Ten Great Moments and Myths of the Ryder Cup

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:

Ten Great Moments and Myths of the Ryder Cup

10. Ryder Cup is the one arena in which relatives have thrived.  You had the father/son tandem of Percy and son Peter Alliss, both made great strides for their team in the 13 different matches they played with a combined record of 13-17-6.  You’ve had six different combinations of brothers between the three Whitecombe brothers, Charles, Reg and Ernest, to the combination of Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, who played two matches together in 2010.  Even uncles and nephews have played a key to the matches; Christy O’Connor, Jr. probably did his uncle Christy Sr. proud in 1989 with his 2 iron to the final green to help tie that match so that Europe was able to keep the cup for another two years.  In talking relatives, you also had two famous cousins, Jackie Burke, Jr. and Dave Marr play a key part in the history along with brothers in law Max Faulkner and Brian Barnes along with Jerry Pate and Bruce Lietzke.

9. We will never forget that the best matchup in Ryder Cup history was Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, who played together in 15 matches and had an 11-2-2 record.  If they were the best, who was the worst?  The title probably goes to Bernard Hunt and Neil Coles who in three different matches played together eight times but only won twice.  Still if you want to point a finger to what many call the worst Ryder Cup match-up how about the pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on the Friday in 2004.  Both were the second and fourth ranked players in the world, but both lost the two matches of the day and would never be paired up again in Ryder Cup history.

8. The biggest shellacking in Ryder Cup history had to be in 1947 when the USA team beat Great Britain & Ireland 11 to 1.  In a way, the matches were a bit unfair because the war had just ended, and there wasn’t enough time for British and Irish professionals to get back into the swing of things while the American team had the best players in the world then.  But who was the American responsible for not allowing the Americans to claim every point?  It was 1946 Masters champion Herman Keiser, who went down to defeat 4&3 against Sam King.  Many years later when the captain of the team, Ben Hogan was asked about Keiser’s match which could have been the first clean sweep in Ryder Cup history, Hogan gave a possible reason for Keiser’s lost.  In Curt Sampson’s book, “Hogan” there is a story on how captain Hogan asked Keiser the night before the matches why he looked so unhappy.  Keiser said that he paid a woman $20 for a “date” and when the woman found out he was a golfer who won a big tournament and was presumably rich, raised her fee to a $1,000.  She threatened to accuse Keiser of rape if he didn’t pay.  When Hogan heard the story he reached into his pocket, took out his wallet and gave Keiser ten hundred dollar bills and told him to pay him back when he could.  So who knows, maybe that had something to do in why the Americans never got there sweep in 1947.  This was the only time Keiser played in the Ryder Cup.

7.  Today with the format being the way it is, it’s impossible for a player on the team not playing at least once.  Since 1999, when European players Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van De Velde and Andrew Coltart only played in the singles, all of the players have participated in two games.  Still, there was a time when players made the team and never played in the matches.  In the very first match in 1927, George Cadd from the GB&I team didn’t play while on the USA team Al Espinosa didn’t play.  This practice continued to 1961 when it was finally decided to expand the matches to four sessions with the thought of giving everyone a chance to play with eight single matches.  This seemed to work, in 1965 Johnny Pott made the team but hurt his back right before the matches and didn’t play.  In 1973, the first and only snub came when captain Bernard Hunt didn’t play John Garner, who was on the team the previous year and only played in one game.  This all changed in 1979 when the new format came out with 12 Sunday singles, so since John Garner in 1973 every player to make the team has played at least one game.

6. Today the captains are picked years in advance, and the job has turned into a full-time affair.  But in the first half of Ryder Cup history, the captain most of the time played in the matches.  That all changed in the 60s when the duties of being the captain made it impossible also to play.  So the last U.S. playing captain was Arnold Palmer in 1963 while the last European playing captain was Dai Rees in 1961.

5. In 2010 when Captain Corey Pavin didn’t play Tiger Woods in one of the games, former captain Paul Azinger tweeted “fifth match historically lose 80% of the time.” So is this true?

Let’s do a little digging into the record books.  First for the American team, since 1979 there have been 35 times in which a player was in five games during a match.  Their record in the final singles was 17 wins, 11 losses and 7 halves.  Let’s take it a step further and only count the Tiger era, from 1997 on.  There are 15 times in which a player was in five games and his record in the singles was 6 wins, 5 losses and 4 halves.

