Everything to know about the 2021 Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup is here once again! The one time when the normally staid sport of golf turns into a raucous college football tailgate, the Ryder Cup’s one of the best events on the sports calendar. Postponed a year because of COVID-19, this year’s edition tees off Friday morning at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Here’s everything you need to know heading into the wildest, loudest weekend of the golf season.

The deal

Begun in 1927, the Ryder Cup initially pitted the top professional players from the United States against their counterparts from Great Britain. After Team USA whupped the Brits a few too many times, the English welcomed the Irish and, later, the rest of Europe into their ranks.

The move has paid off, particularly in the last few Cups. Since 1993, Team Europe has won nine times, with Team USA winning only three times, all at home. Team Europe is the defending champion after a thorough thrashing of the Americans, 17 ½-10 ½, in Paris in 2018.

KOHLER, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 23: A general view of a Rolex clock during practice rounds prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 23, 2021 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
A general view of a Rolex clock during practice rounds prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on Sept. 23, 2021, in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The format

The Ryder Cup takes place over three days of match play. The first two days involve two sessions of four pairings apiece, and the final, crucial Sunday comprises 12 single head-to-head matchups.

Matches begin on Friday morning with four four-ball competitions, meaning pairs from each team will each play their own ball from tee to cup. Whichever player scores the lowest wins the hole for his team.

Friday afternoon, the four pairs will play foursomes, meaning the players must alternate shots on the same ball. In both four-ball and foursomes, the pair gets a point for each hole won, and the winning pair earns one point for the overall team. If the pairs have an equal number of wins at the end of 18 holes, each team gets a half-point.

Saturday’s matches will reverse the order of Friday. Sunday’s singles matches will be 12 head-to-head battles, each player on his own against one individual from another team.

Friday will be a key factor in the overall direction of the cup; since 2002, the team that won Friday won the Cup seven of nine times. Most recently, the United States won the first three matches on Friday morning … then proceeded to lose the next eight and, eventually, the Cup.

The teams

Both teams include a mix of automatic qualifiers, based on points accrued by tournament performance over the last two years, and captain’s picks. These break down as follows:

Team USA

Automatic qualifiers: Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay

Captain’s picks: Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Harris English, Daniel Berger, Scottie Scheffler

Team Europe

Automatic qualifiers: Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrell Hatton, Bernd Wiesberger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Viktor Hovland, Lee Westwood

Captain’s picks: Shane Lowry, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter

The course

The 2021 Ryder Cup will take place at Whistling Straits, a wide, expansive links-style course along the shores of Lake Michigan in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The course has hosted three major championships before — the 2002 PGA (won by Vijay Singh), the 2010 PGA (won by Martin Kaymer) and the 2015 PGA (won by Jason Day).

Whistling Straits is probably best known as the site of Dustin Johnson’s unfortunate rules misfire on the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship. He had a one-shot lead with one shot to play, but bogeyed the hole to apparently fall into a playoff. He was later determined to have grounded his club in the sandy scrub alongside the hole, which had been deemed a bunker by local rule. That two-stroke penalty dropped Johnson out of a tie for the lead, and Martin Kaymer went on to win over Bubba Watson in a playoff.

Team USA captain Steve Stricker has the option of setting up the course the way he prefers, and he’ll surely use the Americans’ length off the tee as an asset. There’s not significant rough at Whistling Straits, so accuracy off the tee is not necessarily a key factor this week.

Every Ryder Cup carries a significant home-field advantage not just because of the captain’s ability to set the course, but because of the gallery covering the course. Unlike virtually any other golf tournament, the fans at the Ryder are loud, raucous — occasionally too much so — and an integral part of the experience. There’s no pressure quite like Ryder Cup pressure; even a key putt at Augusta or St. Andrews is only for the individual, not the team. The players that can thrive in this environment, particularly on foreign soil, are as tough as they come … and are a key asset to the overall team. (See: Poulter, Ian.)

KOHLER, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 23: A general view of the first tee during practice rounds prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 23, 2021 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
A general view of the first tee during practice rounds prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on Sept. 23, 2021, in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The strategy

The United States tends to have the larger accumulation of the best players in the world, so why don’t the Americans wipe the floor with the Europeans? A couple reasons, starting with the fact that Europe always seems to be able to form a team easier than America. (Strange, given that they’re all from different countries, but it is what it is.) Europeans seem to be more predisposed to putting aside petty rivalries and me-first attitudes and joining up with a team effort … which isn’t always in the American ethos. (See: Woods, Tiger.)

However, there are signs afoot that the tide may be changing. The core of the European team remains the forty-something cohort that includes Garcia, Westwood and Poulter, while the American team is growing steadily younger — this year’s squad features six Ryder Cup rookies. Plus, the core of the American team — Spieth and Thomas, to start — appears to have much more of a we-before-me mindset. Will it pay off in a victory? We’re about to find out.

The captains also face some significant strategic questions on whom to pair in the Friday and Saturday matches. Team Europe captain Padraig Harrington may go with a shock-and-awe pairing of Rahm and McIlroy. Stricker has to figure out how to pair bashers like DeChambeau and Koepka; he could run out the Spieth-Thomas pairing in all four events and be just fine.

The odds

Fancy a wager on the Ryder Cup? BetMGM has you covered with odds on every possible wager you can imagine. Team USA is the favorite at -200, with Europe coming in at +220 and a tie at +1200. Taking the USA at -2.5 raises those odds to +100, while Europe +2.5 is -125. 

Will any player earn five of a possible five points? Rahm leads this category at +2800, with Johnson, Spieth and Thomas all leading the Americans at +3300 apiece. Thomas (+500) and Rahm (+333) are projected as the top individual points scorers for their teams. Go here for a thorough rundown of betting options. Place your bets with BetMGM right here

The weather

Fall has arrived in Wisconsin, which means we’re in for some beautiful weather and vistas. Weather forecasts don’t project any significant precipitation. Temperatures are projected to be in the 50s and 60s early, and the low 70s Sunday. 

The TV

NBC and Golf Channel will broadcast the entirety of the Ryder Cup. NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, will simulcast the broadcast as well. Here’s the breakdown, all times Eastern:

Friday

  • Session 1 (fourballs), 8 a.m.

  • Session 2 (foursomes), 1:45 p.m.

  • TV: Golf Channel, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Streaming: Peacock Premium

Saturday

  • Session 1 (foursomes), 8 a.m.

  • Session 2 (fourballs), 1:45 p.m.

  • TV: Golf Channel, 8 a.m.-9 a.m.; NBC, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.

  • Streaming: Peacock Premium

Sunday

  • Session 5 (singles), 12 p.m.

  • TV: NBC, 12 p.m.-6 p.m.

  • Streaming: Peacock Premium

Enjoy the Ryder Cup, and feel free to scream a bit from your couch.

KOHLER, WI - SEPTEMBER 22: Justin Thomas of team United States shoes during a practice round for the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 22, 2021 in Kohler, WI. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)
Justin Thomas sports United States shoes during a practice round for the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on Sept. 22, 2021, in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected]