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Format and Rules for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits

There’s no other event like it in golf. We take a look at how the winner of the trophy will be decided.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and team Europe, Sergio Garcia of Spain and team Europe, and vice-captain Fred Couples of team United States meet on the 15th green prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 21, 2021 in Kohler, Wisconsin. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

The Ryder Cup is different than any other event in golf, with three days of competition each having a different format. And while Friday and Saturday will be two-man teams in two different ways, Sunday is every-man-for-himself match play.

There are 28 points available for both teams to score over the 28 matches that will be contested. There will be eight team matches on both Friday and Saturday, and 12 singles matches on Sunday

Here’s a look at the rules and format for the 2021 Ryder Cup. Keep in mind the United States needs 14.5 points to win the Cup, while Europe needs just 14 points to retain it as they won the last time it was contested in 2018 and a tie leaves them as champs.

One thing that is consistent is how the event is scored: If a team or player gets a lower score, they win the hole. If the teams tie, the hole is “halved.” And it doesn’t matter if you lose the hole by one shot or 10: Each hole is a completely separate entity, and the final score on that hole is all that matters.

Whomever wins the most holes wins the match. If it’s tied after 18, the teams will each get a half-point.

Friday & Saturday

Foursomes (or Alternate Shot): Eight points available (Four on Friday, Four on Saturday)

Each European and American team will consist of two players. One player on each team will tee off on the odd-numbered holes, and the other on the even-numbered holes. If Player A tees off, Player B will then hit the second shot. Then Player A will hit the third, etc, until the ball is in the hole or the final putt is conceded*.

Something to keep an eye on: Discussion of which player uses which golf ball. Since these players often compete as individuals, two guys that use a different ball in a regular event might be forced to use the same one in this format. It’s always a factor.

* You’ll see a lot of tap-in putts and such not actually ever go in the hole. That’s because the traditions of golf often have the opposing team say “you’re good” or “pick it up,” which means they give you credit for making the putt even when you don’t.

Four-Ball: Eight points available (Four on Friday, Four on Saturday)

Two players of two teams each. Everyone plays their own ball, but only the low score on the hole between the two teammates counts. So the risk-reward factor increases in this format. If Player A tees off first and hits a nice drive, you might see Player B take a rip and go for an even more aggressive line in an attempt to get the lowest score for the team.

Look for this especially on the Par 3s, where if your partner puts it on the green with a 10-foot putt, you might as well try and fire at the flag.

Singles Matches: 12 points available (Sunday)

There’s 12 players on each team, and the team captains will submit their list with those golfers in order 1-12. But they won’t know the opponents until they get that same 1-12 list from the other team. It’s all done blindly, and there’s strategy here.

Do you send your worst golfer in the No. 1 spot knowing he’ll likely lose, but avoid having a weaker matchup somewhere else? Do you try and put your strength at the end of the day or the beginning? There will be much ruminating here.