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How Does the Ryder Cup Scoring Work?

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Marian (aka Azure11) has been playing golf for over 20 years and has volunteered as a marshal at quite a number of golf tournaments.


Ryder Cup Scoring Explained

The Ryder Cup is scored in a completely different way from normal golf tournaments, so it may be a bit difficult to figure out what is going on. For that reason, we have come up with this guide to explain the scoring and hopefully make things a little bit clearer!

The Ryder Cup is a men's golf tournament that is held every two years and alternates between being held in Europe and the US.

Its scoring is not the same as in traditional golf tournaments in that it is scored on what is known as a matchplay basis, not strokeplay (where a player adds up the number of shots taken over 18 holes).

There are three matchplay formats during the tournament: Foursomes, Fourballs and Singles. See further down for detailed explanations of each one of these.

The Ryder Cup is essentially a team golf competition between the USA and Europe where one team can win outright (and hence claim the trophy). Alternatively, it is also possible for there to be a draw. However, if there is a draw, then the team who currently holds the Ryder Cup, i.e., they won the previous tournament, are entitled to keep hold of the cup.

The scoring format can be quite confusing. The competition is usually made up of 28 golf matches. It is possible for this to change at the time of the competition due to things like adverse weather conditions.

Each golf match has one point up for grabs. This point can be taken by one team or else shared (half a point each) between the teams. Therefore, as there are 28 matches, a team needs to score 14 1/2 points in order to win the Ryder Cup. Once a team has this score, the competition is effectively over and any matches in progress can be abandoned.

The Ryder Cup is a golf tournament between the USA and Europe

The Ryder Cup is a golf tournament between the USA and Europe

Ryder Cup Match Formats

Matchplay Explained

The overall format of the Ryder Cup is that of matchplay, which means that each team tries to win each hole as the two teams go around the course. The team that wins the most holes out of the 18 wins the match and gets the point.

Each team can only score points from completed rounds of 18 holes (unless one team has won so many holes that it is impossible for the other team to win). So if one team wins more holes than another in a round of golf then they get the point from that match. Hence you will only see points being scored at the end of matches and during the matches, the boards will show which team is 'Up' or if a match is A/S - All Square.

3 Different Types of Matches

1. Fourball

Each fourball match is made up of 2 golfers from the US and 2 from Europe. Each player plays their own ball and the player with the best score at each hole takes the point for that hole for their team. If the best score from each team is the same then they will halve the hole (neither of them scores a point as opposed to if they halve a match they get half a point each).

As the teams go round the course during their round in Fourball format, either the match at any stage is 'All Square', i.e., each team has won the same number of holes, or one of the teams is 'Up'. So the team who first wins a hole is said to be 1 Up.

And so they continue in the holes with one team either being a number of holes 'up' (2 Up if they have won 2 more holes than the other team) or else they will be 'All Square (A/S)' still. The game finishes either at the 18th hole where they may be All Square or one team will be 1 Up or 2 Up, or before that if there are not enough holes for the other team to recover the lead.

For example, if one team are 3 Up and there are only 2 holes remaining then the second team cannot win and so team 1 would be said to win '3 and 2' (3 Up and 2 holes remaining). So, whichever team ends up winning the match gets a point for that match, if it is all square then they get half a point each for the fourball matches.

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2. Foursomes

In the foursomes format, 2 players make up each team from Europe and USA and each team only plays 1 ball between them. One player from each team is nominated to play the tee shot on the odd holes and one on the even holes.

The first player hits the golf ball and then his partner takes the next shot and so on until the ball is holed. Whichever team gets the lowest score on each hole wins the point for that hole (and hence goes 1 Up) (or the hole is halved if they both score the same and that hole is classed as All Square). At the end of the match, a point is given to the winning team or the point is halved for a draw. Again, in foursomes, the match can end before the 18th hole if one team has more points than there are holes left.

3. Singles

As it sounds, singles is played in a one-against-one format for each match. All of the players (24) take part in this format and so there are 12 matches in this session. Each player can win a point for their team if they win the most holes out of the 18. If they win the same number of holes then the point is halved.

