Since the rest of Europe came to rescue Great Britain and Ireland after yet another United States victory in 1977, the Ryder Cup became one of the fiercely competitive sports events on the planet.
Apart from the occasional one-sided battering, many of these 21 editions have been keenly contested, including 10 that were decided by just two points or fewer.
Europe have won 11 of these contests compared to USA’s nine while there has just been one tie back in the dramatic 1989 edition at the Belfry.
It therefore goes without saying that every session is crucial – but this article will delve much deeper in a bid to identify the key statistical trends behind each facet of this fascinating biennial battle.
Before we break all the data down into meaningful nuggets, here are the overall stats that clearly show how close these two teams have been over the decades.
The biggest margin of victory since the inclusion of Continental Europe came in the last edition in 2021 when USA stormed to a quite incredible 19-9 trouncing of their shellshocked visitors.
Before then, USA’s most resounding scoreline was 18.5-9.5 achieved back in 1981 while they’d also managed 17-11 in 1979 and 2016.
Europe’s victories tended to be much closer until they pulled off back-to-back thumpings of 18.5-9.5 in 2004 and 2006, while the last time they got their hands on the trophy in 2018, they ran away with it 17.5-10.5.
The Ryder Cup has been won by the ‘barest of margins’ scoreline of 14-5-13.5 as many as seven times.
USA came through the nerve-jangling editions of 1983, 1991 and 1999 – all of which came on American soil – while Europe managed it in 1995, 1997, 2010 and 2012. The first and last of those were of course away from home at Oak Hill and Medinah respectively.
As much as we all enjoy the drama of a close contest, there have been several runaway successes down the years.
The USA have managed four wire-to-wire victories – in the sense they’ve been leading at the end of each session. Those came in 1979, 2008, 2016 and 2021 which underlines their strength at building momentum when mood in the camp is strong.
Europe managed it only twice in 2004 and 2006 as many of their triumphs have seemingly required character to fight back on day two.
However, Europe are the only team to have won every session in a single Ryder Cup during their dominant 18.5-9.5 victory at the K Club in 2006.
The closest USA have come to achieving the same feat came in 2021 when only a 2-2 scoreline in the day two fourballs prevented a clean sweep.
Ask any keen golf fan which area of the Ryder Cup format that USA tends to dominate and they’ll say singles. They would be right – but it’s perhaps closer than you’d think, especially since the turn of the century.
The Americans won nine of the 11 singles sessions from 1979 to 1999 but only four of the last 10 which has meant Europe have narrowed these following deficits:
USA have managed some resounding singles scorelines down the years, with a best result of 8.5-3.5 recorded twice (1979 & 1999) while they’ve also managed 8-4 margins three times in 1981, 1997 and 2021.
By contrast Europe have only reached eight points or more twice – but both of those were 8-5-3.5 margins in 2006 and 2012.
We’ll go into this more during the comebacks section, but eagle-eyed readers (no pun intended) will notice that two of those 8.5-3.5 singles sessions were needed to pull of the two biggest turnarounds in Ryder Cup history; USA’s controversial Brookline heroics in 1999 and Europe’s Miracle of Medinah in 2012.
Despite USA’s overall singles dominance, Europe have become much stronger in this format since the turn of the century.
They’ve won six of the last 10 singles sessions, triumphing in 55 matches compared to USA’s 47 (18 ties) and picking up 64 of the 120 points on offer (USA 56) so maybe we shouldn’t be looking at overall tournament trends anymore?
So while USA are supreme at singles, Europe are traditionally better in the team format – whether that’s foursomes or fourballs.
The commonly held belief is that Europe’s forte is sharing a ball but the stats actually show they are actually more ‘fourmiddable’ in the fourballs format when it comes to sessions won and points accumulated. However, they do have the same number of wins in each of these formats (77), with more match ties coming in fourballs.
This team strength from Europe has been evident throughout the tournament’s history since 1979 – although it’s important to point out that USA have really upped their game in fourballs in more recent times.
From 2008 onwards, they’ve captured eight of the 11 fourballs sessions, picking up 30.5 points compared to Europe’s 25.5 and winning 26 of the 56 matches (9 ties).
In this time frame, Europe hold a narrow 28.5-27.5 points advantage in the foursomes, winning 25 matches compared to USA’s 24, but both teams winning six sessions apiece.
We will look closer at both team’s records across all formats in Europe later in this piece.
Despite Europe being strongest in the team format, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that USA tend to boss the day one foursomes, winning 46 of the 86 points available, 40 matches compared to Europe’s 34 (12 ties) and nine of the sessions compared to Europe’s five (seven ties).*
Interestingly it took until 1999 for Europe to win a day one foursomes session and while they’ve upped their game since then to take four more of them, USA have picked up five this millennium.
The foursomes doesn’t always kick off the Ryder Cup but it has on all but two of the occasions they’ve won that session. They also won the day one fourballs three times when it started the competition so overall Americans have led after the first session 10 times, including six of the last seven stagings.
