2021 Ryder Cup: Tournament format, match play explained


The 2021 Ryder Cup will feature two teams, 24 golfers and three different competition formats.

While typical events on the PGA Tour are played by counting the total number of strokes for a competitor across four rounds, the Ryder Cup uses a handful of styles to pair and match up players throughout its three days to determine a winner.

Here is a crash course on how the Ryder Cup works:

What are the three formats of play used in the Ryder Cup?

There are two teams in the Ryder Cup: the United States and Europe. Each side has 12 golfers that compete using various formats across three rounds of 18 holes.

Friday and Saturday competition will be played with four-ball and foursome matches with the home captain selecting the order. For the 2021 edition at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis., U.S. captain Steve Stricker will select the order. The winning unit in a given match earns a point for its team. If there is a tie at the end of the round, each side gets half a point toward its total score.

The final round of competition is played in a single, match-play format. There will be 12 singles matches with each golfer facing a member of the opposing team one-on-one. The winning golfer secures his team a point. Once again, a draw earns each team half a point.

How many points are required to win the Ryder Cup?

In all, there are 28 matches and the first team to reach 14.5 points takes home the trophy.

What is match play in golf?

While stroke play scores the total number of strokes throughout a tournament, match play scores each hole. Whichever golfer or team gets the lower score on a given hole tallies a point. If the two sides get the same score, the hole is “halved,” giving each side half a point.

All three formats used in the Ryder Cup -- four-ball, foursome and one-on-one -- will be scored using the match play system.

What does four-ball mean in golf?

In four-ball, each side has a two-man team. Each individual plays their own ball and each team counts the lower of its scores on a single hole. If the two teams post the same low score, the hole is halved.

The afternoon set of matches on Friday and Saturday will use the four-ball format.

What does foursome mean in golf?

In foursome, the two-man teams play one ball apiece with alternating golfers taking swings, as well as tee shots. The lowest score wins the hole or it is halved if both sides post the same score. 

The morning set of matches on Friday and Saturday will use the foursome format.

Are there singles match play rounds at the Ryder Cup?

The final round of competition will feature 12 singles match play rounds with each golfer on one side going head-to-head against a golfer on the opposing team. While the result of the tournament could be determined before a given match is completed, the format offers the potential for some must-watch showdowns on Sunday.

Ryder Cup winners over the years  

Team USA has a 26-14-2 edge over the European team. Here’s a look at the Ryder Cup’s History from 1927-2018:

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