The 2014 Ryder Cup is just around the corner with final team selections now announced. Play is scheduled to begin on September 23 at the Gleneagles Hotel golf course in Perthshire, Scotland.
The event is the most counter-intuitive in the game of golf because it is a team event based on match play. This takes away the convenient story line for news broadcasts that love to discuss a single winner, who politely doffs his hat at the trophy celebration or bestows a photographic kiss on the brass cup he just won.
The headlines also tout the enormous sums available in prize money at various events. Last year, in a sort of warm and fuzzy version of an arms race, the purse for the PGA Championships was bumped up from $8 to $10 million. Just a few moments later the purse for another big tournament, The Players, was given a bump from $9.5 to $10 million, according to GolfWeek.
In fact, since all is fair in love and war and golf tournaments, the tour commissioner joked that the purse for The Players would go to “10 million and one,” just to keep its stature as the largest purse for the current tour.
How The Ryder Cup is A Headline Itself
But the Ryder Cup event has long been held up as a kind of anti-golf tournament. Match play involves a scoring system in which players are awarded a point for holes they win against a specific opponent. Instead of ending the first hole tied at four strokes apiece, for example, the score would say they players tied the hole. A three stroke to four stroke advantage after the second hole would, for example, put the score at 1 to 0.
The story line for the Ryder Cup is infinitely more complicated than a standard event. The Ryder Cup pits two teams of 12 members each against each other – and guess the size of the purse: Zero. No prize money. The Ryder Cup is just for the pure enjoyment of the sport and the bragging rights and perhaps a bottle of champagne shared with 11 friends.
Frankly, it is one thing to put the face of a smiling Olympics contender on a poster or on the front of a box of cereal. It is something else for an entire team of teenage gymnasts (who more or less do what they are told, showing up to team events, even if the event is a photo shoot) to grace a poster or a cereal box. But twelve full grown golfers who win scads of money Thursday through Sunday each week – and the Ryder Cup team is a select group of the year’s biggest winners – are not likely candidates for a box of Wheaties or a follow-up appearance on a late night talk show.
The Ryder Cup is somewhat forced camaraderie, which the players obviously enjoy. There is the potential for a lot of seething rivalry on a Ryder Cup team, but golfers who were passionate competitors only the week before invariably turn into a grinning, fist-bumping, high-fiving group of grown boys when the Ryder Cup is at stake.
Of course, there is nothing in sports that makes victory sweeter than losing a few, and the American team has that down pretty solid these days.
After a long-established easy ride for Ryder Cup week, the American team suddenly began losing in 1985, not long after the event switched from a U.S vs. Britain event to a U.S. vs. Europe event. From 1927 to 1983, the U.S. team lost three times in the event held every other year. The U.S., however, has lost 10 times since 1985 and won four times. Since 1995, they have won only twice.
Your Ryder Cup Headlines for 2014
Here are some other possible headlines the Ryder Cup could generate this year. From the U.S. team, Phil Mickelson will extend his record for the most matches played, which now stands at 38. (From Europe, Nick Faldo has played 46 matches, Bernhard Langer 42 and Neil Coles 40.)
Mickelson could also add to his record of 18 U.S. matches lost and Jim Furyk could add to his 17 losses. (From Europe, the top three in losses are Coles at 21, Christy O’Connor Sr. at 21 and Faldo at 19.)
Mickleson also tops the lot for single matches lost by a member of the U.S. team with five, although the overall record is held by O’Connor with 10.
Lee Westwood from the European team has played on 15 foursome matches, third for Europe behind Langer (with 18) and Faldo (18).
Among four-ball matches played, Mickelson leads U.S. players with 16. No other players likely to make the 2014 team are within striking distance of records this year.
All in all, the Ryder Cup is just different – which can be a storyline itself. But there will be plenty of other things to watch for as well when the team event is played.