Congratulations, Ryder Cup Teams

October 4, 2010

The Americans made a heck of a comeback today, and it came down to the final holes of the finals singles match—but the European team held on for the win – 14-1/2 to 13-1/2. Congrats, Europe, and well played, Americans. What a tournament.

If you’re wondering who Ryder is and why everyone seems to want his cup—we did the history in Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Tee’s Off on Golf (page 223).

Here’s an excerpt:

Brits and Yanks
The Ryder Cup is the biennial competition between the best professional American and European golfers. They play for no prize money, but simply for the chance to win the cup, which they then get to keep for two years. Its popularity has gone up and down through the decades, but reached a new high in the 1990s, thanks to some excellent play—and a growing rivalry between the two teams.

The tournament began in the 1920s as an exclusive competition between American and British players. Professional golf was gaining popularity in the United States at the time, and some great players were beginning to emerge. Many golfers were regularly traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Great Britain to play in various tournaments. The Walker Cup had been established in 1922 as an international competition for amateur golfers, and some people thought it was time to make an official match for the pros.

Planting the Seed
In 1925 Samuel Ryder, an English businessman (and amateur golfer) who had made a fortune selling penny-packets of seeds, decided to do something about it. He proposed an official tournament between American and British professional golfers—and he backed up his proposal. He donated a 16-inch-high, 14-carat gold trophy topped by the figure of a golfer. (Pop quiz: Which golfer inspired it? Answer at the end of the article.) That got the attention of the PGA of America, which had recently been formed in 1916, as well as the British PGA, founded in 1901. They agreed to sponsor a tournament to be played the following year at Wentworth Golf Club, just outside of London. The British team would be captained by Ted Ray, winner of the 1912 British Open and the 1920 U.S. Open, and the American team by Walter Hagen.


A Tradition Launched
The British team trounced the Americans that year with a score of 13 1/2 to 1 1/2. (The Brits won 13 matches, the Yanks won one, and one was tied.) But Ryder refused to award a trophy to the Brits—four of the ten “Americans” were British-born and one was Australian-born. So they decided that the 1926 match would be called “unofficial” and that the first official match would be played the next year, in 1927. From then on it would be played every two years with the location alternating between the United States and Great Britain. And every player on a country’s team had to be native-born.

The 1927 match was held at the Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Massachusetts. Some of the names on the first U.S. Ryder Cup team: Walter Hagen, who would be the captain of the first six teams; Joe Turnesa, of the seven golfing Turnesa brothers; and Gene Sarazen. The British team consisted of such golfing greats as Ted Ray, Archie Compston, and Arthur Havers. More than 8,000 people showed up to watch the matches over the two days, and saw the Americans make up for the previous year’s loss with a 9 1/2 to 2 1/2 win. The Ryder Cup was off and running.

Ryder Cup Highlights
• 1931: During a match in Columbus, Ohio, Gene Sarazen hit a tee shot on the par-3 4th into a shack. He chipped the ball off the concrete floor through an open window and the ball landed 10 feet from the pin. The Americans won the cup, 9 to 3.
• 1957: The Brits won for the first time since 1933. They wouldn’t win again until the 1980s.
• 1969: The Ryder Cup sees one of its more sportsmanlike moments at Royal Birkdale in England when Jack Nicklaus concedes Tony Jacklin’s final putt in the final match, ending the event in a tie for the first time.
• 1973: Ireland is added to the British team, with the team now being known as GB&I—Great Britain and Ireland.
• 1979: To bolster waning interest in the event (from lack of competition—the British had won only one Ryder Cup since 1933), a change was made. Henceforth, the matches would be between the United States and Europe, bringing such stars as Spaniard Seve Ballesteros and German Bernhard Langer to the competition.
• 1999: The United States made the biggest comeback in cup history, fighting back from a 6 to 10 deficit to a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 win.

Pop Quiz Answer: Samuel Ryder honored his own professional instructor (and original captain of the first British Ryder Cup team), Abe Mitchell, by putting Mitchell’s likeness on top of the trophy. Unfortunately, Mitchell got appendicitis right before the match and couldn’t compete for the cup. He chose Ted Ray to take his place.