WHO is the figure teeing off at the top of the Ryder Cup? How did a golf magazine inspire the tournament as we know it now? And what is “the concession?” Find out with our quick run-down of things you might not know about golf’s greatest team battle
The golden trophy
The Ryder Cup trophy, which stands at 17” tall and weighs 4oz - a little taller and heavier than the FIFA World Cup - has a distinctive figure at the top of it, wrought with concentration, club in hand. Abe Mitchell was a professional golfer from East Grinstead, Sussex who represented Great Britain for three of the first four Ryder Cups. Samuel Ryder, an entrepreneur who made his money selling penny seed packets, employed him as his personal tutor after taking up golf to improve his health (though there is some dispute over whether Mitchell was, in fact, teaching an already adept Ryder to play). Their relationship is said to have blossomed to the extent that, in tribute to his friend, Ryder insisted that the £250 trophy donated to the competition he founded should have Mitchell cast on top of it.
The first official Ryder Cup took place in 1927, in the same year that Ryder donated the trophy to the tournament. It was contested between British and US golfers, a duel that the Americans dominated in the post-war years (the US won 18 cups to the British and Irish team’s three; one tournament, in 1969, was tied). The Great Britain and Ireland team, as it was known after 1973, expanded to include European players such as Seve Ballesteros into the team in 1979, which has since made the Ryder Cup more competitive. Ryder set up the competition as a way to shake up golf in Britain, which he felt undervalued its professionals; an encounter with the Whitcombe brothers, a talented but unsupported trio of players, helped galvanised his ambition.
Gleneagles, the home of the Ryder Cup (sort of)
Though the first Ryder Cup proper took place in 1927, there were two tournaments pitting US and British golfers against each other that preceded it, and the first one was held in... Gleneagles. Six years earlier, the Auchterarder course held a warm-up tournament on the eve of the British Open, where 10 American players and their British counterparts faced off. Incredibly, an American magazine was the catalyst for the whole thing: Golf Illustrated wrote to the Professional Golfers’ Association of America suggesting the idea that an elite group of American players should be sent to compete in the British Open, a tournament that no player from the US at the time had won. A warm-up competition, The Glasgow Herald 1,000 Guinea Tournament, was soon arranged, and was held a fortnight prior to the Open. The British team, led by captain George Duncan and featuring Abe Mitchell, won the contest 9-3.
1969: the most famous Ryder Cup?
Was the 1969 edition of the Ryder Cup the greatest of them all? Subsequent tournaments have equalled it for high drama and thrilling denouements, but the tussle at Royal Birkdale was played in a uniquely poisonous atmosphere that made the finale all the more unexpected. Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin contested the game that was destined to decide where the Ryder Cup would go; Nicklaus, playing for the holders, conceded Tony Jacklin’s two-foot putt that, in the unlikely event that he missed it, would have allowed the Americans to retain the cup. “The concession”, as it’s now called, ensured that the contest ended in a tie. It was one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship of all time, but it came at the end of a tournament where the British captain, Eric Brown, told his team-mates not to help the Americans search for lost balls in the rough. Meanwhile, David Hill got into a shouting match with Bernard Gallacher about putting etiquette, which ended in Hill reportedly telling the Scot: “If you say one more word I’m going to wrap this one-iron around your head.”
After all that, it almost goes without saying that Nicklaus’ team-mates were not pleased at his decision to concede to Jacklin.
How the Golden Bear shaped Gleneagles
Jack Nicklaus has made his mark on the Ryder Cup over the years, but in 2014 that phrase is taking on a more literal meaning. The Golden Bear has designed (and redesigned) the Gleneagles course that the Europeans and Americans are now swinging their drivers and putters over. Stretches of the old Monarch Course have been reshaped by Nicklaus ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup after some major complaints over the quality of the course; the ninth and 18th holes were, by most accounts, drab affairs, and the course itself was too vulnerable to wet weather. It’s hard to say how the course will be viewed after the tournament ends - that probably depends on who you talk to after the event. The winners will have plenty more positive things to say about it, you would think.