Historical look at the Ryder Cup

By Martin DavisSeptember 25, 2012, 5:49 pm

The history of the Ryder Cup is a fascinating journey – a real metamorphosis if you will – from halting efforts at an international match in the early years to American dominance after World War II and finally to restoring competitive balance with the addition of players from Continental Europe.

The Founding and Early Years

Interestingly, the first true international team golf match did not occur between the U.S. and Great Britain, but rather between the French and the U.S. It was 1913, the first big breakthrough year in golf as 20-year old amateur Francis Ouimet defeated the two leading players in the world, Brits Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in an 18-hole playoff for the U.S. Open at The Country Club just outside of Boston. But in an event halfway around the world several months later, a four-man team of French professionals soundly defeated an American squad, 6-0, at Versailles. This proved to be the “grand daddy” of all international matches – older than the Walker Cup, the Curtis Cup, the Canada Cup and the Ryder Cup.

The concept of an international team event percolated further as the PGA of America first gave it serious consideration early in 1921. Later in the year the circulation manager of Golf Illustrated promoted what was supposed to be a match between the U.S. and Great Britain at Gleneagles, Scotland as a follow on to the Glasgow Herald’s 1000 Guineas tournament to help build circulation for the magazine. It was not a success as there were few in attendance, but interest was kindled.

At about the same time, Sam Ryder, a successful British seed merchant who made his fortune selling penny packet of seeds to the British public through the mail, ran a series of golf tournaments for the British pros in an effort to promote his company, the Heath and Heather Seed Company. Totally smitten with the game, Ryder hired top-notch British golf professional Abe Mitchell to teach him the game at the princely sum of 500 pounds a year. In discussions with Mitchell and his fellow pros Ryder thought that an international match between the two major golfing nations would encourage international understanding, get more American players to the Open Championship (and conversely more British professionals to the U.S. Open) and help promote Ryder’s penny packets of seeds.

Thus the first Ryder Cup matches were scheduled for Wentworth Golf Club in 1926 as a prelude to the qualifying the next week at Sunningdale for the British Open to be held at Royal Lytham. However, due a strike that shut down most travel into Britain, many of the American players weren’t able to get into the country and the American side had “replacement” players, mostly from British Commonwealth countries. Although the American side, led by Walter Hagen, was soundly defeated, 13 1/2 - 1 1/2, it was a start. As such, Ryder decided to hold the trophy until the next year when the two sides would contain native-born players on each side.

Thus the first “official” Ryder Cup, featuring four foursomes on the first day and eight singles on the second, was held at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Mass. in June of 1927 as the 10-man U.S. team won decisively, 9 1/2 - 2 1/2.

With the matches alternating between the U.K. and the U.S., each side won on their native soil over the next four Ryder Cups: Great Britain won at Moortown in 1929, the U.S. won at Scioto in 1931 (with Charlie Nicklaus, Jack’s father, in attendance), the Brits winning at Southport in 1933 and finally the U.S. winning at Ridgewood in 1935. But it wasn’t until 1937, with the cup at Southport again, that a non-home team won as the American side prevailed for the first time on British soil 8-4. And, adding some spice to the matches, it was Hagen who led the U.S. side from the beginning in 1927 all the way up to 1937. In 1939 the Ryder Cup was halted for World War II. However, the American side named several teams during the war, playing numerous exhibition matches against challenge teams – once against a team led by the great amateur Bobby Jones – for the benefit of the USO and War Relief.

The Era of American Dominance

With the conclusion World War II, both America and Britain hungered mightily for normalcy – and the resumption of golf. But the Brits, worn out financially by the rigors of war, couldn’t muster the necessary funds to make the trip to Portland, Ore., for the Ryder Cup in 1947. Into the breach stepped one Robert Hudson, an Oregon industrialist, who literally saved the Ryder Cup by bank rolling the Brits’ trip to America. It was a gesture that showed the best of the Ryder Cup spirit, one that Sam Ryder would have certainly saluted.

But the matches were still fiercely contested. On the eve of the 1947 Ryder Cup the British captain, the feisty and combative Henry Cotton, claimed that certain American players – most notably Ben Hogan – were playing irons whose grooves were too sharp, thus making their balls stop abruptly on the greens. Cotton insisted that the American’s clubs be inspected. As a result, all the American’s irons were found to be conforming. So on the eve of the next Ryder Cup in 1949, non-playing American captain Hogan, still recovering from the horrific accident that nearly took his life some 10 months earlier, made a similar claim about the Brits’ clubs. Upon inspection, however, the clubs of two of the British players were indeed found to be nonconforming. As a result, the host pro at Ganton spent the evening filing down the offending irons so as to be ready for play the next morning. But the American side won this Ryder Cup, just as they did in 1947, thus starting an era of almost complete dominance in the transatlantic competition after World War II.

The American side went on to win 17 of the next 19 Ryder Cups, right up through 1983, with a tie coming in 1969 as Ryder Cup “rookie” Jack Nicklaus conceded a 4-foot putt to Tony Jacklin, thus ending the competition in a tie. It was one of the great shows of sportsmanship in the annals of sport, as the U.S. retained the cup having won it two years earlier. The only American loss, in 1957, was an aberration as a clearly outclassed British team upset a far-stronger American team at Lindrick.

The European Resurgence

In light of the continued dominance of the American side, interest in the Ryder Cup appeared to be waning. So, Jack Nicklaus suggested in 1977 to Lord Darby, the head of the British PGA, to expand the British team to include players from Continental Europe to add competitive balance. It was the one move that eventually elevated the Ryder Cup to the first rank of all of golf’s major tournaments.

With players from continental Europe allowed to compete in 1979, the Ryder Cup has become far more competitive – the European side has won eight Ryder Cups outright, retained the cup in another with a tie, while the American side has won seven, but only one of the last five. It gave the competition such wonderful players as Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sergio Garcia and this year’s European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, players with a superlative collective record of 73-41-20.

It’s been said that the essence of the Ryder Cup is pride and passion and raw emotions. I’d agree, but for true golf aficionados – and the competitors too – it’s almost existential, a little bit of life and death.

Quite simply, what Sam Ryder began in 1926 has grown to become the grandest event in the game.  

Martin Davis is the historian for Golf Channel and has written or edited 24 books on golf.

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.


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Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.


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But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”

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Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:36 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.

“It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”


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The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.

Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”