What is the Ryder Cup format? Foursomes, fourball explained

If you need an explanation of how the Ryder Cup works, we've got you covered as we break down the entire format for the biennial competition between the best golfers from the United States and Europe.

Ryder Cup trophy
Ryder Cup trophy / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

Simply put, the Ryder Cup is easily one of the greatest events in golf.

But if you've never watched this biennial event before, you might get a little confused with the format. So, we're here to make your viewing experience a bit easier.

The Ryder Cup format explained

First played in 1927, the match-play competition features a team of 12 Americans battling a group of 12 Europeans.

Over the course of the three-day event, 28 total matches are played, each worth one point. To win a match, simply win more holes than your opponent. If there's no winner after 18 holes, no extra holes are played. Instead, a half-point is awarded to each team.

As 28 total points are available, the first team to reach 14.5 points wins. If the competition ends in a 14-14 tie, the team currently holding the Ryder Cup retains the trophy.

Each of the first two days of the Ryder Cup features a pair of four-match sessions -- one session of four-ball and one session of foursomes. Don't worry; we'll get to exactly what those mean in just a moment. The first thing to know here is that these are two-on-two matches, which means only eight players per team will participate in these sessions while the other four sit out.

All 24 players compete on the final day, which consists of 12 singles (1-on-1) matches.

But let's get back to those first two days.

What is fourball in the Ryder Cup?

In a four-ball match at the Ryder Cup, each player of the two-man team plays his own golf ball, meaning four balls are in play on every hole. Hence, the clever name.

Each team counts the lowest of the two scores on each hole and the team with the lowest score wins that hole. If the low scores are tied, the hole is halved.

So let's say the U.S. team of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are battling the European duo of Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland. If Spieith makes a four and Thomas makes a five, the Americans would obviously use Spieth's four.

But if Hovland makes a four and Rory makes a three, the Europeans win the hole, as McIlroy's three was the lowest score of the four players.

What are foursomes in the Ryder Cup?

The foursomes format at the Ryder Cup is also known as the alternate-shot format, as each two-man team plays one ball per hole, with the players taking turns until the hole is finished.

Players alternate hitting shots off the tee, with one teeing off on odd-numbered holes while the other tees off on even-numbered holes. The team with the low score wins the hole. As it goes with all matches, the hole is halved if the scores are tied.

So if Spieth and Thomas alternate shots and make a four and McIlroy and Hovland make a five, the U.S. wins the hole.

And that, my friends, is your Ryder Cup format. Easy enough, right?

Next. Best Golfer Every State. The best golfer from every U.S. state. dark