Ryder Cups and Killer Instincts

This is a most bizarre table.

European (EU) score first Matches won Overall
Year Venue Win Fourballs Foursomes Singles Match Score Holes +/-
1979

1981

1983

1985

1987

1989

1991

1993

1995

1997

1999

2002

2004

2006

2008

2010

2012

2014

USA

England

USA

England

USA

England

USA

England

USA

Spain

USA

England

USA

Ireland

USA

Wales

USA

Scotland

US

US

US

EU

EU

Tie

US

US

EU

EU

US

EU

EU

EU

US

EU

EU

EU

3-5

3-4

3-3

4-2

6-2

6-2

5-1

3-4

2-6

5-2

4-1

4-3

4-2

4-2

2-3

4-2

3-5

2-4

4-3

2-6

4-4

4-4

4-3

2-4

2-6

5-3

5-3

4-2

4-3

3-4

6-2

3-1

2-3

4-3

3-5

6-0

3-8

3-7

4-5

7-4

3-6

5-7

4-5

3-6

7-4

3-7

3-8

5-2

7-4

8-3

4-7

4-6

8-3

5-4

11-17

9-18

13-14

16-11

15-13

14-14

13-14

13-15

14-13

14-13

13-14

15-12

18-9

18-9

11-16

14-13

14-13

16-11

-18

-26

-6

+15

-2

-5

-8

-4

-3

-6

-16

+18

+13

+23

-13

+2

-17

+16

EU leads overall wins 10-7 67-52 68-57 81-96 216-205 -37

Also replicated here for easier reading, it shows a quite bizarre thing – although Europe leads in Cup wins comfortably, and in match wins marginally, it is actually behind in holes won since 1979.

I choose 1979 because that is both when Continental Europeans began competing in the Ryder Cup and when the matches switched to their current format – eight fourball matches (all players play and the best score win the hole for his team), eight foursomes (pairs play a single ball, using alternate shots), and twelve singles.

Yet even if we take the time after 1985, when the United States lost a Ryder Cup for the first time in 28 years, we see a remarkable thing. In 14 tournaments since then, the United States has won just four and lost nine – but has actually won two more holes during that period! In fact, Americans are only behind by one hole overall over the past three Ryder Cups – an astonishingly balanced record – yet have lost all three.

The last Ryder Cup in the United States, the so-called ‘Miracle of Medinah’, was the ultimate example of this. The Americans actually won more holes in 2012 than in any Ryder Cup since 1981 – and lost! What was remarkable about it was that a staggering 13 of the 28 matches (i.e. almost half) made it to the final green – of those, the Europeans won nine, lost just three and halved one. Of the remaining 15 matches which didn’t make it that far, Europeans won only five (and even three of those on the 17th!) and lost ten. Europe won the final hole decisively more than three quarters of the time (even the half was a comeback from one-down) – having otherwise been comprehensively outplayed by historical standards.

I am not totally clear what this demonstrates – but I suspect it is something to do with the value of teamwork and a killer instinct. What has happened – consistently – is that Americans have won the matches they have won by big margins, but when the margins have become tight the Europeans tend to have come out on top.

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