfers are tied through 17 holes, then the winner of the 18th wins “1 up.” If one golfer leads by one on the final hole and then takes the last hole, too, he wins, “2 up.”

One note for those watching the golf Sunday; even if the U.S. or Europe team have enough points to win, the rest of the singles matches will still get played.

My eyes have glazed over. Is Tiger Woods going to be there?

Getty Images

Alas, no, barring a stunning surprise (for which there is no evidence). Though there was some hope Woods might join Steve Stricker’s crew as an assistant, it does not appear Woods will be making the trip as he recovers from leg injuries suffered in a Feb. 23 car crash.

More: 50 in 50: Tiger Woods greets the world at Brown Deer Park

So which famous golfers are actually going to be there?

The Associated Press

Your idea of famous may vary, but if you’re only a casual fan, the biggest names on the course will be, in some order, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, and Collin Morikawa. But there are a lot of notable golfers outside that list.

The United States has eight of the top 10 in the world rankings, though Spain’s Jon Rahm, who won the 2021 U.S. Open and defeated Tiger Woods in a singles match at the last Ryder Cup, is No. 1 on that leaderboard.

It probably doesn’t get more high profile than Koepka, the 31-year-old with four majors under his belt, the No. 9 world ranking and an ongoing feud with DeChambeau, the 28-year-old U.S. Open champion in 2020 with a penchant for driving the ball to the moon.

Spieth, 28, has three major titles on his ledger. Johnson is still ranked No. 2 in the world and has two majors under his belt. Morikawa, 24, is one of the game’s best young stars. He’s ranked No. 5 in the world and won the British Open this year after taking the 2020 PGA Championship.

Here are the teams

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

U.S. Team: Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Harris English, Daniel Berger, Scottie Scheffler

More: RYDER CUP ’21: A capsule look at the American team

Team Europe: Jon Rahm (Spain), Tommy Fleetwood (England), Tyrrell Hatton (England), Bernd Wiesberger (Austria), Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland), Viktor Hovland (Norway), Paul Casey (England), Matt Fitzpatrick (England), Lee Westwood (England), Sergio Garcia (Spain), Shane Lowry (Ireland), Ian Poulter (England)

More: RYDER CUP ’21: A capsule look at the European team

How was the team chosen?

Ryder Cup
Ryder Cup

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The U.S. and European teams are chosen with separate formats.

The top six U.S. golfers in the Ryder Cup points rankings make the cut, as do six captain’s picks. Those points are accumulated over a multi-year stretch, in this case from 2019 through August 2021.

The U.S., of course, is captained by Wisconsin native Steve Stricker. He’s got some vice captains helping him out, too, namely Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson. No, those guys won’t be playing, even though Phil just won his sixth major in 2021 when he won the PGA Championship.

The European team takes its first four players from the European points list, the top five players from the World points list and then three wild cards chosen by captain Padraig Harrington.

Harrington’s vice captains include Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson. Kaymer is particularly interesting since he won the 2010 PGA Championship played on the very same course.

Were any of Stricker’s captain’s picks controversial?

Olympics: Golf-Mens
Olympics: Golf-Mens

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There’s always an opportunity to discuss “snubs” with this sort of thing. The highest ranking golfer to not make the list is Patrick Reed, who’s already competed in three Ryder Cups. Stricker has said Reed’s recent injury and medical issues played a role there.

Golfers Billy Horschel and Kevin Na were also guys who could have made the cut. Na, who wasn’t thrilled with being left off, is lower in the rankings but has played well recently. Horschel admitted getting snubbed fueled him in the BMW PGA Championship last weekend.

Still, it was a fairly down-the-middle set of choices, though it’s notable that a full half of the team has never competed in a Ryder Cup before.

When will we know which guys are paired together?

Traditionally, the first batch of pairings for the morning session Friday will be announced at Thursday’s opening ceremonies. Captains then take the morning results into account and have a short window of time before announcing pairings for the second session that afternoon.

The Day 2 morning pairings should be announced within an hour of Day 1 completion, and just like on Day 1, the Day 2 afternoon pairings get announced after that morning session. Then, both captains slot golfers 1-12 (without knowing how the other captain is lining their own players up). The lineups are revealed Saturday night for Sunday’s singles matches.

Koepka and DeChambeau are still mad at each other, right? Any chance they’re paired?

Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Last we heard, the two were at least on professional terms, and it’s hard to imagine that their well-documented dislike for each other will play a huge role in the Ryder Cup, though it seems unlikely the two will be paired together. As even Koepka has said: It’s just a week, after all.

The two have been trading annoyed barbs since 2019.

Didn’t Koepka almost have to withdraw because of a wrist injury?

It wasn’t clear immediately if Koepka would be healthy to compete in the Ryder Cup, but he has since said that he’s good to go. Koepka was the only player of the 12 not to participate in the practice session at Whistling Straits last week.

Former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger also had some terse remarks about Koepka, suggesting that the golfer may not appreciate the Ryder Cup as much as he should. Azinger was reacting to Koepka’s comments in Golf Digest suggesting that he didn’t love the sometimes-hectic format of the Ryder Cup and preferred taking responsibility for his own shots.

Koepka has some experience playing well in the state of Wisconsin. He won the 2017 U.S. Open title played at Erin Hills. He also tied for fifth at Whistling Straits in the PGA Championship in 2015, an event where Jordan Spieth took second.

The schedule of events

Ryder Cup Practice Rounds
Ryder Cup Practice Rounds

Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday — Gates open at 7:30 a.m. Ryder Cup practice round begins at 9 a.m. (players can practice any hole, and maybe all of them)

Wednesday — Gates open at 7:30 a.m. Ryder Cup practice round begins at 9 a.m. The U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team exhibition runs from 1 to 5 p.m.

Thursday — Gates open at 7:30 a.m. Celebrity matches (a 9-hole scramble featuring U.S. and European celebrities) will run from 8:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Ryder Cup practice round runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pre-opening ceremony runs 3 to 4 p.m. with opening ceremony from 4 to 5 p.m. Event features live music and team introductions.

Friday and Saturday — Gates open at 6 a.m. Foursomes begin at 7:05 a.m. (with additional tee times at 7:21 a.m., 7:37 a.m. and 7:53 a.m.). Four-ball matches begin at 12:10 p.m. (with additional tee times at 12:10 p.m., 12:26 p.m., 12:42 p.m. and 12:58 p.m.). Play concludes at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Sunday — Gates open at 7:30 a.m. Singles matches begin at 11:04 a.m. and tee off at 11-minute intervals thereafter, with play concluding at approximately 4:55 p.m. The winning-team trophy presentation is slated for approximately 5 p.m. on the 18th green.

Where can I watch the Ryder Cup on television?

Featured matches will be available all three days at RyderCup.com or on the Ryder Cup app.

Friday — The Golf Channel will broadcast live from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturday — The Golf Channel will broadcast from 7 to 8 a.m., and then NBC picks up the coverage from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday — NBC will broadcast live from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m..

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.