With the golfing elite teeing off this month in the battle between USA and Europe, we take a look at the Ryder Cup’s fascinating history…
The Ryder Cup, one of the last great sporting events founded on prestige rather than prize money, was first contested in 1927. The origin of the idea to stage international matches between the best American professionals and those of Great Britain is a subject of debate among golf historians.
Past PGA of America President George Sargent (1921-26) of the Southeastern PGA Section credited Sylvanus P. Jermain, president of Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, for first presenting the concept in 1921. However, Bob Harlow, founder of Golf World and onetime manager of Walter Hagen, reported in 1951 that the concept was first proposed in 1920 by James Harnett, a circulation representative for Golf Illustrated. Harnett had attempted to attract potential readers by raising funds to pay expenses for a professional match between the USA and Great Britain. Harnett didn’t get the support he needed until The PGA of America voted at its Annual Meeting on December 15, 1920, to advance Harnett some funds. The rivalry Harnett so eagerly attempted to develop eventually became The Ryder Cup.
Regardless of who takes credit, the first informal matches were played in 1921 at Gleneagles, Scotland. Harnett, most likely with Hagen’s assistance, selected the American Team. The matches were played just before the 2,000 Guineas Match Play Championship, with the British soundly defeating the U.S. Team, 9-3.
Another unofficial match occurred when The R&A decreed regional qualifying rounds before The 1926 Open Golf Championship, forcing overseas competitors to make their transatlantic trek earlier. With extra time on their hands, the American contingent agreed to form a team for an unofficial match against the British professionals at Wentworth Club.
This time, the Americans’ defeat was worse – a 13 1/2 to 1 1/2 rout. English seed merchant and entrepreneur Samuel Ryder was a member of the appreciative gallery. Ryder was an Englishman from St. Albans in Hertfordshire, who made his fortune selling penny seed packets. Before the matches at Wentworth, Ryder had engaged the British star Abe Mitchell as his personal golf tutor. Mitchell beat the reigning Open Champion Jim Barnes, 8 and 7, in the singles, and then partnered with George Duncan in the foursomes to beat Hagen and Barnes, 9 and 8.
After the matches, Ryder had tea with British Team Members George Duncan and Mitchell. Also joining them were Hagen and American team-mate Emmett French. Duncan suggested Ryder provide a trophy and encourage the establishment of matches on a regular basis. Ryder agreed at once and commissioned the design of the gold chalice that bears his name and Mitchell’s likeness on the top.
Unfortunately, Mitchell was suffering from appendicitis and could not join his countrymen at Worcester Country Club, Massachusetts, in 1927 for the inaugural Ryder Cup. The United States Team defeated their counterparts from Great Britain in that historic first match, 9 1/2 -2 1/2.
The first U.S. Ryder Cup Team was captained by Hagen, a charter Member of The PGA of America. Only American-born players were allowed to join the Team, according to a Selection Committee ruling, April 5, 1927, in Chicago. Joining Hagen on the Team were Leo Diegel, Johnny Farrell, Johnny Golden, Bill Mehlhorn, Gene Sarazen, Joe Turnesa and Al Watrous. Mike Brady and Al Espinosa were named alternates.
The British Team was originally set with Mitchell as Captain, but he remained home due to his illness. Ted Ray took over the duties, and was joined on the Team by Aubrey Boomer, Archie Compston, George Duncan, George Gadd, Arthur Havers, Herbert Jolly, Fred Robson and C.A. (Charles) Whitcombe. Samuel Ryder had sown the seed.
Few amateurs who took up golf after their 50th birthday have left as many positive impressions upon the game as Samuel Ryder. Born in 1858, he was the son of a Manchester corn merchant and educated at Manchester University. His father doubted the wisdom of his son’s plans to sell penny seed packets to English garden lovers. The young Ryder decided he would go into business on his own, moved south to St. Albans in Hertfordshire and formed the Heath and Heather Seed Company.
His business quickly prospered, and in 1906 his social standing improved to the point where he was elected Mayor of St. Albans.
He became ill due to overwork, and fresh air and light exercise were prescribed as part of the cure. He was encouraged to take up golf. Reared on music and cricket, Ryder at first spurned the idea, but later relented.
