The Ryder Cup is a biennial men’s golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States. It is one of the premier events in golf and highly anticipated by fans around the world. The Ryder Cup features both team competitions, such as foursomes and fourballs, and singles matches on the final day. With so much on the line, an intriguing question arises: do they finish all the Ryder Cup singles matches, even if the overall team winner has already been determined?
Brief History of the Ryder Cup
The Ryder Cup was first established in 1927 as a competition between professional male golfers from the United States and Great Britain. The impetus for its creation came from English businessman Samuel Ryder who donated the eponymous trophy. The first official Ryder Cup took place in 1927 at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, USA with the home American team easily beating the British visitors.
Over the next several decades, the Ryder Cup steadily grew in popularity and prestige. In 1973, the concept of Team Europe was introduced to expand the British team to include players from across the continent. Since 1979, the Ryder Cup has featured a set format of 28 matches – 8 foursomes, 8 fourballs, and 12 singles. Europe and the USA take turns hosting the event.
Some of the most memorable Ryder Cup showdowns have included the Miracle at Medinah in 2012, the Battle of Brookline in 1999, and Europe’s dominating win at Oakland Hills in 2004. Heading into the 2023 edition at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Italy, the Europeans hold the cup after a close 19-9 victory in 2021 at Whistling Straits.
Ryder Cup Singles Matches
The singles matches on the final day of play at the Ryder Cup are often some of the most dramatic and exciting. With 12 singles matches scheduled, each player on the 12-man teams is matched up against a player from the opposite side. The singles matches account for 12 out of the 28 total points needed to win the Ryder Cup.
Format of Singles Matches
The Ryder Cup singles matches are played in match play format, meaning the player who wins the most holes outright wins the match. If the match is tied after 18 holes, it ends in a tie rather than extending to extra holes.
Each singles match is worth one point. Half a point is awarded for a tied match. The first team to reach 14.5 points wins the Ryder Cup.
The captains take turns making matches using a lineup they believe gives them the best chance at points. Top players are sometimes “loaded” at the back of the lineup to try to close out the win if it comes down to the final matches.
Do They Always Finish Ryder Cup Singles Matches?
An interesting quirk of the Ryder Cup format is that not all 12 scheduled singles matches will necessarily be completed if the overall outcome has already been determined.
Once a team reaches the 14.5 points required to clinch the Ryder Cup, the remaining singles matches are stopped and considered finished at their current state. Any matches that were not started or completed are considered tied.
So in summary – no, they do not necessarily finish all the Ryder Cup singles matches! Once a team wins the cup, there is no need to continue further play. The final score is adjusted to reflect tied matches in any unfinished games.
Examples of Unfinished Singles Matches
There are several examples throughout Ryder Cup history where the singles matches did not all get completed because one team had already clinched the necessary points:
1975 Ryder Cup
In 1975 at Laurel Valley Golf Club, the United States team captained by Arnold Palmer secured a dominating win over Britain and Ireland. On Sunday singles, the US quickly jumped ahead to 14.5 points after just 7 matches to retain the cup. The remaining singles games were stopped and considered tied at the current score.
1981 Ryder Cup
At Walton Heath Golf Club in 1981, the Europeans led by captain John Jacobs raced out to a big lead over the American team early on Sunday. They reached the 14.5 point threshold after just 8 singles matches, thus clinching the cup. The remaining 4 matches were not finished but counted as ties.
1999 Ryder Cup
The famous 1999 “Battle of Brookline” came down to dramatic fashion on the final day. The USA team mounted a massive comeback from a 10-6 deficit entering Sunday. They secured the 14.5th point after match #10 to win the cup. The last two scheduled singles games involving Payne Stewart and Colin Montgomerie were not completed.
2004 Ryder Cup
In 2004, host Europe utterly dominated the visiting Americans at Oakland Hills Country Club near Detroit. On Sunday singles, Europe went up 14.5-9.5 after only 8 matches. Captain Bernhard Langer’s team had already retained the cup, so the remaining singles contests were stopped short and counted as ties.
Strategy Around “Loading” Singles Lineup
As previously mentioned, the matchups and order for Sunday singles play is determined by the captains. Leading up to the final day, they analyze their teams and consider how to strategically “load” their lineups.
Loading refers to placing the team’s top players and most consistent performers towards the back end of the lineup. The rationale is that if the Ryder Cup comes down to the wire, their best players may be needed to close out tight matches and secure the required points.
Conversely, captains generally put rookies and less experienced players near the start of the singles order. Letting them tee off first limits their exposure if the team falls behind early.
While loading the back with top players can be a sound strategy, it is not without risks. Players held out until late may end up not even getting to play if their team races ahead to clinch early on. There is no perfect science to constructing the Sunday singles lineup at the Ryder Cup.
Examples of Loading
Here are some examples over the years of Ryder Cup captains strategically loading their Sunday singles lineups:
- 2008 – USA captain Paul Azinger placed Phil Mickelson in the 12th and final spot. Mickelson did not end up playing as Europe had already secured victory.
- 2012 – European captain Jose Maria Olazabal loaded world #1 Rory McIlroy in the anchor match, where he won an epic comeback over Keegan Bradley.
- 2016 – USA captain Davis Love III put Patrick Reed last; Reed delivered a clutch win over Rory McIlroy to help spur a American victory.
- 2021 – European captain Padraig Harrington slotted veteran Lee Westwood last; Westwood did not play as Team USA had already won the cup.
On a few occasions throughout Ryder Cup history, a team has managed to win before all 12 scheduled singles matches were completed. Here are some notable examples and the winning scorelines:
- 1975 – United States won 18.5 to 9.5 over Britain & Ireland (won after 7 singles matches)
- 1981 – Europe won 18.5 to 9.5 over United States (won after 8 singles matches)
- 1985 – Europe won 16.5 to 11.5 over United States (won after 10 singles matches)
- 2004 – Europe won 18.5 to 9.5 over United States (won after 8 singles matches)
The largest margin of victory came in 1981 when Europe utterly dominated the United States at Walton Heath Golf Club in England. The Europeans built an insurmountable lead early in singles play on Sunday, reaching the required 14.5 points after just 8 matches to win 18.5 to 9.5.
In summary, although 12 Ryder Cup singles matches are scheduled for the final day of play, it is common for some of them not to be finished. Once a team reaches 14.5 points to clinch the cup, any remaining matches are stopped and considered tied regardless of their current state.
Captains strategically map out their Sunday singles lineups trying to load their best and most reliable players toward the end. However, if a team races ahead early, those top players slated for late may never get to tee off.
The Ryder Cup’s match play format lends itself to early clinches and unfinished contests once the overall winning side is determined. While fans may want to see every match, the captains and players shift their focus to celebrating once they’ve achieved their goal of securing the cup.