How the Ryder Cup got its name

Samuel Ryder was not the first person to propose that Britain play the United States in a biennial golf match.

Samuel Ryder, a wealthy seed merchant from St Albans in Hertfordshire, was not the first person to propose that Britain play the United States in a biennial golf match.

But he was clearly the man whose relentless energy finally brought about the first official international golf match between the two nations.

James Harnett, a golf-playing journalist with Golf Illustrated was said to be the first to come up with the idea, but his suggestion seemed to have fallen on deaf ears when his proposal was put the PGA of America on the 15th of December 1920 and it was not until Sylvanus P. “SP” Jermain, president of the Inverness Club, “re-floated” the idea with the golfing authorities that things slowly and unofficially began to happen.

Historical records show that the first unofficial Ryder Cup-style matches between Great Britain and the USA were played in 1921 at Gleneagles Golf Course in Perthshire, Scotland..

The American team was chosen by Harnett, but Great Britain beat the Americans 9-3.

The second match played in 1926 was also won by GB, in this case by 13½-1½ on the East Course at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, and present at this match was a proud Englishman, Samuel Ryder, a devout new convert to golf who watched the event from start to finish.

Among the British at the 1926 landmark match were golfing giants of the day, Abe Mitchell, George Duncan, Archie Compston, Ted Ray (portrayed by Stephen Marcus in the 2005 film ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’), and Arthur Havers.

From America came Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Jim Barnes and Al Watrous.

Ryder, inspired by what he saw, immediately called these men to a meeting with PGA officials and proposed that the match be made official and be played on a regular basis. To back his proposal he also offered to donate a trophy which would come to be known as the Ryder Cup.

His proposal was met with a positive response from all at the meeting and the Ryder Cup was born.

Ryder also offered to pay each of the players in the winning side the sum of £5, but this practice soon fell away and today there is no prize money for the winners. Only honour and national pride are at stake

To get some idea of what Samuel Ryder was like and the exceptional ability he had in getting things up and running, you have to look back at the successful way in which he built up his business and at the relentless way he pursued the game of golf when he took it up in the early 1920s after he had already celebrated his 50th birthday.

To get started, he recruited the services of a golf professional called Hill from a local golf course near his home in Hertfordshire.

Then, to take a step higher, he hired the great Abe Mitchell as his private tutor for a fee of £1,000 per year.

Ryder, who relentlessly practised his driving, pitching and putting six days each week, took most of his lessons at his stately home, Marlborough House, and very soon, at the age of 51 had brought his handicap down to six. By that time, he’d been accepted as a member of the Verulam Golf Club in St Albans.

A year later, he became captain of the club and his get-up-and-go enthusiasm also earned him the club captaincy in 1926 and 1927.

In 1923, he gained some valuable admin experience in professional golf when he sponsored the Heath and Heather Tournament, which was only open to professionals.

One of the golf professionals who took part was ex-gardener Abe Mitchell, Ryder’s foremost coach and a man considered one of the best British golfers of his era.

The first official Ryder Cup match took place in 1927 at the Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts and up until the cancellation of the 1939 contest following the start of the Second World War, the early contests between the two countries were said to “be fairly even”.

After the war, however, US dominance became so overwhelming that a decision was made to grow Great Britain and Ireland into a full-blown European team – a change partly prompted by the success at that time of a new generation of Spanish golfers that including Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido.

In 1979 they became the first Spaniards and mainland Europeans to play in the event.

Since then, however, Team Europe, which will be captained by Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal this year at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois, has included players from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden alongside those of Great Britain and Ireland

And the change has made a big difference. Today Ryder Cup matches are tight and tough contests that since 1979 have seen Europe win eight times outright and retain the Cup once via a draw, as against the USA’s seven victories.

Three of Europe’s victories have come in their last four matches.

Today the Ryder Cup, which is jointly administered by the PGA of America and the European Tour and, unusually for a professional sport, pays no prize money despite the fact that its sky-high profile brings in tens of millions of dollars in TV and sponsorship revenue, is played on a home (Europe) and away (USA) basis biennially.

Ryder Cup matches take place between two teams of 12 players each and consist of eight foursomes matches, eight fourball matches and 12 singles matches, all matches being played over 18 holes.

The winners of each match score a point for their team, with ½ a point being awarded when a match is drawn after the 18th hole.

In foursomes two golfers from Europe take on two from the USA with each duo playing alternative shots with the same ball until it is sunk. The team taking the least number of shots wins the hole.

In fourballs both players in each team play each hole separately with the winner of the hole being the team whose member shoots the lowest score for the hole ie. if three players post pars but the fourth shoots a birdie, his birdie wins the hole for his team.

The singles, which involve all 12 players in each team and are played on Sunday, are standard match play contests with the winner of most holes scoring a point.

On the Friday and Saturday, four fourball and four foursomes matches involving eight players from each side are played in the morning and the afternoon of both days leaving four players sitting on the sidelines during each session.

But this was not always so.

The tournament format has changed a number of times over the years.

From the inaugural event through to 1959, the Ryder Cup was a two-day competition, with four 36-hole foursomes matches on the first day and eight 36-hole singles matches on the second day, offering a total of 12 points.

In 1961, however, the matches were changed to 18 holes each, but the number of matches was doubled, which put a total of 24 points up for grabs.

In 1963, the event was expanded to three days, with eight fourball matches being added on the second day to make a total of 32 points.

This format remained until 1977,