Ryder first enlisted a professional named Hill from a local nine-hole course to guide him through his golf fundamentals. Later, Ryder employed Mitchell as his exclusive instructor at an annual fee of £1,000. Ryder practiced rain or shine, six days a week (never on Sunday), for a year. He was given instruction at Marlborough House, his home, on driving and iron shots, and he hit chip shots over a hedge in the paddock. He followed up with putting.
After his rigorous practice regimen, Ryder decided he could apply for membership at Verulam Golf Club. By age 51, he boasted a six handicap and joined the Verulam Golf Club in St. Albans in 1910. Within a year he was elected Captain of the club, and later held the title in 1926 and ’27. He sponsored a Heath and Heather Tournament in 1923, the first event to be restricted to professionals. Among the field was Mitchell, a former gardener himself, and considered one of the finest players in Great Britain to have never won an Open Championship.
Ryder relished the 1926 unofficial international match between the Americans and British at Wentworth, watching Mitchell and Duncan defeat Hagen and Barnes.
“Why can’t they all get to know each other?” said Ryder. “I will give £5 to each of the winning players, and give a party afterwards, with champagne and chicken sandwiches.”
Later that evening in a pub, Duncan turned to Ryder and said, “This is wonderful. It’s too bad we don’t have a match like this which is official.”
“Why not?” Ryder asked. Soon, the deed of gift was drafted with Ryder agreeing to donate a solid gold cup, worth £250. The cup was designed by Mappin & Webb Company. Ryder insisted that a golfing figure adorn the lid and that it resemble Mitchell. The first official Ryder Cup was arranged for June 3-4, 1927, at the Worcester Country Club, Massachusetts.
An appeal for £3,000 to finance the first British Ryder Cup Team was met with apathy and fell £500 short of the goal, but Ryder made up the deficit. After Ryder, the biggest single contribution was £210 from the Stock Exchange Golf Society. With no Order of Merit money-winning list available, the famed British triumvirate of Harry Vardon, James Braid and James Taylor acted as team selection committee.
Samuel Ryder, who would serve two terms as Mayor of St. Albans, lived to see two Ryder Cup encounters on his home soil. While celebrating the holidays with his family in London, he died of a massive hemorrhage on January 2, 1936. He was 77.
His eldest daughter, Mrs. Marjorie Claisen, sent her father’s favourite mashie (5-iron) to be placed in his coffin. Another of his daughters, Mrs. Thomas Scarfe, took over the family business. However, she never shared her father’s passion for golf.
Ryder’s youngest daughter, Joan, was her father’s constant companion at all his golfing events. She witnessed all The Ryder Cups in Great Britain, and once in America, in 1983, when the U.S. edged the Europeans at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
In 1981, Joan met the Duke of Kent at The Ryder Cup at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England. She told the royal guest that her father had been surprised by the success of the matches. “He had the idea that when the Americans came over for a match he would give a ‘small friendly lunch party’ to both teams,” said Joan.
The Duke gazed at the spectators swarming near the 18th green, and said: “I wonder what your father would think of this little lunch party!” Joan Ryder’s final appearance at The Ryder Cup was at The Belfry in 1985. She called that edition of the matches “the most exciting ever.” Later that year, she died at her home in Sussex at age 81.
With the outbreak of World War II, The Ryder Cup was suspended from 1939-45, and the U.S. retained the trophy from its 1937 victory. Whilst the outbreak of war in Europe forced the cancellation of The 1939 Ryder Cup at Ponte Vedra Country Club, Florida, both teams were still named.
The United States also continued the spirit of the contest by selecting a ten-member team that participated in “challenge” matches against fellow Americans to raise funds for the American Red Cross, various service organizations and other war-related efforts. With The 1939 Ryder Cup cancelled, challenge competitions were arranged from 1940- 43, with two at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield, Michigan, in 1940 and 1942: at Detroit Golf Club, in 1941: and at Plum Hollow Country Club in 1943. The Ryder Cup Team, which had various members during that period, won four of the five challenge matches.
Walter Hagen captained the 1939, ’40 and ’41 Ryder Cup Teams, while Craig Wood captained the Team in 1942 and 1943. There was no competition in 1939.
The 1939 U.S. selections were repeated in 1940 in a challenge match at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, against Gene Sarazen’s Challengers. Sarazen, who was left off The Ryder Cup Team, challenged Hagen by assembling a team that included Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret and Craig Wood.
