ROME – Tuning into Sunday’s dramatic Solheim Cup finish, Rory McIlroy watched as Carlota Ciganda orchestrated a heroic comeback in her native Spain to beat Nelly Korda in singles and earn the tying point for the European team. While the home side hadn’t technically won, it had clinched retaining the Cup with what ended up a 14-14 draw, and raucousness still ensued on the green as Ciganda’s teammates mobbed her.
The scene got McIlroy thinking for a moment.
“Obviously, there were huge celebrations when Europe got to 14 and retained the Cup,” McIlroy said, “and I thought to myself, Geez, they are celebrating a lot for a draw.”
McIlroy, a huge supporter of Premier League squad Manchester United, is used to ties being commonplace in soccer – or calcio, as the sport is called in Italy – but not in the biggest events. The knockout stage of the World Cup, for example, requires extra time and occasionally penalty kicks to decide a champion.
But McIlroy then remembered: He’d done the same thing 11 years prior.
“I go back to Medinah in 2012,” added McIlroy, who was part of that European Ryder Cup contingent that overcame four points on the final day to win by a point, “and we went ballistic when we got to 14 as well.”
Ties certainly aren’t foreign to professional golf, either. While the Solheim hadn’t seen a tie in its 33-year history prior to Sunday, there have been two draws in 44 editions of the Ryder Cup – 1989 at The Belfry, and perhaps the most famous tie in golf, 1969 at Royal Birkdale, when Jack Nicklaus conceded a 3-foot putt to Tony Jacklin on the final hole, the 16-16 tie allowing the Americans to retain the Cup.
“I don't think you would have missed it, but I wasn't going to give you the chance,” Nicklaus told Jacklin that day, a decision that incensed his Captain, Sam Snead, who was quoted afterward saying, “We went over there to win, not to be good ol’ boys.”
Considering the gravity of the Ryder Cup, it’s fair to wonder if ties are still appropriate for the pinnacle team competitions of the sport.
During their regular seasons, the four major U.S. sports leagues differ on how they approach ties. The NFL allows them after an overtime period. The MLB and NBA do not. The NHL technically doesn’t anymore, though it awards one fewer point for a team that doesn’t win in regulation and gives the team that lost the shootout a point.
But when it comes to those sports’ playoffs and championships, ties aren’t allowed.
So, what about the Cups? Is it time for the Solheim and Ryder cups to adjust?
“I think that's kind of an interesting debate in and of itself,” Rose said. “History is so important, I think. But it is quite nice to wrestle it back fair and square.”
Tyrrell Hatton calls such draws “not ideal,” and he wonders if some sort of playoff could be implemented that would not only decide the outright winner of the Ryder Cup but also drum up a bit of extra excitement on that final day.
“It would certainly create a pretty epic atmosphere,” Hatton said. “Playing in front of home fans is always special anyway, but yeah, I think that would add something to it. I think you probably have the time to do it … maybe just having the tee times starting a bit earlier on Sunday would allow for, I don't know, a nine-hole, two players, best-ball sort of playoff format.
“I think that would be a lot more exciting than just, That's a tie, like, Oh, such-and-such retain the Cup. I don't think that's the best thing.”
Max Homa points to the 2003 Presidents Cup, which ended in a tie – but not until after Tiger Woods and Ernie Els halved three straight playoff holes.
"That was one of the coolest memories you could have of a team event," Homa said. "You would, I guess, crave more of that if possible ... but I don't know, just ties leave a bad taste in my mouth."
Rose and McIlroy, however, lean toward favoring history. Rose brings up The Ashes, a biennial test cricket series contested between England and Australia that began in 1882 and has featured seven draws in 73 total series.
“Retaining it, not letting the other team have the trophy I think can be a win,” Rose said, “so therefore, sometimes the tie is still relevant in my mind.”
Added McIlroy: “I think retaining it means something, and there's certainly a historical and traditional element to it. I don't know. I do like traditions of the game, and this competition has been around since 1927, and that's the way they have always done it.
“Does that mean that's the way they always have to do it? Probably not. But it's nice to keep some of the tradition around the event.”