Stroke of luck, old chap. It’s tee time

The history
Ever since the seed merchant Samuel Ryder put up a trophy with a likeness of his friend, the English golfer Abe Mitchell, on top of it in 1927, the Ryder Cup matches have meant something special. Gene Sarazen described his very first match as "a cut-throat proposition" and nothing much has changed. The early matches were shared but then the United States took command, their rivals winning only once between 1933 and 1983. But since the continental Europeans were added to Great Britain and Ireland in 1979, there has scarcely been anything between the teams: eight European wins, seven for the US, and one tied match.

The uniforms
The standard golfing combo of comfy slacks and bonny sweater has not changed much over the years but there have been some notable fashion disasters. The US team's suits in 1983 consisted of yellow gingham blazers with powder-blue trousers. Their playing shirts in 1999 featured framed photographs of Ryder Cup legends and their waterproofs in 2010 did not keep out the rain. On the flip side, England's Brian Barnes spent the best part of the 1970s wandering around in checked trousers while smoking a pipe. The modern uniforms are far too tasteful by half.

The scoring
It is matchplay golf, which means each hole is won, halved or lost, with cumulative strokes over the entire round (as in, say, the Open) counting for nothing. This means a rare showing in the world of elite professional sport for concepts such as the half-point – awarded when a match is halved, naturally – and the ampersand, for example, when Martin Kaymer finally relocates his form and beats Tiger Woods 7&6 (seven holes up with six left to play; well, you never know in golf).

The captains
The captain can do so much to set the tone with his speech at the opening ceremony. In 1967, Ben Hogan kept it to one line – "Ladies and gentlemen, the US Ryder Cup team, the finest golfers in the world!" – and his men promptly won 23½ to 8½, still the biggest winning margin. Compare that zinger to the orations of poor old Corey Pavin, who forgot to introduce Stewart Cink in 2010, and hapless Hal Sutton in 2004, who misremembered how many children he had. The US were roundly tonked on both occasions. José María Olazábal and Davis Love III are advised to keep it short and sweet.

The vice-captains
They are ostensibly there to lend support to the captain, and offer the benefit of their Ryder Cup experience to the young men competing. But consider this: Olazábal's right-hand men are Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn, Paul McGinley and Miguel Angel Jiménez. Do not tell us their number-one task is to line up the celebratory pints, glasses of fine wine and cigars for Sunday evening, whatever the result. Vice is quite the word.

The crowd
Chicago is arguably the most sportingest – that's probably a word over there – city in the US. So with American crowds boisterous at the best of times, the Europeans will be going into the lion's den with neither whip nor chair. A threatening atmosphere for sure, although how intimidating a person can be when wearing two large foam hands and shouting "mashed potato" at the top of their voice is open to question.

The wives and girlfriends
They are expected to sit around, smile and look pretty. It is not exactly very progressive, to tell the truth, but this is golf and some other places still do not let women into the clubhouse, so let us not pull at too many threads.

The payment
In the very early days, winners were given gifts of $5 apiece and a round of tasty chicken sandwiches. But now players compete for pride and a place in the history books alone. In fact, sometimes they end up out of pocket. A day before the US team left these shores in 1953, the British government devalued the pound, leaving American wallets distinctly lighter. The chancellor, Rab Butler, must have taken their 6½-5½ win very badly.

The aggro
The brouhaha at Brookline, when Justin Leonard ran across Olazábal's putting line in premature celebration, is always cited as the Ryder Cup's nadir, closely followed by the "War on the Shore" at Kiawah Island, when the US team took the military metaphor a wee bit too far. But nothing compares with 1969, which is remembered now for Jack Nicklaus's sporting concession of a missable putt to Tony Jacklin, ensuring an honourable tie, but featured a fourball involving the future European captain Bernard Gallacher that nearly ended up in a fist fight.

The course
Medinah is long. And tight. There are trees everywhere. The greens are fast and heavily bunkered. Several holes have vicious doglegs. There is water, into which the legendary Sam Snead once threw away a US Open. A perfect track, in other words, for rollercoaster mayhem. Woods will be looking forward to it. He has played two majors there, the 1999 and 2006 US PGAs, and won both. – © Guardian News & Media 2012


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