The opener in 2012 was tied so you have to go back to 2006 when Europe last took the first session! They also did it in 1999, 2002 and 2004.
* If you are wondering why these numbers don’t quite add up (you’d assume there would be 84 day one foursomes matches in 21 Ryder Cups), in the weather-affected 2010 edition there were no foursomes matches played on day one. Consequently there were six foursomes on day two and then two on day three. To get the best possible consistency for the purposes of this article, we’ve decided to count the batch of six foursomes in 2010 as ‘day one’ and the two on day three as day two.)
Of the 10 occasions that USA have come out on top in the opening session of day one, they’ve gone on to win the Ryder Cup five times, with Europe coming back to triumph on four occasions. The Europeans of 1989 bounced back from a 3-1 deficit to tie 14-14 and retain the trophy.
Interestingly, however, five of those session one leads came on European soil in 1985, 1989, 2010, 2014 and 2018 - but they didn't win any of those editions! There will be more on USA's woeful record away from home later on.
Team Europe have only led the Ryder Cup after the first session four times (1999, 2002, 2004 and 2006) but they managed to convert the last three of those into victories.
There’s only been one time when a team has whitewashed the opening session and that was back in 2016 when USA opened up a 4-0 lead. They never looked back as they sealed a wire-to-wire 17-11 thrashing.
A 3.5-0.5 opening session is also ominous for your opponents, albeit very rare. Europe are the only side to manage that in 2004 during a phenomenal 18.5-9.5 away victory.
Generally speaking, if you can take three points from the opening session, your Ryder Cup prospects are very high.
USA have led 3-1 seven times and Europe have only come back from that to win twice in 1985 and 2018 – although they did tie 14-14 from that deficit in 1989 and retain the trophy.
Europe’s sole 3-1 opening session win paved the way for a sound 15.5-12.5 victory in 2002.
If you look at day one as a whole, USA have ended in front nine times and went on to win on five of those occasions.
Europe have led after day one a whopping 12 times and converted those advantages into seven victories. This includes the last five times they’ve been leading at this stage (2002, 2004, 2006, 2014 & 2018).
USA’s biggest lead after the first day is 6-2 in 2021 and there was simply no stopping them after that as they went on to seal that record-breaking 19-9 victory. Both times they’ve held an almost as healthy 5.5-2.5 advantage, they’ve also come out on top in 1979 and 2008.
Europe’s biggest comebacks after day one is therefore those two momentous Stateside editions of 1995 and 2012 when they trailed 5-3 only to go on and sneak glory by 14.5-13.5 scorelines.
Europe actually have the record day one lead when they wiped the floor with their beleaguered American opponents 6.5-1.5 en route to a resounding 18.5-9.5 victory at Oakland Hills in 2014.
USA celebrated (and wildly so!) the biggest comeback from a day one losing position when the class of 1999 overturned a perilous 6-2 deficit to triumph by that same slender margin of 14.5-13.5.
A random fact for you – of the 21 day one fourballs sessions, none of them have finished 2-2. Quite strange when you think there’s been seven tied fourball sessions on day two while the foursomes have weighed in with seven on day one and five on day two.
Given the number of matches in the singles, it may not surprise anyone to know that none of the singles sessions have ever been tied 6-6.
As discussed previously, Europe’s traditional dominance in the day two foursomes has been instrumental in them taking charge of the majority of editions.
After the third session, Europe have led 10 times and gone on to win seven Ryder Cups (plus a trophy-retaining tie in 1989) while USA have been in front on seven occasions, going on to winning six.
Europe’s sole comeback from a third session deficit was the Miracle of Medinah when they trailed 8-4.
USA’s two revivals were from 8-4 down during the battle of Brookline in 1999 and 7.5-4.5 in 1993.
By the close of the second day, Europe have held the advantage 11 times – a record made more eye-catching by the fact those occasions have all come in the last 18 stagings, and two of those have been 8-8 in 1991 and 2002.
USA have ended day two in front on seven occasions – although four of those have come in the last seven stagings, which further underlines a previous point that they have got stronger in team play during recent times.
Neither side have led by the close of day two if they've trailed after session three.
But how many of these leads at this stage of the competition were ever reeled in?
USA’s overall singles dominance has only helped them pull off two successful comebacks in the 11 editions they’ve found themselves behind.
In 1993 they were only 8.5-7.5 behind but in 1999 they stormed the 18th green to celebrate ‘that’ record comeback from 10-6 in Brookline.
All five times they’ve trailed after day two since then, they’ve lost.
Europe have also only come back from a day two deficit twice – although they’ve only found themselves in that position on four fewer occasions than the Americans. Both of those came on US fairways in 1995 and 2012 when trailing 9-7 and 10-6 respectively.
On the eight occasions Europe have come out on top in the singles sessions they’ve won the Ryder Cup. That happened in 1985 (Europe), 1995, 2002 (Europe), 2004, 2006 (Europe), 2012, 2014 (Europe) and 2018 (Europe).