In looking at the European Team, since 1979 there have been 61 times in which a player was in five games during a match, almost double the number of the American teams.  The European team record was 23 wins, 29 losses and 9 halves.  In looking at the Tiger era, since 1997 the number went down to 25 times.  The record was 10 European wins, 12 losses and 3 halves.  So you can see that over the years the percentage has come down but since the Tiger era in 1997 for both teams the record is 16 wins, 17 losses and 7 halves so percentage wise you have a 40% win factor for those playing in five matches.

4. Jack Nicklaus is known as the best player in the world.  To beat him once was an accomplishment but to beat him twice, that was considered impossible until 1975.  In the Sunday single matches, Nicklaus was up against Scotland’s Brian Barnes, who showed up at the first tee in Bermuda shorts and smoking a pipe.  Barnes played great and beat Nicklaus 4 & 2.  The American captain was Arnold Palmer and when he had a talk with Nicklaus, a rematch with Barnes was manipulated.   See in 1975 the singles were played twice on Sunday.  Nicklaus was hell bent on not losing a second time, he got to the first tee telling Barnes, “you beat me once, but there ain’t no way you’re going to beat me again.  Nicklaus started off birdie, birdie, birdie, but Barnes chipped away and by the tenth hole caught Nicklaus.  He won on 17, 2 & 1 and despite Nicklaus being mad he congratulated Barnes warmly and the greatest winner in golf became the greatest loser.

3. Because of the way that the draw is done, it’s rare to get players competing against each other.  Still over the course of Ryder Cup history there have been several times that players went against each other multiple times.  Great examples of this, Sandy Lyle and Tom Kite meeting four times with Kite winning all four.  Same between Seve Ballesteros and Curtis Strange.  They met four times with Seve winning all four times.  But Ballesteros was on the other end of things in 1979 when he was paired with Antonio Garrido, they played three times in 1979 against Lanny Wadkins and Larry Nelson and were beaten all three times.  Despite the great reputation that Ballesteros had in the Ryder Cup, Nelson had the pleasure of playing him five times and beating the great Spaniard four of the times.  Some of the better matchups saw Colin Montgomerie play Phil Mickelson five times with Mickelson never winning as Colin won three and two of the matches were halved.  But for two players they will go down in history as being able to take down one player the most.  The first involves Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk.  They have played eight times with Garcia winning six of them with Furyk getting one win and one halve.  But the best as to be the match-up between Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods.  Yes, Woods has been able to win major championships while Westwood was close but in eight Ryder Cup match-ups, Westwood has won six and lost just once.

2. Over the course of Ryder Cup history, the United States has won a total of 503 points to 397 for Europe.  So with the United States winning 25 of the 39 matches they have a strong lock on historically being the best team of the matches.  But there is a matter of two parts of Ryder Cup history.  The first was when the matches were between a team of players from Great Britain and Ireland and then in 1979 when all of Europe was invited to play on the team.  So what is the record since?  In those 17 matches, the Europeans have won nine while the United States has won seven and one match was half.  Point wise, the Europeans has won 241.5 points while the United States has chalked up 234.5 points so as we go into this year’s match, the United States could use a win to get things closure.

1.  So what is the all-time best Ryder Cup game?  We can spend a whole day on this, in the exactly 900 matches played since 1927 you have over 100 different game having a major part in one teams win or defeat.  But simply put one match played an outcome on the total history of the Ryder Cup and changed the course of history.  That has to be the last singles match in 1969 with Jack Nicklaus playing Tony Jacklin.  Up to this year the match was one-sided with the United States winning 14 of the first 17.  Up until 1969 a European team only won once between 1935 and 1969 and that was in 1957.  In that last match, Jacklin holed a long eagle putt at the 17th hole to square the match.  Now it was down to the final hole, and both were left with ticklish putts for halves.  Jacklin was a bit over two feet away while Nicklaus was four feet.  Now Nicklaus knew all the pressure that was on Jacklin, who was a big hero in England winning the British Open that year.  Jacklin had the weight of his country on his back strolling down the 18th fairway, and Nicklaus asked him “How do you feel?”  Jacklin replied, “bloody awful.”  So with the match on the line Nicklaus putted first from four feet and made it.  To the astonishment of all Nicklaus bent down took his ball out of the hole, and picked up Jacklin’s marker and said, “I don’t think you would have missed that putt, but in these circumstances I would never give you the opportunity.”  It was an incredible act of not only sportsmanship considering how awful it could have been if Jacklin missed.  In the years after, Nicklaus and Jacklin played an important role in changing the format to allow Europeans to play, along with Jacklin getting the money and support for the European team.  This changed the tide, and the matches have been pretty even keel and some of the best golf played.  If Nicklaus wouldn’t of given that putt and Jacklin missed, there is a very good chance the Ryder Cup could not exist today.

Speak Your Mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.