History, format and star players as Europe take on USA

Golf takes centre stage this weekend as the Ryder Cup returns after a three-year absence.

The biennial golf event between Team USA and Team Europe attracts huge crowds and audiences on television, way above a usual PGA Tour or European Tour event.

We have put together a helpful guide to the 2021 edition, being played at Whistling Straits in the Northern USA.

Played since 1927, this is the 43rd time the event has been played. It was originally between GB & Ireland and the USA but continental Europe were brought into the fold in 1979.

With most of the golf calendar made up of individual, stroke-play events, the chance to play as part of a team with match-play the format makes it one the most popular tournament in the sport.

And due to the Covid pandemic it is three years since the two foes last met, when Europe were victors at Le Golf National in Paris.

This year’s event will be played at Whistling Straits golf course in Wisconsin and is highly anticipated after the extra 12 months’ wait.


There are 28 matchplay contests played between Friday and Sunday in three formats — foursomes, fourballs and singles.

The first four sessions see four matches out on the course, with 12 points up for grabs on the final day.

Matchplay means if the USA win the first hole they would go 1up, then they would either go 2up if they won the next one, remain 1up if they equaled Europe’s score and go back to all-square if they were to lose the hole.

That continues for the entirety of the matches, which can finish before the 18th hole if one team is far enough ahead.

Winning the match gives your team one point, while halving the game sees each team win half a point.

Foursomes are played on Friday and Saturday morning and see two players from Europe go head to head with two from the USA in an alternate shot format.

In the afternoons of the opening two days the teams play fourballs, which means both players from each side play their own ball with the best score used on the scorecard.

And then the climax on Sunday sees 12 singles matches played as every member of the side is on the course for the only time in the event.

A side needs 14.5 points to win the Samuel Ryder Trophy, while a 14-14 draw would see Europe retain it after their 2018 win.

Why is it so popular?
The Ryder Cup attracts people usually not interested in golf in a way no other event does — not even The Masters or The Open.

There are numerous reasons for that but they all boil down to the fact that it is a team effort, pitting one country against a continent.

During normal events, there are 100-plus players all playing for themselves. At the Ryder Cup, it is 12 men playing for each other and their team. That leads to a much different atmosphere out on the course, with roars reverberating around the holes and chants from the fans.

Ryder Cup-specialist Ian Poulter, nicknamed The Postman due to his tendency to deliver for Europe at this event, has explained why it means so much to him.

Poulter said: “Playing in the Ryder Cup is just an amazing experience. I feel like I play my best golf during matchplay scenarios and that whole team environment is incredible for that one week every two years.

“I love the fact that you get to face one opponent during the singles matches on the final day, when the whole event usually reaches its crescendo and because you’re both playing the same 18 holes at the same time, you know everything that he is doing and that makes things so much easier.”

The teams
Captain: Steve Stricker

Vice-captains: Fred Couples, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson

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

Captain: Padraig Harrington

Vice-captains: Luke Donald, Robert Karlsson, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson

Line-up: Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Lee Westwood, Bernd Wiesberger.

Players to keep an eye on
On the European side, world No1 Jon Rahm and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy need to have big weeks if they are to cause an upset.

The aforementioned Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood are all experienced campaigners but keep a close eye on Norwegian rookie Viktor Hovland, who is the second-highest ranked player in the side currently.

It is hard to pick which of the American stars to watch out for — nine of them are ranked in the world’s top 12 and rookie Scottie Scheffler is the lowest-ranked player at 21.

The eccentric Bryson DeChambeau is always a must-watch attraction, while Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa are rookies in name only.

And we have not even mentioned Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Jordan Speith yet. It is easy to see why they are heavy favourites.

On paper, the US have a far stronger team with all 12 of their players ranked in the world’s top 21.

But everyone predicted a US victory in 2018 and they could not have been more wrong as Europe’s cohort won the cup back.

With a course set up to suit their big hitters, much will depend how the US side gel together — something they have struggled with compared to the men from across the Atlantic Ocean.

Europe have won two of the past four events as the away side, while the US have not won outside America since 1993.

That is why many would not be surprised to see a European upset — and that is why there is a degree of confidence in the ranks.

McIlroy said: “I think it would be a huge achievement, especially you look at obviously this tournament isn’t played on paper, it’s played on grass, but on paper you would look at the World Rankings and everything, we’re coming in here as underdogs with a lot of things stacked against us, so I think that would make it even more of an achievement.”

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