As the matches go on, the scores can swing wildly from one team to the other as a match can easily swing from being 1 Up to one side to being All Square to being 1 Up for the other side and this is what makes the Ryder Cup so exciting.

On the last day of play, as the players come in, the scores on the leaderboard are adjusted as each match finishes. So there may be a few matches still out playing when one of the teams gets to 13 1/2 or 14 points. At this point, the next match can seal the result if one team gets to the key total of 14 1/2 points overall. They could be anywhere on the course when this happens and there could be other players out there over the course, so unless it goes down to the wire, and the last match is the decider, it quite often will end with a few players out on the course and not necessarily on the 18th green!

Most golf tournaments that you tend to see are based on strokeplay where every shot counts and every man is out for himself, so it is refreshing to see golf being played as a team sport and where one wayward shot does not destroy a whole game!

Europe square up against the USA (c) Marian L

Europe square up against the USA (c) Marian L

This Scoring Is Used in Other Tournaments

So hopefully this has gone some way to explain the complicated scoring of the Ryder Cup. This type of scoring format is also used in the Walker Cup, which is the amateur golfers' version of the Ryder Cup and also the Vivendi Seve Trophy as well as other tournaments like the World Matchplay Championships (although that is played on an individual basis so the format is slightly different).

Please let me know if you have any questions about the Ryder Cup scoring format.

Questions & Answers

Question: In looking at Ryder Cup scoring, what does 18-20-7 mean?

Answer: If you are referring to Phil Mickleson's record in the Ryder Cup then I believe that is his number of wins, losses, and games halved in all of his appearances in the tournament so far.

Question: What does a 4-2-1 score mean for the Ryder Cup?

Answer: As per the previous question I assume that this is a particular golfer's record as part of the Ryder Cup. Given no context I can't find anyone with this record which would indicate 4 wins, 2 losses and 1 game halved.

Question: In terms of Ryder Cup scoring, what does 3&2 or 4&3 mean?

Answer: These scores mean that one team is 3 up (or 4 up) in the match, but there are only 2 (or 3) holes remaining to play so the other team can't win so the match finishes at that point.

Question: In terms of Ryder Cup scoring, what does winning 2 and 1 mean?

Answer: It means that they are 2 up in the match with only 1 hole remaining. This means that they finish the match, as the other team cannot win.

Question: I know you get 12 points from single matches - then 6 points from foursome play and 6 from 4 ball play so where are the other 4 points from when scoring for the Ryder Cup?

Answer: You are right, there are 12 singles matches but there are 8 foursomes and 8 fourball matches - 4 of each on Friday and Saturday, so making up the 28 points total.

Question: How are the three different Ryder Cup formats scheduled?

Answer: On Friday they have four fourball matches in the morning and four foursomes in the afternoon, on Saturday they have the same format as Friday and on Sunday they have the 12 singles matches. This gives 28 matches in total.

© 2010 Marian L


Marian L (author) from UK on October 01, 2012:

Thanks RevaxMike, the scoring can be a bit complicated as it is different to most top level golf events but the Ryder Cup is so popular that i thought it might help to explain it a bit. The Ryder Cup was awesome! I really didn't think that we could do it at the end of day 2 but was shocked when it got to 13 all and we were almost there. Ian Poulter is indeed a Ryder Cup genius!

RevaxMike from Darlington on October 01, 2012:

That was a highly informative piece; well done!

It was a brilliant Ryder Cup, wasn't it? Ian Poulter's passion was immense.

Get in Europe!

Marian L (author) from UK on October 04, 2010:

Thanks Jaspal, what a nailbiter today's play was. And for me a good result - Europe 14.5, USA 13.5

Jaspal from New Delhi, India on October 04, 2010:

Thank you Azure for explaining in such a simple to understand way, the scoring system which appears to be rather complicated!

The final day is being played right now at Celtic Manor, and I am glued to the TV!! The score: Europe 10 1/2 vs USA 8 1/2. :)

Marian L (author) from UK on October 03, 2010:

Thanks a lot EmmettK, I found so many people were confused I would try my hardest to explain it simply!

EmmettK on October 03, 2010:

THANK YOU for is so clearly written and explained it has cleared up all my hopeless confusion. The official Ryder Cup site should ask your permission to post this there.

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