Ryder Cup Format & Scoring Explained

By Michael Joseph

The Ryder Cup trophy against a sunset

There’s one golf tournament every-other year that attracts the rowdiest crowds and gives fans a World Cup style spectacle: the Ryder Cup. The bi-annual exhibition between the best professional golfers from the United States and those from Europe is appointment viewing for avid golfers and casual fans alike.

The recipe for the Ryder Cup’s success is simple: start with one part golf; add a team element; convert stroke play to match play; spice it up with four ball, alternate shot, and individual match play; pour in the Patriotism generously and stew for two years. Voila, the result is a can’t-miss golf spectacle.

Ryder Cup Format

The Ryder Cup alternates between four ball and foursomes over four sessions during the first two days, and ends with 12 individual matches.




Number of Matches



Fourball or Foursomes




Foursomes of Fourball




Fourball or Foursomes




Foursomes of Fourball



All Day




Also known as alternate shot, in this format teammates alternate tee shots with Player 'A' teeing off on odd-numbered holes, and Player 'B' teeing off on even-numbered holes. After the tee shot, teammates alternate shots until completion of the hole. The team with the lower score on the hole wins the hole. Holes can be tied (formerly referred to as halved). The team that wins the match receives one point, and if the teams tie they each get 1/2 point.

Four Ball

In the four ball format, all four players play their own ball. The team whose player has the lowest score wins the hole. Holes can be tied (formerly referred to as halved). The team that wins the match receives one point, and if the teams tie they each get 1/2 point.


Players compete in match play head-to-head. The best score on each hole wins that hole. Holes can be tied (formerly referred to as halved). The player who wins the match earns one point for his team. Ties are worth 1/2 point to each team.

Rycer Cup Scoring

There are 28 total matches and available points. The first team to reach at least 14.5 points wins. If the teams tie (14 vs.14) the team that last won the tournament retains the Ryder Cup trophy. Of course, it’s always preferable to win the Ryder Cup than to retain it.

Selecting Ryder Cup Teams

Each team has a captain, who decides which players will play together during four ball and foursomes matches, and in which order they will compete in singles matches.

Ryder Cup players are selected through a years-long qualifying process in which points are earned based on money made in major championships, World Golf Championships, and regular PGA Tour events, weighted to favor recent success and reward recent success and major winners.

Typically eight players from the United States qualify through points, with the captain selecting players for the remaining four spots. However, when the 2020 Ryder Cup was pushed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the United States announced that just six players would qualify through points, and captain Steve Stricker would make six captains picks instead of four.

The Europeans also employ a points system, with the top four players from the European Points List and the five leaders from the World Points List automatically qualifying, leaving three captains picks.

Ryder Cup History

The Ryder Cup is a bi-annual match-play competition between the United States and Europe. The competition is named after golf enthusiast and businessman Samuel Ryder, who donated a solid gold trophy for the winning team. The first official Ryder Cup was contested in 1927 at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The Ryder Cup was strictly U.S. versus Great Britain until 1979, when a rules change allowed all continental European professionals a chance to qualify.

The Ryder Cup stands at 24 wins for the United States, 10 wins for Great Britain/Europe and two ties. The event was not played from 1939 to 1945 due to World War II and in 2001 due to the World Trade Center attacks.


The Ryder Cup is played every other year, alternating locations between the United States and Europe. The 2021 Ryder Cup is to be played at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wisconsin.

Image: David Cannon/David Cannon Collection via Getty Images

About The Author

Michael Joseph is a golf industry professional in New Jersey. He has worked as a golf professional, instructor, and clubmaker. Joseph's education includes a degree in golf operations management and a certification in club-fitting from The Golf Academy of America (formally the San Diego Golf Academy). Joseph shares his golf experience and knowledge with others by writing articles for Demand Media Studios and Golflink.com.


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