Ryder Cup: the format, course and omens at Whistling Straits


The format
English businessman and golf promoter Samuel Ryder devised the biennial matchplay contest in 1927. Originally played between Great Britain and the United States, players from continental Europe joined Irish golfers, who had always competed in the event, in 1979. Since that date Europe have won 11 of the 20 matches played, the US eight with one tied.

There are 28 matches played between Friday and Sunday, comprising foursomes, fourballs and singles matchplay. Four foursomes (starting at 1.05pm) are played on Friday and Saturday with two golfers from Europe against a pairing from the US, with team members alternating between shots and each team using one ball. The four fourball (6.10pm) matches each afternoon for the first two days sees two golfers from each team competing, but with each player using his own ball and the lowest score from each pair counting for the score for their side. On the final day every member from the US team plays against a European opponent in head-to-head singles contest (5.05pm).

The course
Whistling Straits, opened in 1998 by local billionaire Herb Kohler, was created by Pete Dye and sculpted along two miles of beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline near Sheboygan in Wisconsin. The Europeans will feel like it is a “home from home”, with the owner’s brief of ensuring it “looks like it’s in Ireland” resulting in a course specifically designed to ape the traditional seaside links courses of that country and the United Kingdom.

The huge lake not only provides the extremely keen wind which picks up pace on the holes that cling to the coastline but also the waves that crash onto the rocky straits – hence the name of the course. There are more than a thousand bunkers peppered around the course, but most are there to help create the daunting look for which his creator was renowned. The vast rolling greens with few large trees or woods mean it is generally open and exposed to the wind and elements.

The Covid conundrum
This will be the first Ryder Cup played since the Covid-19 outbreak started, with the event postponed from last year to this week due to the pandemic. European captain Pádraig Harrington and his US counterpart Steve Stricker have agreed to each team having a “Covid envelope” in case any of their players test positive for coronavirus.

Following the Ryder Cup protocols, any player who tests positive for Covid is immediately ineligible for the remainder of the event with strict rules in place as the entire event could be in jeopardy if more than one player succumbs over the three days. Both captains have agreed to place the names of three of their players into an envelope before Sunday’s singles. If one team has a player forced out with Covid, the other team would then sideline the top player from their envelope list to rebalance the matches and the point would be halved. There is a similar envelope in place for if a player gets injured and cannot take part on the final day.

The omens
Hot favourites United States may turn out to be overpriced even at the seemingly prohibitive odds of 1-2 with the world rankings suggesting that this is one of the strongest teams ever to be fielded at the Ryder Cup. The US have eight of the world’s top 10 in their 12-man team, led by world No 2 Dustin Johnson and Open champion Collin Morikawa. Johnson and Morikawa are also among six major winners in the American ranks, along with Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.

Additionally, home advantage can’t be overestimated with the notoriously vociferous galleries getting behind the American golfers with no opposing European support in attendance owing to Covid restrictions. The US have sometimes struggled to form a team spirit like their European rivals and the visitors will be hoping the long-running rivalry between DeChambeau and Koepka spills over in their favour.