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Ryder Cup 101: A guide to this week's matches

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 24, 2018, 2:00 pm

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about the Ryder Cup:

I keep reading about excitement building for the "Ryder Cup." I thought the end-of-season prize on the PGA Tour was the FedExCup. So what's the deal with this Ryder Cup? Is it sponsored by Ryder Trucks, like the FedExCup is sponsored by FedEx?

We'll answer your second question first. The "Ryder" in Ryder Cup has nothing to do with the trucking company. It's the surname of the man who originally conceived of the competition and donated the trophy, Samuel Ryder. An English businessman, he took up golf at age 50 and was hooked. He began sponsoring various competitions, and in that era (the 1920s), perhaps the biggest natural rivalry was between American and British players. So the Ryder Cup was conceived to pit U.S. vs. British pros. It was first played in 1927, and matches have continued to be held every two years (the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 resulted in the postponing of that year's Ryder Cup for a year and scheduling future matches in even-numbered years). 

And you didn't ask, but we should probably get to this ASAP. This year's Ryder Cup is being played Sept. 28-30 on the Albatros Course at Le Golf National in Guyancourt, a suburb of Paris. This will be the 42nd staging of the Ryder Cup. The U.S. leads the all-time series, 26-13-2.


 Wait, last time I checked, France wasn't part of the British Empire.

You are correct. The Ryder Cup, on the other hand, hasn't been the U.S. vs. Great Britain and Ireland for 39 years. Team GB&I was expanded to Europe in 1979. The idea, promoted chiefly by Jack Nicklaus, was designed to a) make the competition more competitive (at the time, the U.S. led the series, 18-3-1), and b) make one of the most dynamic players of the era, Spain's Seve Ballesteros, eligible.


How'd that work out?

For the Euros, extremely well. Since 1979, their record is 10-8-1. Ballesteros became one of the greatest Ryder Cup players ever, going 20-12-5 in eight Ryder Cup appearances. He later served as captain of the European team in 1997 (they won).


OK, so we've got U.S. vs. Europe. But who plays? How are they picked?

Both sides have similar - but not exact models for assembling their team. For the U.S., eight players automatically qualify from their positions on a points list. For the 2018 Ryder Cup, points are earned in tournaments played in 2017 and 2018. The 2017 tournaments are the four majors plus The Players Championship plus the four World Golf Championships (WGC) events. The 2018 tournaments are all official events from the Tournament of Champions through The Northern Trust (the last official event of the PGA Tour's 2017-18 "regular season"). However, events played opposite major championships and World Golf Championships do not award points. For this Ryder Cup, the eight automatic U.S. qualifiers are Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson.

Team Europe picks its automatic qualifiers through two different points lists. One is the 2018 Race to Dubai rankings (sort of the European version of the PGA Tour's FedExCup points race). The top four players on that list qualify for the European team. The other four automatic qualifiers are the top four European players (not already qualified) from the Official World Golf Ranking.

Both teams filled out their 12-man rosters with four captain's picks. Current U.S. captain Jim Furyk announced three of his choices following the Dell Technologies Championship on Sept. 3: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau. Furyk's final selection, announced after the BMW Championship on Sept. 9, was Tony Finau.

Europe captain Thomas Bjorn picked Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson on Sept. 5 to round out his team.


So we've got two 12-man teams. What's the schedule?

The first two days are dedicated to team play. Each day will have a morning session and an afternoon session, with four matches pitting two-man teams against each other in each session. On Friday and Saturday the morning session will consist of fourballs (better ball) and the afternoon session will consist of foursomes (alternate shot).


How exactly do better-ball and alternate-shot matches work?

The concepts are pretty simple. Better ball: I play my ball and you play yours. Whichever one of us makes the lower score on the hole, that's our team score for that hole. And if we tie, well, that's our score. Alternate shot: You and I are a team. I tee off. You hit the next shot. I hit the next and so on until we're in the hole. We alternate hitting tee shots, with me leading off on odd-numbered holes, and you hitting first on even-numbered holes. In both formats, we're playing match play, so overall scoring is done by holes, not strokes. Matches last until one team does not have enough remaining holes to catch up.

If we defeat our European opponents, it doesn't matter if we did it by winning just one more hole than them (1 up), or shut them out (10 and 8), it's just one point for the U.S. team. Tied matches are worth a half-point for each side.


What does 10 and 8 mean?

It means we won the first 10 holes of the match. Since there are only eight holes left in a standard 18-hole round, the best our opponents could do is win those eight holes. So the match is stopped after the 10th hole and we win, 10 and 8. That almost never happens, by the way.


