The 40th Ryder Cup begins on September 26th at Gleneagles in Scotland, the country that when the matches begin could be independent or still part of the United Kingdom. For golf fans the biggest current issue in Scotland is not whether the people will vote Yes or No for independence but who will win the Ryder Cup?
Since 1979 the format of the match has not changed. There are 28 points to play for in foursomes, fourballs and singles. In the early days of the event the total points to be played for was just 12. During the 1960s and early 1970’s the teams played for 32 points but the current format is now well established. Since 1979 a player can contest a maximum of five matches.
Traditionally the Ryder Cup was played in odd years alternating between Europe and the United States. Due to 9/11 the Americans did not travel in 2001 so the match was put back a year and since then it has been played in even years. The competition usually takes place over three days at the end of September, starting early on Friday morning and finishing on Sunday evening.
The 2001 Ryder Cup was scheduled for September 28th to 30th at the Belfry in England. It was played exactly one year later at the original venue with the same teams that were due to play in 2001. The scoreboards at the course still displayed “The 2001 Ryder Cup” and the American captain, Curtis Strange, referred to his players as the 2001 Ryder Cup team. There were also no Ryder Cups from 1939 to 1945 inclusive because of the Second World War.
Of the 39 matches played between 1927 and 2012 the United States have won 25, lost 12 and there have been two ties. Great Britain and Ireland only won three Ryder Cups between 1927 and 1977. Europe have won 9 of the 17 Ryder Cups in which continentals have been eligible to play. Since Europeans were added to the team in 1979 there has been just one tie.
Sir Nick Faldo has the record of most appearances having represented Europe 11 times. He also holds the record for winning most points having won 23 matches and tied four. Five players have accumulated seven points in singles including Colin Montgomerie. Bernard Langer has won most points in foursomes while the joint winners of most points in fourballs are Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal. He and Severiano Ballesteros have won most points as a pairing.
Of those golfers that have played in three Ryder Cups or more Jimmy Demaret is the only player with a perfect 100% record while six others have won 80% or more of their matches though Ian Poulter is the only European in this select group of players. Seven players have won five points in a single Ryder Cup. Sergio Garcia is the youngest player and Raymond Floyd is the oldest. The Ryder Cup format has been copied for other team events for male professionals such as the President’s Cup, Seve Trophy and Royal Trophy.
Statistics and records for past Ryder Cups are only really relevant since 1979 when players from Continental Europe were first allowed to compete. Even with the input of players like Ballesteros and Langer the United States won the first three matches after the qualification criteria were changed. The Europeans then won three themselves followed by a run of two wins for the Americans and then two for Europe. The next two Ryder Cups were then shared.
There have been six Ryder Cups since the start of the millennium and the US only won the 2008 renewal at Valhalla Country Club. That means Europe have won their last three home matches and two of the others overseas. The United States looked like adding to their tally two years ago until the Miracle of Medinah on the Sunday afternoon. If Europe are successful at Gleneagles it will be the fourth time in the modern era that one side has won three Ryder Cups in succession.
In the last six Ryder Cups Europe have won 93 points and lost 75. They have won the match by nine points twice in this spell and have accumulated over 55% of the points on offer. The American sole win was by five points six years ago at home.
The European captain, Paul McGinley, has given wildcard picks to Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher. Luke Donald misses out and his putting will be missed in the match play format. Gallacher deserves a chance, partly as lives 34 mile from Gleneagles and is now the only Scot in a Scotland Ryder Cup. Whether the 2014 Ryder Cup will be played in the United Kingdom is another matter entirely. Gallacher missed out on automatic selection by one single shot and is a player in form while Donald has underachieved this season.
Tom Watson’s picks are Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson. Bradley earns his place due to his commitment to redemption after Medinah and Mahan is a recent winner on the US PGA Tour. The selection of the out of form Simpson is a mystery but it must be frustrating for Watson that Billy Horschel only started playing like a world beater after the team was decided. Chris Kirk is another player in better form than Simpson. The Americans tend not to give rookies a pick, especially this year as three of their players in the team by rights are debutants.
The European team also includes three debutants but with Gallacher the only rookie in the side with a pick. The European 12 have played in a total of 31 Ryder Cups while the American side have experience of 29 matches. The Europeans have competed in 125 matches in foursomes, footballs and singles while their opponents have played in 113 matches. The home side also have an advantage with respect to the number of points won. Seven of the experienced Europeans have a strike rate of over 50% while just four Americans have been as prolific of the nine players who have played in the Ryder Cup in the past.