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Ryder Cup History

The Origins, Formats, Teams and Competitions of the Ryder Cup


Samuel Ryder 1929 Hagen Duncan

Samuel Ryder (center) is flanked by the 1929 Ryder Cup captains, Walter Hagen (left) and George Duncan.

H. F. Davis / Topical Press Agency / Getty Images
The Ryder Cup was "officially" born in 1927 as a biennial competition between professional golfers representing the United States and Great Britain.

The competition has been held every two years since (with the exception of 2001, due to the terrorist attacks in the U.S., and 1937-47 due to World War II), and foursomes and singles match play have been a part of the competition since the very beginning.

The formats and the teams have changed through the years, and so has the level of competition.

Origins of the Ryder Cup
While the Ryder Cup matches officially began in 1927, informal competitions between teams of American and British golfers go back a few years earlier.

In 1921, teams of British and American golfers played a series of matches at Gleneagles in Scotland, prior to the British Open at St. Andrews. The British team won, 9-3. The following year, 1922, was the first year of competition in the Walker Cup, an event pitting American and British amateurs in match play competition.

With the Walker Cup founded for amateur golfers, talk turned to the desire for a similar event limited to professionals. A London newspaper report from 1925 mentioned that Samuel Ryder had proposed an annual competition between British and American professionals. Ryder was an avid golfer and a businessmen who had made his fortune by selling seeds - he's the person who came up with the idea of selling seeds packaged in small envelopes.

By the following year, the idea had taken hold. Another London newspaper report, this one from 1926, reported that Ryder had commissioned a trophy for the competition - what came to be the actual Ryder Cup itself.

A team of American golfers arrived a few weeks early for the 1926 British Open in order to play against the British team at Wentworth. Ted Ray captained the Britons and Walter Hagen the Americans. Great Britain won the matches by a whopping score of 13 to 1, with one match halved.

One of the members of that 1926 British team, Abe Mitchell, is the golfer whose likeness adorns the Ryder Cup trophy.

But the Ryder Cup was not actually presented following the 1926 matches. The trophy likely wasn't ready by this point anyway, but the 1926 matches soon came to be regarded as "unofficial." The reason is that several of the players on the American team were not actually native-born Americans, most prominently Tommy Armour, Jim Barnes and Fred McLeod (how a team featuring Hagen, Armour, Barnes and McLeod could get trounced by a 13-1-1 score is a mystery).

After completion of play, the team captains and Ryder met and determined that team members would henceforth have to be native-born (this was later changed to having citizenship), and that the matches would take place every other year.

But the first "official" match was scheduled for one year hence, in 1927, to be played at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Mass.

In June of 1927, the British team departed for the U.S. It was at the send-off that the Ryder Cup trophy made its first appearance. The British team set sail from Southampton aboard the sailing vessel Aquitania. The transoceanic voyage took six days. Costs for the British team's travel were covered in part by donations from readers of the British golf magazine Golf Illustrated.

Ray and Hagen again captained the teams, and this time each team was comprised of native-born players only. And this time, the Team USA won, 9 1/2 to 2 1/2. The Ryder Cup was presented to the American team, and the first official Ryder Cup competition was in the books.

Next: How Format Has Changed Through the Years

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