So there are eight matches on Friday and eight more on Saturday. What about Sunday?

That's when everbody plays singles - 12 singles matches.


Twelve, huh? Well, that brings up a question: In each of the team sessions there are four matches, which means only eight guys can play. What about the other four?

Just as in any other team sport, they sit on the "bench" and cheer their teammates on. Picking which guys to play and which to sit is one of a captain's main responsibilities, along with choosing who plays with who.


Whom.

Huh?


It should be "who plays with whom."

Fine. Whatever. You got anymore real questions?


As a matter of fact, I do. How many points do you need to win?

Well, 16 team matches and 12 singles equals 28 total points, so 14 1/2. But there is a caveat.


What?

Whichever team won the previous Ryder Cup and thus holds the cup can retain it with a tie. The U.S. is the current cup-holder, so it needs only 14 points to retain the cup.


Let's get back to who plays with whom. What about who plays AGAINST whom? Do the captains know the other team's lineup?

No. The "lineups" have to be turned in to Ryder Cup rules officials by a certain deadline before the matches begin. For Friday's morning matches, for instance, the deadline is 4:15 p.m. Thursday. For Friday afternoon matches, it's 1:05 p.m. Friday. For Saturday morning matches, the deadline is one hour after Friday play concludes. For Saturday afternoon matches, it's 1:05 p.m. Saturday.

For Sunday singles, the deadline is one hour after play on Saturday. Each captain is also required, by the same deadline, to put the name of one player in a sealed envelope. That player will not play if a player on the opposing team is injured and cannot play.

Neither side knows what the other side’s pairings or teams are until they are sent out from the rules office about five minutes after the above-stated times.


Last question: When and where is this all on TV?

Good last question. TV coverage will begin Thursday with the opening ceremony from 11 a.m. to noon on Golf Channel. (All times listed are Eastern.) On Friday, coverage will run from 2 a.m. - yes, 2 a.m. - to 1 p.m. on Golf Channel. Saturday's coverage is from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Golf Channel, then it shifts over to NBC from 3 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Sunday, the coverage is all on NBC, from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can also click here to watch live stream coverage on your mobile device or laptop.

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Stock Watch: LPGA raises some Q-uestions

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2018, 11:42 am

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Brooks (+9%): Golf’s new king looks built to last, with a powerful game, a rock-solid stroke and a chip on his shoulder the size of his South Florida mansion. As long as Koepka stays healthy, the game’s preeminent big-game hunter will continue to eat.

Danielle Kang (+7%): Two weeks ago her mind was so cluttered that she needed four minutes to pull the trigger on a shot. Battling chip and full-swing yips, she kept the demons at bay to earn an LPGA title even more satisfying than her major breakthrough.

Paul Azinger (+5%): Tabbed to replace the inimitable Johnny Miller in the NBC booth, Azinger was the best and the most logical choice for the job. He’s a sharp observer of the game who won’t be afraid to let it rip, when necessary.

Sergio Garcia (+4%): Whenever the Ryder Cup inevitably returns to Valderrama, even if he’s 65 years old, Garcia deserves at least some consideration for a captain’s pick. His record there is stupid-good: 14 appearances, three wins, seven top-3s, 13 top-10s.

Gary Woodland (+3%): He’s 37 under par across the first two events of the season, with no wins to show for it. Tough sport!


FALLING

Ian Poulter (-1%): Playing in the final group with Koepka in Korea, Poulter threw up a 1-under 71 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 22 – and nearly tumbled out of the top 10.

Slow-play penalties (-2%): Good thing the PGA Tour Champions rules officials finally cracked down on slow play at the senior level – by picking on Corey Pavin and not notorious slowpoke Bernhard Langer, who just so happens to be No. 2 in the points standings.

LPGA Q Series (-4%): The LPGA’s new version of Q-School gets underway this week, and the women’s college golf coaches are not happy about it: The top 5 players from last season’s individual rankings (Jennifer Kupcho, Maria Fassi, Patty Tavatanakit, Lilia Vu, Lauren Stephenson) automatically earned a spot in the final stage, guaranteeing at least some Symetra status and likely a full LPGA card, if they finish inside the top 45. The LPGA is cherry-picking the best from the college ranks, even if they’re not yet ready to make the jump.

World No. 1 parity (-5%): This was just the second time since the world rankings debuted that four players reached No. 1. That trend doesn’t seem like it’ll end in 2019, either – especially with Tiger Woods once again eyeing the top spot.

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.


1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.



4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.



7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”


Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  


Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.



The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Web.com Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.