Ryder Cup formats, explained: Fourball, foursomes and singles

Fourball, foursomes and singles explained as the Ryder Cup nears.

The Ryder Cup approaches. (Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
The Ryder Cup approaches. (Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images) (Ramsey Cardy via Getty Images)

The Ryder Cup tees off later this week at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome, testing golf's greatest players in a range of team formats. The 28 matches are worth one point apiece in the team total, and matches can be halved. The winning team must compile 14 points (if it already holds the Ryder Cup, as the U.S. now does) or 14 1/2 points (if it's trying to reclaim the Ryder Cup, as Europe is trying to do).

All the formats in the Ryder Cup are match play, as opposed to golf's usual stroke play (counting the total number of strokes across 18 holes). In match play, players (or pairings) compete to win each hole, with the lowest score winning. Ties do not carry over to the next hole. The match is over when the losing player (or team) is behind by more holes than remain to be played. The formats are as follows:

What is foursomes?

Both team days will begin with four foursomes matches, starting at 1:35 a.m. ET Friday and teeing off every 15 minutes thereafter. In foursomes, also known as alternate shot, one player will tee off, and the other player will play that shot from wherever it lies. Players must alternate teeing off each hole.

Shortly before the foursomes end, team captains will submit their lineups for afternoon fourballs. Captains submit lists without knowing what one another will do, and the revelation of which pairings and players are matched up against one another is part of the Ryder Cup's sublime drama.

What is fourballs?

Both afternoon events will be fourball events, also known as best ball, in which both players play their own ball. The lowest score of the duo is that team's score for that hole. The lowest score among the two teams, then, wins the hole.

Within an hour after the Friday fourballs end, captains will need to submit their lineups for Saturday morning foursomes. Similarly, within an hour after Saturday fourballs end, captains will submit their lineups for Sunday singles.

What is the singles format?

On Sunday, all 12 players will meet in match play, starting at 5:35 a.m. and teeing off every 12 minutes thereafter. Play will continue all the way through the full 18 for each player, even if the outcome is already certain; players take great pride in their own personal Ryder Cup records.

The United States has won 27 Ryder Cups to Europe's 14, with two ties. However, since 1995, Europe has won 9 of the past 13 events. The United States holds the Ryder Cup following its 19-to-9 demolition in Whistling Straits in 2016, but has not won in Europe in 30 years.