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Ryder Cup: The ‘Golden’ History and Curious Beginnings of Golf’s Most Well-Known Match-Play Spectacle

By: Simon Reynolds

Singles Matches-2010 Ryder CupThe History

The Ryder Cup is a men’s golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States, which takes place every two years. The competition is jointly administrated by the PGA of America and the PGA European Tour, and every two years the venue alternates between courses in the USA and Europe. The Ryder Cup gets its name from the English businessman Samuel Ryder, who donated the trophy towards the event. Samuel Ryder accumulated his wealth, selling seeds by post in England and having fell in love with the game and playing avidly to a single handicap, he was proud to donate the money and the gold cup as a team of golfers from Great Britain travelled to the USA for the very first official Ryder Cup in 1927.

Two unofficial competitions between a team of golfers from the United States and Great Britain were organized and played in the 1920s. The first was in 1921, between a United States team of their 12 best golfers against a team of Great Britain’s 12 best golfers. The idea was from James D. Harnett, a journalist working for Golf Illustrated in 1920, who wrote a letter to the Professional Golfers’ Association of America with a suggestion that a team of 12-20 of America’s best pros should be chosen to travel and play in the 1921 British Open, at the Old Course, St. Andrews, all financed by popular subscription. Previously no American Golfer had won the British Open. The PGA of America made a positive reply to the suggestion and the idea was announced in the November 1920 issue of Golf Illustrated. The fund was called the British Open Championship Fund.

By the following spring, a team of 12 players had been chosen, who set sail to Scotland in time to play in a warm-up tournament at Gleneagles (The Glasgow Herald 1000 Guinea Tournament) prior to the British Open at St. Andrews two weeks later. The idea for a 12-a-side international match between American and GB professionals was reported in The Times on May 17. The match went on as planned on June 6th 1921 played on the King’s Course at Gleneagles. With a couple of players withdrawing for unknown reasons, the contest was 10 on 10: and consisted of five foursomes in the morning and 10 singles matches in the afternoon. The match was won by Great Britain by nine matches to three; three matches were halved.

Two weeks later at the Open Championship, Jock Hutchison, a member of the travelling American professional team, was crowned the champion. So, despite losing the international match, the main aim of having an American champion at the British Open was finally achieved.

In 1926, a large contingent of America’s best golfers travelled to Great Britain to compete in the 1926 Open Championship. In February that year it was announced that Walter Hagen would select a team of four professionals (including himself) to play against four British professionals in a warm-up contest before the Open Championship. In April it was announced that Samuel Ryder would be presenting a trophy for an annual event between American and British professionals. Then in May 1926 it was confirmed that the match would be a match play competition, eight-a-side, foursomes on the first day and singles on the second day. Eventually, at Hagen’s request, 10 players competed for each team.

The match resulted in an astounding 13-1 victory for the British team (one match was halved). The match was widely reported as the “Ryder Cup”. However Golf Illustrated in their June issue 1926, because of uncertainty following the general strike in May, which lead to uncertainty about how many Americans would be visiting Britain for the event, Samuel Ryder deemed it suitable to withhold the cup for a year. It is also worth noting that Walter Hagen chose the competing team rather than the American PGA, also that only those Americans who had travelled to Britain to play in the British Open were available for selection and the team also contained four players born outside the USA. These were both reasonable factors to suggest that this first golf event between USA and Great Britain should be regarded as unofficial.

2008 Ryder Cup  Previews - Day 3The first official contest between the United States and Great Britain, thus the first Ryder Cup, was played out in 1927 at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, USA. The United States won all of the first five events, and after resuming play after World War II, the United States continued to dominate the event well into the 20th century. The event was remodeled to feature a team from the United States versus a team from Great Britain and Ireland in 1973, as Great Britain’s team featured several top players from the Republic of Ireland. It was due to such overwhelming American dominance that the tournament organizers decided to reformat the event to feature Team USA against Team Europe (any player from continental Europe) in 1979. Thanks to the emergence of great golfers from Spain such as Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, it proved to be a great idea. The quality of players from continental Europe is evident with results balancing out from 1979 to today, with Europe having won nine times outright and retaining the Cup once after a tied match, alongside seven victories for the United States in total. Since 1979 great Ryder Cup team players have come from all over continental Europe: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The current holders are Europe who were victorious last time around in 2012, at the Medinah Country Club, Illnois by a score of 14½ points to 13½ points, successfully overturning a four-point deficit going into the final day’s play. The World of Golf waits in anticipation for the 2014 event which will be held at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perth and Kinross Scotland from 26th – 28th of September.

What makes the Ryder Cup so unique and loved by golf fans and golfers worldwide?  No money is exchanged or won during the competition, but the level of competition is fierce amongst the two teams. Perhaps, like all sport, when patriotism is at stake and representing a nation or region, pride and patriotism raises the level of competition and rivalry to unprecedented levels which will never be matched by regular professional tour events. The golf fans of the United States and Europe get behind their teams in full force to support the very best professional golfers from the United States compete against the very best professional golfers from continental Europe. Nothing is better than representing your country or continent in your chosen sporting field. It’s the pinnacle of competitive sport worldwide.

Team Europe’s dominance continues, as they emerged victorious in the 2014 Ryder Cup from Gleneagles in Scotland, winning: 16.5 – 11.5. Look forward to next months issue where Paul Prendergast goes deep into all the action and highlights of this memorable event in his regular Golf Insight coloumn.

About Simon Reynolds

Simon fell in love with the game of golf at an early age. Watching Happy Gilmore when he was 12, Simon was hooked, and to this day thanks Adam Sandler's genius in the film for his passion for the game. His golfing hero is more refined and mature these days, and he continues his spiritual quest to model his golf game on Ben Hogan's perfect golf swing.

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