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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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.