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How do foursomes and fourballs work? The difference between the Ryder Cup 2021 formats explained

The i 9/25/2021 Alex Finnis

The 2021 Ryder Cup is underway, with Team Europe looking to defend their crown against Team USA.

Four-time Ryder Cup winner Padraig Harrington is captaining the Europeans, while Steve Stricker, who won the tournament in 2008, leads the USA.

The Ryder Cup is a bit different to regular golf – there are three different match formats and matchplay scoring is used rather than strokeplay.

New to the tournament, or just need a refresher after three years off? Here’s what it all means.

What are the three formats?

The three formats are foursomes, fourballs and singles. Singles is pretty self-explanatory – one European goes up against one American over 18 holes and whoever wins the most holes wines the match. The other two are a little more complicated.


In foursome matches players play in pairs and alternate shots. For example, on Friday Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (USA) are taking on Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm (Europe). If Thomas takes the tee shot, Spieth will take the second shot, Thomas the third and so on.


In fourball, players also play in pairs but everyone has their own ball, and only the best score from each hole is recorded for each team.

For example, if both Americans get a par on a hole, whereas one European gets a double-bogey and the other gets a birdie, Europe would win the hole.

How does the scoring work?

In most golf tournaments players’ scores are measured against the par for the course, and will finish the 18 holes with a score like -3 or +2. This is called strokeplay.

The Ryder Cup is scored using matchplay, which means a pair or singles player gets a point for winning a hole. It doesn’t matter whether a team wins the hole by five shots, they still get just one point for the hole. If the teams score the same on a hole, no points are awarded. Note that these points are only relevant to the match itself, not the overall Ryder Cup scoreboard, which we will get to shortly.

This means on the in-play scoreboards you will see lots of “1 up”, “3 up”, “2 down” and so on. If a pair or singles player gets far enough ahead that it becomes impossible for the opponent to catch them, the match is ended there and then rather than going to the 18th hole.

A pair or singles player gets a point for winning a match, which is added to the overall Ryder Cup scoreboard. If a match is drawn each team gets half a point.

With 28 matches in total, the first team to 14½ points will win the Ryder Cup. If the tournament ends 14-14 Europe retain the trophy.

Ryder Cup 2021 schedule

The tournament kicks off on Friday 24 September, and finishes on Sunday.

The schedule is as follows:

  • Day 1 (Friday): Four foursome matches and four fourball matches
  • Day 2 (Saturday): Four foursome matches and four fourball matches
  • Day 3 (Sunday): 12 singles matches

Th tournament has traditionally been held every two years, on even years, but last year’s tournament was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This means it will take place in odd-numbered years going forward.

Tee times

All times British Summer Time

Friday 24 September

  • Foursome tee times: 1.05pm, 1.21pm, 1.37pm, 1.53pm
  • Fourball tee times: 6.10pm, 6.26pm, 6.42pm, 6.58pm

(Play concludes at approximately 12.30am)

Saturday 25 September

  • Foursome tee times: 1.05pm, 1.21pm, 1.37pm, 1.53pm
  • Fourball tee times: 6.26pm, 6.42pm, 6.58pm, 7.14pm

Saturday fourballs pairings

All times BST

  • T Finau & H English vs S Lowry & T Hatton (6.26pm)
  • B Koepka & J Spieth vs J Rahm & Sergio Garcia (6.42pm)
  • S Scheffler & B DeChambeau vs T Fleetwood & V Hovland (6.58pm)
  • D Johnson & C Morikawa vs I Poulter & R McIlroy (7.14pm)

Score after Saturday foursomes: USA 9-3 Europe

(Play concludes at approximately 12.30am)

Sunday 26 September

  • Singles tee times: 5.04pm to 7.05pm at 11-minute intervals

(Play concludes at approximately 10.55pm)

How to watch

Sky Sports’ dedicated golf channel will show live coverage of the Ryder Cup on all three days. The live build-up starts at 11am BST on Friday and Saturday, and then 2pm on Sunday.

Wisconsin, where the tournament is being played, is six hours behind the UK, meaning the action starts in the afternoon.

NOW pass is £9.98 for the day or £33.99 for the month, and that includes access to all 11 Sky Sports channels on a weekend where Arsenal play Tottenham (Sunday) and Formula 1 heads to Russia.

The BBC will show two-hour highlights on BBC Two, starting at 12.05am on Saturday (Day One) and Monday (Day Three) and at 12am-2am on the Sunday (Day Two).

Where are they playing?

The tournament is being held at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin.

The Ryder Cup website describes it as follows: “Open, rugged and windswept terrain defines the walking-only, links-style Straits course sculpted along two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.”

This is the first time the course has held the Ryder Cup. However, it has held the PGA Championship three times, most recently in 2015.

Who’s in each team?

Europe’s team is made up of the top four players on the European points tour, the five leading players on the world points list that have not already qualified, and three captain’s picks.

Team Europe

  • 1. John Rahm
  • 2. Tommy Fleetwood
  • 3. Tyrrell Hatton
  • 4. Bernd Wiesberger
  • 5. Rory McIlroy
  • 6. Viktor Hovland
  • 7. Paul Casey
  • 8. Matt Fitzpatrick
  • 9. Lee Westwood
  • 10. Sergio Garcia
  • 11. Shane Lowry
  • 12. Ian Poulter

Team USA is made up of the top six in the USA’s points list and six captain’s picks.

Team USA

  • 1. Collin Morikawa
  • 2. Dustin Johnson
  • 3. Bryson DeChambeau
  • 4. Brooks Koepka
  • 5. Justin Thomas
  • 6. Patrick Cantlay
  • 7. Tony Finau
  • 8. Xander Schauffele
  • 9. Jordan Spieth
  • 10. Harris English
  • 11. Daniel Berger
  • 12. Scottie Scheffler

The US has not won the tournament since 2016, with Europe winning 17½ points to 10½ at Le Golf National in France last time around.


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