In 1939, The Professional Golfers Association of Great Britain had selected eight players and Captain Henry Cotton before war interrupted further plans. The eight players named were: Jimmy Adams, Dick Burton, Sam King, Alf Padgham, Dai Rees, Charles Whitcombe and Reg Whitcombe. The remaining two members were never filled.
During the war, the exhibition matches brought together the greatest American players of the era, including amateur Bobby Jones who led his team to an 8 1/2 to 6 1/2 upset of The Ryder Cup Team in 1941, at Detroit Golf Club.
The Ryder Cup resumed with the seventh meeting to the two teams in 1947 at Portland Golf Club, Oregon.
Europeans join the fight for the Cup
In 1973, The Ryder Cup was contested for the first time in Scotland at historic Muirfield. The PGA of Great Britain altered its selection procedure by having eight players chosen from a year-long points system and four by invitation.
The introduction of players from continental Europe into The Ryder Cup fold in 1979 marked a new chapter in the history of the biennial competition and after years of U.S. domination the tide started to turn.
The foundations were laid as far back as 1971 when John Jacobs, the first Director General of The European Tour, had the vision to realise that the future lay in Europe. As The European Tour grew into a cosmopolitan mix of players from all nationalities, particularly from the continent, the logical step was to include these players in The Ryder Cup and make the matches Europe versus America.
During The 1977 Ryder Cup at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Jack Nicklaus approached the PGA of Great Britain about the urgency to improve the competitive level of the contest. The issue had been discussed earlier the same day by both Past The PGA of America President Henry Poe and British PGA President Lord Derby. Nicklaus pitched his ideas, adding: “It is vital to widen the selection procedures if The Ryder Cup is to continue to enjoy its past prestige.”
The changes in team selection procedure were approved by descendants of the Samuel Ryder family along with The PGA of America. The major change was expanding selection procedures to include players from the European Tournament Players’ Division, and “that European Members be entitled to play on the team.” This meant that professional players on the European Tournament Players’ Division, the forerunner to The European Tour we have today, from continental Europe would be eligible to play in The Ryder Cup. The recommendation and succeeding approval of the new selection process followed another American victory at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1977.
The first Ryder Cup under the expanded European selection format was played at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The first two Europeans to make the overseas squad were two Spaniards – Severiano Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido. Ballesteros went on to become one of the all-time winners in The Ryder Cup. He has a record of won 20, lost 12 and halved five and has earned 22 1/2 points in 37 Ryder Cup matches.
The move to include the continental players was a major step in upgrading The Ryder Cup. The U.S. had won all but one outing from 1959 to 1977, the exception being the tied match in a memorable duel in 1969 at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England.
Expanding the selection procedure to include Europeans provided a much greater pool of talent to the team. The effect of The European Tour, with its varying types of golf courses, climates, food, language and customs, was to produce players of unprecedented durability. They possessed the technique and confidence to deal with all course situations and make The Ryder Cup one of the most compelling events in world sport.
Ryder Cup format changes
From the beginning of the series through 1959, The Ryder Cup competition was comprised of four foursomes (alternate shot) matches on one day and eight singles matches on the other day, each of 36 holes.
The format was changed in 1961, to provide four 18-hole foursomes matches the morning of the first day, four more foursomes that afternoon, eight 18-hole singles the morning of the second day and eight more singles that afternoon. One point was at stake in each match, so the total number of points was doubled to 24. In 1963, fourball (better-ball) matches were added for the first time, boosting the total number of points available to 32.
The format was altered again in 1977, this time with five foursomes on opening day, five four-ball matches on the second day, and ten singles matches on the final day. This reduced the total points to 20.
In 1979, when the Great Britain & Ireland Team was expanded to include players from Continental Europe, the format was revised to provide four fourball and four foursomes matches on each of the first two days and 12 singles matches on the third day. The total points awarded were 28. This format continues today.
The Ryder Cup was interrupted for the second time in history following the September 11, 2001, attack upon America. Some eight days following the tragedy, The 2001 Ryder Cup was rescheduled to the following year in 2002, with all future competitions conducted in even-numbered years.
(Article source: Ryder Cup)