USA have won 13 singles sessions and lifted nine of those Ryder Cups – although one of those years (1989) resulted in a 14-14 tie. Their singles successes in 1987, 1997, and 2010 were unable to prevent Europe hanging on to their previously built leads.
Although Europeans would want to declare the Miracle of Medinah as the greatest Ryder Cup comeback of all time, you actually have to give that honour to USA for their brilliance in Brookline.
Both of course had to overturn 10-6 deficits on the final day, but 1999 was the only time when a team has won having trailed at the end of every session before the singles. In 2012 the opening session was tied 2-2.
There have only been five whitewash sessions in Ryder Cup history.
USA managed it twice in foursomes (1981 & 2016) and went on to record resounding victories via 18.5-9.5 and 17-11 scorelines.
Europe achieved it once in foursomes (2018) and twice in fourballs (1987 & 1989), celebrating success on all three occasions. However, the jubilation of 1989 was a trophy retaining tie.
In case you didn’t already know, USA are amazing at home but can’t travel, especially in recent times. Thankfully for Team Europe fans, this year’s edition is in Rome.
USA have won seven of the 11 Ryder Cups that have been held Stateside since 1979 but only two of the 10 in Europe – with the last coming way back at the Belfry in 1993, while the only ever tied edition took place in 1989 at the same venue.
These head-to-head stats do the talking:
Europe have led after day one on home soil eight times out of 10, with the only exceptions being 1985 and 2010. They went on to win both of those editions but the defeats of 1981 and 1993 came after an early lead.
Whenever Europe lead after day two at home, it’s pretty much curtains for the Americans, who have only turned around such a deficit once back in 1993.
Will this home dominance continue in Rome?
As you might expect, the top points scorer in each Ryder Cup usually comes from the winning team, but there have been some exceptions down the years.
In 1989, Jose Maria Olazabel achieved the accolade with 4.5 points during the Ryder Cup’s only ever tie that meant Europe retained the trophy.
Ian Woosnam also top scored with 4.5 in the 1993 edition at the Belfry when USA produced a stirring comeback to win 15-13 while two years later at Oak Hill, it was Europe’s turn to deny Corey Pavin’s top-scoring effort of four points.
In 1999, Hal Sutton’s 3.5 points helped USA snatch that most dramatic of 14.5-13.5 victories at Brookline although he would share the top points scorer award with European quartet Sergio Garcia, Paul Lawrie, Colin Montgomerie and Jesper Parnevik.
Ian Poulter earned top scorer status for the first of three times in his career with four points during Europe’s defeat away from home in 2008 while Thomas Pieters achieved exactly the same feat in similar circumstances in 2016.
Of the 31 Ryder Cup top scorers - or joint top scorers - 25 of them have been involved in all five sessions of that edition.
Larry Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino all won four out of four sessions during USA’s victory in 1981 while Ian Poulter and Luke Donald shared the honour in 2010 with three points from four in Europe’s triumph.
Europe’s ‘Postman’ was also the other exception to this rule two years later when he collected four points from four sessions during the Miracle of Medinah.
Every player who has ever been Ryder Cup top scorer has been involved in the very first session – whether that’s the foursomes or the fourballs.
Even those players who top scored from four sessions were involved in the first. So maybe wait until the pairings are announced on Thursday evening before you confirm your top scorer bets.
Only three players since 1979 have picked up the maximum five points at a single Ryder Cup; Larry Nelson in 1979, Francesco Molinari in 2018 and Dustin Johnson in 2021. Unsurprisingly they were all on the winning team.
Jose Maria Olazabel (1989), Ian Woosnam (1993), Colin Montgomerie (2002), Sergio Garcia (2004) and Lee Westwood (2004) all managed an almost as impressive 4.5 points while there have been four instances of players getting maximum points from four outings.
Larry Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino in 1981 and Ian Poulter in 2012.
When Dustin Johnson picked up a perfect five points in 2021, he became the first American since 1999 to be Ryder Cup top scorer.
Even when they lifted the trophy in 2008 and 2016, it was Ian Poulter and Thomas Pieters who kept this individual honour in European hands.
And when you consider Hal Sutton shared this status with four European’s in 1999, you have to go back to Corey Pavin in 1995 for the last time an American player won this outright.
And you have to go back to 1991 when an American player (Fred Couples and Lanny Wadkins) won it in an American win.
This tends to be because Europe’s best players are regularly selected in five sessions whereas USA have traditionally rotated their ‘wider’ pool of talent a little bit more.
For example, the top European scorer in every edition has played in five sessions apart from Luke Donald and Ian Poulter in 2010 and the latter again in 2012. By contrast there’s been seven editions when the top American scorer has played in four sessions or fewer.
One final interesting fact – the last time an American was top scorer on European soil was way back in 1981 when the trio of Nelson, Nicklaus and Trevino shared it.
If this year's Ryder Cup in Rome follows these historical trends, these are the most likely outcomes and scenarios:
But as we all know in sport, records are there to be broken and history books are there to be rewritten...