I couldn't resist it. I had to write about THE Ryder Cup. For my money, the best GOLF tournament in the world. I will not go into the details about the rules of GOLF since I have already written about it here. I will directly delve into the details of this tournament.
As I have mentioned before, the Ryder Cup is not a tournament for individuals unlike other tournaments. Its a team tournament more like the Davis Cup in tennis or the Mosconi Cup in pool. But only 2 teams are involved in the Ryder Cup namely USA and Europe.
The first task is to choose the non-playing captain for each side. This task is carried out using a voting system by the golfing associations of each team (PGA for USA and EPGA for Europe). This time around the non-playing captains are Paul Azinger for USA and Nick Faldo for Europe, both greats of the game.
Once the captains are finalized, the players need to be selected. Currently, each team has 12 players. The selection of the top 8 of each team is straightforward. The top 8 of USA and Europe are automatic selections. The selection of the last 4 slots is quite dicey and generally controversial. The last 4 slots are at the discretion of the captain. He is free to choose anyone and he need not follow the rankings. The captain can come under a lot of fire from the associations and the media for selecting someone way down in the rankings. Most of the times, its the gut feeling of the captain about a player that makes the decision. Some of the reasons for selecting a low ranked player might be due to the fact that his current form has been great OR he is a local to the venue.
So once the team of 12 is comprised, its time to head to the venue. The Ryder Cup is a 6 day event. The first 3 days are reserved for practice and photo shoots (YES, its a gala event where media all around the world is flocking to create news). The next 3 days are the business days of the tournament.
So, are the rules any different from other golf tournaments? Well, YES and NO.
NO, because you follow all the general rules of GOLF. YES, coz there has to be something different to separate a grand tournament from other tournaments. Here are the differences:
As I have said earlier, its a team tournament. The scoring system is also different. In essence, there are only three possible results on every hole. A team either wins the hole, loses the hole or halves the hole. Here is what each one of them means:
All 18 holes are played is a team versus team manner. This means that if player A from USA is playing against player B from Europe and on a Par 4 hole, A takes 4 shots while B takes 3 shots ... this means B wins the hole (which also means A lost the hole). But the most distinguishing fact is that there is no score as such. Its just spoken/written as:
Player A (USA) vs Player B (Europe) 1 up
If A would have won the hole, it would have been written as:
1 up Player A (USA) vs Player B (Europe)
If on a Par 5 hole, A takes 3 shots while B takes 7 shots, it does not mean A is up by 4. I reiterate that the hole is either won or lost or halved. In this case, its just that A won the hole and it counts as a lead of just 1, no matter how many less shots you took. In a normal tournament, it would have meant that A is ahead of B by 4 shots. But in Ryder Cup, it means that A won the hole and he now leads B by 1. In essence, whether a player takes 1 shot less or 10 shots less doesn't matter. A winning hole means you now lead by 1 more, thats it.
Halve means that both players took the same number of shots on a particular hole. Its more commonly called as THE HOLE IS HALVED which does not change the score. If the score is the same at the end of 18 holes, the match is said to be halved and the score is commonly called All Square denoted by A/S.
Now that the scoring format is in place, its time to visit the playing schedule of the tournament.
There are 3 types of matches played. Foursomes, Fourballs and Singles. What are these?
Each captain announces 4 teams of 2 players each. The selection is entirely up to the captain. So USA and Europse both will have 4 teams each. The draw is made and each team is pitted against some opponent team. As the name suggests, there are 4 balls in play at a time. Each player plays for himself on a particular hole. After all 4 players complete the hole, the person who has taken the least number of shots wins the hole for his team. Lets take an example.
Suppose Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson form a team for the USA and Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey form a team for the Europeans. Now all these 4 players will start off at Hole 1. Suppose it is a Par 5 hole. Now lets say, Woods takes 3 shots, Casey takes 4, Harrngton takes 5 and Mickelson takes 6 shots to complete the hole. Since Woods took the least number of shots ... at the end of the 1st hole the score would be 1up in the favor of the Americans. In case more than 1 player has the least score for a hole, it is checked if 2 players from different teams have the least score. If YES, then the hole is halved. If NO, it means both players are from the same team and hence that team goes up by 1 shot. So, if Woods and Mickelson both take 3 shots while the other 2 players take 4 shots, it means that both players with least score are Americans and hence America leads by 1 shot.
In this way, Fourballs matches are playes over 18 holes.
Each captain again selects 4 groups of 2 players each, much the same way as Fourballs. The difference here is no player plays for himself. Players from each group play alternating shots. This means that Player 1 plays the Tee shot on Hole 1. The next shot is played by Player 2 from the place where Player 1 landed his first shot. Player 1 plays the 3rd shot and so on. Note than irrespective of the outcome of the hole, Player 2 will play the Tee shot on Hole 2. So in essence, just 2 balls are in play, one from each team. The team that takes the least shots wins the hole. If both teams take the same number of shots, the hole is halved. Lets take an example with the same player formation as in the example of Fourballs.
Woods plays for 1st shot on Hole 1 for USA. Casey plays the 1st shot for Europe. Mickelson will play the second shot from where Woods' 1st shot landed. Harrington will do the same for Europe. Woods will play the 3rd shot as will Casey and so on. Suppose Mickelson plays the last shot on the hole for USA. It does not mean Woods will play the 1st shot on Hole 2 since Woods hit the Tee shot on Hole 1. Mickelson will play the Tee shot on Hole 2 since Woods had hit the Tee shot on Hole 1. This also means that irrespective of how the holes play out, both players in a group will hit 9 Tee shots each. Woods will Tee off on all odd numbered holes while Mickelson will Tee off on all even numbered holes.
In this way, Foursomes matches are playes over 18 holes.
This is a one on one series where all 12 players have to play. The draw is made and it is as easy as 12 matches where each player plays for himself. Not much to explain here.
On the first 2 days, 4 Foursomes matches are played in the morning session while 4 Fourballs matches are played in the evening session. So at the end of the first 2 days, 16 matches are played overall. Singles are played on the 3rd day. So overall, 28 matches are played over 3 days. Each match carries 1 point. The team that wins a match gets that point. If the score is A/S at the end of 18 holes, both teams get half a point each.
There is beauty to the scoring system. I think I will have a problem explaining it.
If one team is ahead of the other team by a margin which is more than the number of holes remaining, then the match is called off there itself and the remaining holes are not played. It makes sense. Lets illustrate with an example.
Player 1 (USA) is playing against Player 2 (Europe). Player 2 is 4 up after 15 holes. Now only 3 holes are remaining. The best case scenario for player 1 is that he wins all the 3 remaining holes but it will still mean that Player 2 won by 1 shot. Hence the remaining 3 holes are not played. Player 2 is awarded the match by the score of "4 & 3". What does this mean? It means Player 2 won by 4 shots with 3 holes to play. I think now it sounds simpler than I thought at first.
So thats about it regarding the playing rules and the format of the tournament. USA will be the hosts this year and the venue is Valhalla in Kentucky. This is after Europe thrashed America 18.5-9.5 2 years ago in Europe. America last won the Ryder Cup in the last decade. Europe has won 8 of the last 11 Ryder Cups and they start favorites this year too. Reason? Tiger Woods is injured and he wont be playing. He is considered as the single most defining player for the Americans. Thats a huge loss for USA.
I cant wait for it to start tomorrow and come Sunday, expect lots of people to flock to Valhalla to see who takes home the RYDER CUP.
Cheers to a great tournament and an even better sporting legacy ... !!