All Things Ryder Cup: How does this thing work?

golf Sep 29, 2023

By Grant Norland

If you're like me and were up at 1am to watch the Ryder Cup live, you're probably familiar with the different match play formats traditionally played at the event.  Unfortunately for Team USA, this year we saw Europe explode out to an early 4-0 lead (and now 6 1/2 to 1 1/2), so the USA has some major catching up to do in order to retain the cup.  Europe played exceptionally well, perhaps most notably John Rahm, who had 2 eagles in a 3 hole stretch in the afternoon session.  


If you're a more casual fan and find yourself wondering exactly what is going on with all the unique match play formats and scoring, here's some information you may find useful as you tune in this weekend.

The Ryder Cup is one of the most prestigious, unique, and highly anticipated events in the world of golf, featuring top professional golfers from the United States and Europe competing against each other in a team, match play format.  So, how does the scoring work?



The format of the Ryder Cup is a team competition that plays a series of match play rounds for a total of 28 match points.  Each round is worth 1 point.  If a round is tied at the end of 18 holes, each team receives 1/2 of a point.  

There are 8 matches each on Friday and Saturday and 12 on Sunday.  

How does match play work?

Each match is scored based on how many holes each individual or pairing has won vs the opponent they're facing for that round.  So, there is no keeping a total score based on the number of strokes, like most televised golf events.  In match play, each hole is worth 1 point, so you will see the score written "3 UP" if one team is 3 holes ahead of the other.  A match can either be UP, DOWN, or TIED (aka "all square"). 

Unlike other golf events, a round may end before 18 holes are played.  For example, if one player or pair is ahead by 3 with only 2 holes remaining, the round is over and the leading team wins the point for the round.  You'll see this noted "3 & 2" on the scoreboard, meaning the winning team was ahead by 3 holes after the 16th hole was played (2 remaining).



There are 3 main match play formats in the Ryder Cup that occur over a 3 day span.  The first 2 days showcase teams of 2 from Team USA vs teams of 2 from Team Europe.  Pairings are chosen each day by the team captains. 

1. Foursomes (Alternate Shot) - Fri/Sat Morning sessions:

  • In Foursomes, also known as Alternate Shot, each team consists of two golfers.
  • Team members take alternate shots using the same ball, with one player teeing off on odd-numbered holes and the other on even-numbered holes.

2. Four-Ball (Better Ball) - Fri/Sat Afternoon sessions:

  • In Four-Ball, each team consists of two golfers.
  • Each player plays their own ball throughout the round, and the team's score for each hole is the lower of the two players' scores.

3. Singles Matches Sunday:

  • In Singles Matches, each player competes individually against an opponent from the opposing team.
  • This format is straightforward, with each golfer playing their own ball throughout the round.
  • Singles Matches take place on the final day of the Ryder Cup with 12 points up for grabs.



Each team consists of a team captain and 12 players.  Six of the 12 players on each team automatically qualify (AQ) based on their ranking, with 6 additional players being selected as "captains picks" (CP) at the discretion of the team captain.  

Team USA Team Europe
Zach Johnson (captain)  Luke Donald (captain) 
Scottie Scheffler (AQ) John Rahm (AQ)
Wyndham Clark (AQ) Rory McIlroy (AQ)
Brian Harman (AQ) Viktor Hovland (AQ)
Patrick Cantlay (AQ) Tyrrell Hatton (AQ)
Max Homa (AQ) Matt Fitzpatrick (AQ)
Xander Schauffele (AQ) Robert MacIntyre (AQ)
Brooks Koepka (CP) Tommy Fleetwood (CP)
Jordan Spieth (CP) Sepp Straka (CP)
Rickie Fowler (CP) Justin Rose (CP)
Collin Morikawa (CP) Shane Lowry (CP)
Justin Thomas (CP) Nicolai Hojgaard (CP)
Sam Burns (CP) Ludvig Aberg (CP)


I hope this helps you enjoy watching the Ryder Cup through the weekend.  Now, you just have to be up at 2am tomorrow to tune in LIVE to all the action in Rome, Italy to watch what will hopefully become a remarkable comeback for Team USA.  


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