If you have never heard of the Ryder Cup, you might have lived your life wrong. Even for the casual sports fan, the greatest spectacle of golf offers a display few other sports can match.
That time of year again. This weekend, the best golfers in the world, more or less, will gather in Rome for the 44th edition of the Ryder Cup, the biennial golf event held between teams from the United States and Europe. The greats will come to heads for eternal glory and national (or, in this case, maybe continental) pride.
Since 1927, the two sides have met regularly, with Team United States winning 27 of the 43 encounters; however, since 1979, when Team Great Britain was replaced by (or expanded into) Team Europe, the Europeans are leading 11 to 9. Team USA has not tasted success on European soil since 1993, so they arrive in Rome with an obvious goal.
As for the who, the most famous golfer in the world – Tiger Woods – will not be a part of Team USA once again. Despite being regarded as the best of his generation, Woods has never been great at playing for the team. His Ryder Cup record is quite poor, as experts say his teammates get overawed and the opponents extra motivated. Also, he is semi-retired. The upside does not outweigh the downside.
The captains, Zach Johnson for Team USA and Luke Donald for Team Europe, have made their picks. Current world number one Scottie Scheffler (USA) will be there, as well as previous ranking leaders Jon Rahm (Europe), Rory McIlroy (Europe), Justin Thomas (USA), Justin Rose (Europe), Brooks Koepka (USA), and Jordan Spieth (USA). Just as intended 96 years ago.
The seed merchant
He was born on March 24th, 1858, as the fourth of eight children near Preston, Lancashire. His father, Samuel, whom he was named after, was a gardener, while his mother Elizabeth – a dressmaker. After training to be a teacher, he instead started working at a shipping firm and then for Samuel Sr., who had expanded his business into floristry and seeds.
Friction with his father led him to leave home and work for a rival in London, but by the 1890s, he came up with a business idea: to sell seeds in small packets, just like the ones common today – penny packets, since they were priced a penny each. Business boomed, and soon, the seed merchant became a man of wealth.
Sport was never his cup of tea, but when he was 50 and in ill health, a friend advised him to take up golf as a way to stay active. It turned out he was quite good for an amateur. But on the professional level, Americans dominated the British Open from 1921 to 1933. As a man proud of his country, he took it personally. Pitting the best against the best, he wanted to see Brits beating the Americans.
His name was Samuel Ryder, and he started the Ryder Cup in 1927. The cup, still awarded to the winner today, cost nearly £300 – more than an average worker would make in a year in that time.
He was born on May 24th, 1910, as the fourth of ten children in Houston, Texas. His father was John O’Brien, and his mother was Lila Mae Demaret. Golf became his life rather early: he started caddying at the age of ten and won his first competitive tournament at 13. Two years into high school, he was already a professional golfer.
Between 1935 and 1957, he won 31 PGA Tour events while also becoming the first three-time winner of the Masters, with triumphs in 1940, 1947, and 1950. But that does not mean you have heard of him. For much of his career, he was in the shadow of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. Then Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus turned up, and television became a thing.
It is quite likely he was just born in the wrong decade. Today, his flamboyant Texan personality would have been a perfect TV product. His special, bright-coloured clothes made him a fan favourite; to pass the time, he did nightclub comedy shows during the stops on the Tour. But he was good, too – ranked the 20th greatest golfer of all time by Golf Digest magazine in 2000.
His name was Jimmy Demaret, and he was a three-time winner of the Ryder Cup from 1947, 1949, and 1951. He retired with the best unbeaten mark in event history – he went 6-0-0 over the three tournaments.
The one to watch
He was born on October 31st, 1999, as the youngest of two children near Eslöv, Sweden. His father, Johan, was an avid golfer, and he was introduced to the game at eight years old. While he would have rather played football, his father promised ice cream for extra hours on the course. So it went. His mother, Mia, saw potential early on, too.
The rest of the 24-man field lining up in Rome needs no introduction to golf fans. The twelve best players qualified with results, and another twelve were picked by captains. While they are all stars in their own right, he is not even ranked in the TOP 50 list for European players. He only became professional less than three months ago, in June.
“He is just starting to write his history. I think he is a generational talent,” team captain Luke Donald said at the press conference. Greg Sands, his coach at Texas Tech, was even more glorifying. “As coaches, we always want to have an effect on a player. But with him, I just have to downplay that, because, well, with him, God put together the perfect human being for golf,” Sands told the Daily Mail.
His name is Ludvig Aberg, and he became the first player to be selected for a Ryder Cup team before having played in a major championship. Remember the name and the smile, because this is just the beginning.