The Ryder Cup is one of the most prestigious events in professional golf. First played in 1927, the biennial competition pits the best players from Europe against the best from the United States in match play format. With the pressure of representing your country and continent, the Ryder Cup often produces some of golf’s most dramatic and memorable moments.
One of the rarest feats in golf is the hole-in-one, also known as an ace. Given the difficulty of a hole-in-one and the high stakes of the Ryder Cup, a hole-in-one in this event would be extremely noteworthy. So has this coveted achievement ever been accomplished in the history of the Ryder Cup?
The Difficulty of a Hole-in-One
First, it’s important to understand just how rare a hole-in-one is in professional golf. Even for the best players in the world, a hole-in-one remains a very unlikely occurrence.
For example, Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer ever, has 20 career aces in competition. But when you consider that he’s played in over 1,200 official tournaments and well over 4,000 competitive rounds in his career, those 20 holes-in-one work out to a hole-in-one only once every 200+ rounds on average.
And Woods is on the higher end of hole-in-ones for pros. The majority of accomplished PGA Tour pros will make only a handful of holes-in-one, if any, in their whole careers.
Furthermore, compiling stats show that across all PGA Tour events, there are roughly 3-4 holes-in-one each year by the entire field of players. With hundreds of players competing in dozens of tournaments annually, the numbers prove how rare it is for even the best in the world to make an ace.
Why Hole-in-Ones Are Rare
There are several factors that explain the low probability of a hole-in-one:
- Exact distance – the ball must travel an precise yardage to the hole
- Perfect accuracy – the ball must land in the right spot to funnel towards the hole
- Proper trajectory – the ball must be struck with enough loft to land softly on the green
- Good fortune – even perfect shots catch a bounce or lip-out instead of going in
For these reasons, even the world’s best golfers with incredibly precise swing control only manage an ace once in a blue moon. It requires an ideal shot with a little luck sprinkled in.
Holes-in-One at the Ryder Cup
So how many times has this already very rare feat been achieved in the Ryder Cup, where pressure and tension run high? Let’s take a look at the history books.
No Holes-in-One in Early Years
From the first Ryder Cup in 1927 through the 1970s, there were zero holes-in-one struck in the competition. This covers the first 22 editions of the biennial match play event between the US and Britain/Europe.
It’s not overly surprising that the first 50 years of the Ryder Cup came and went without an ace. Early on, the Ryder Cup was contested between American and British golfers only. The small pool of eligible players from each side meant that overall play was not at the level it is today.
Additionally, golf equipment was not as advanced back then. Balls and clubheads were not designed for maximum performance like modern equipment. This also worked against the chances of a player recording a hole-in-one.
First Ryder Cup Hole-in-One – Larry Nelson (1979)
It wasn’t until 1979 at the matches held at The Greenbrier in West Virginia that the first hole-in-one was scored in Ryder Cup play.
Larry Nelson was a rookie on the 1979 American team taking on players from Great Britain & Ireland. On the 7th hole in his singles match against Bernard Gallacher, Nelson struck a 5-iron from 194 yards that found the bottom of the cup for an ace.
According to reports, Nelson’s caddie and Gallacher’s caddie shook hands after the spectacular shot. But Nelson and Gallacher continued the match all square without much celebration or fanfare.
Nelson went on to win the match 2-up and earn his first of 3 Ryder Cup victories as a player.
Ryder Cup Aces Stay Rare Through the Years
After Larry Nelson’s historic hole-in-one at the 1979 Ryder Cup, it remained a very rare feat with only a couple more recorded over the next several decades.
At the 1987 Ryder Cup, US player Corey Pavin made an ace on the 14th hole. Twelve years later in 1999, Jarmo Sandelin of Europe scored a hole-in-one on the 17th hole.
That meant just 3 holes-in-one in the first 42 stagings of the Ryder Cup, only once per decade on average. Statistically, the chances of an ace remained very low.
Recent Ryder Cup History (2006-2022)
Moving into the current era, there has been a slight uptick in Ryder Cup holes-in-one. After Sandelin’s ace in 1999, no others were scored until 2006.
Garcia and Kim (2006)
At the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland, two European players managed to record a hole-in-one in the same event.
On day 2 in the morning foursome matches, Sergio Garcia made an ace on the par-3 14th hole. Amazingly, later that same day, Paul Casey made a hole-in-one on the par-3 17th in their afternoon fourball match.
Europe won the 2006 Ryder Cup in a dominant fashion, winning by a margin of 4 points. Garcia and Kim’s holes-in-one were memorable highlights as the Europeans regained the cup.
Mickelson and Rose (2012)
The 2012 Ryder Cup saw another pair of holes-in-one when the event was contested at Medinah Country Club near Chicago.
In the Saturday morning foursome matches, Justin Rose holed out with a 4-iron on the par-3 17th hole. Later in the afternoon fourball session, Phil Mickelson also made an ace on the par-3 17th, exciting the home crowd.
Europe wound up overcoming a 10-6 deficit on Sunday to complete a dramatic comeback win at Medinah. Lefty’s fist-pumping celebration after his ace ended up being one of the most iconic American moments amidst the European victory.
At the most recent 2022 Ryder Cup held at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, the lone hole-in-one came from America’s Justin Thomas.
During Sunday singles play, Thomas scored an ace on the par-3 17th hole. The stellar shot helped him win his singles match against Viktor Hovland 4&3.
Spurred by JT’s momentum, the Americans dominated the Europeans at Whistling Straits to reclaim the Ryder Cup in a 19-9 rout.
Summary of Ryder Cup Holes-in-One
Here’s a summary of the all 10 holes-in-one in Ryder Cup history:
As shown, holes-in-one remain rare even for the best golfers in the world competing in the presitgious Ryder Cup. Only 10 aces have been recorded in the entire history of the event through 2022.
Interestingly, the 17th hole has seen the most action with 5 of the 10 holes-in-one occurring on that par 3. The other aces are spread across different holes.
Also, while the tally is close at 6 for Europe and 4 for the USA, European players scored the feat first in 1979 and have recorded more in recent Cups in 2006 and 2012.
Why Ryder Cup Holes-in-One Are Rare
With only 10 holes-in-one in Ryder Cup history, they remain rare occurrences even among elite golfers. Here are some reasons why:
The pressure of representing your country and continent on the world stage makes Ryder Cup golf intensely nerve-wracking. With national pride at stake, players have to combat nerves and anxiety. This extra pressure could contribute to fewer holes-in-one.
Ryder Cup courses are meticulously prepared to provide a stiff challenge for players. Pin positions are often tucked tight on edges or behind slopes. The grounds crew aims to avoid easy hole locations that increase chances of an ace.
Match Play Dynamics
The match play format affects strategy, as players are focused on their specific match rather than shooting the lowest score. If down in a match, a player may fire aggressively at a hole even if the prudent play is a layup.
Lack of Familiarity
With the Ryder Cup contested on a different course every time, players don’t have experience and reps dialing in wedge and iron distances on the given holes. Unfamiliarity with the holes can make scoring a hole-in-one less likely.
In summary, holes-in-one remain rare occurrences at the Ryder Cup. Only 10 have been recorded in the history of this prestigious event through 2022.
Larry Nelson scored the first ever ace at the 1979 Ryder Cup, and since then a smattering of Europe’s and America’s best have managed the feat intermittently. But with pressure and unfamiliarity at the Ryder Cup, golfers are hard-pressed to find the exceptional shot and luck required for a hole-in-one.
The 17th hole has seen the most holes-in-one, perhaps presenting a good angle of attack or favorable green contours. While Europe holds a slight edge with 6 to America’s 4, overall the numbers prove how elusive and special a Ryder Cup ace remains.