Ryder Cup Trends: Who does history favour at Whistling Straits?

The Samuel Ryder trophy
The Samuel Ryder trophy

Dave Tindall examines patterns in previous Ryder Cups to try and work out whether Europe or the USA are the best bet for victory in 2021...

"Six times in the last 10 Ryder Cups, both sides had the same number of picks. On the other four occasions, the team with more won two and lost two. Perhaps all the furore over Padraig having fewer picks is pointless! The trends say Europe are not at a disadvantage"

When it comes to pre-tournament chat about the Ryder Cup, a number of well-worn opinions will do the rounds...

"Home advantage is massive!"

"You can't win a Ryder Cup with a load of rookies!"

"World rankings count for nothing in match play!"

"Favourites often lose!"

"The team with the most wildcards wins as the captain gets more of the players he really wants!"

I'm not sure people actually speak like this but you get the idea.

I'm going to look at the last 10 Ryder Cups and see how those comments played out by examining five categories: rookie count, world rankings, home advantage, betting favourites and wildcards.

As for scoring each team and handing out points, I'll do it like this:

If the team with the fewest rookies has won eight of the last 10 Ryder Cups, I'll award 8pts to the side with the fewest rookies this time. If the home side has won seven of the last 10 Ryder Cups, I'll give 7pts to the home side (USA) this time. And so on.

It's perhaps not the robust science a rocket headed for Mars would use but the trends may just give us an outline as to which side looks best equipped.

Poulter 2012 Ryder Cup.jpg

Rookie count

"We had five rookies at Hazeltine and that proved too many," said Justin Rose ahead of Thomas Bjorn's wildcard selections in 2018. Actually it was six! But did Rose have a valid point? Is there a strong correlation between number of rookies and result?

Here's the last 10 Ryder Cups. The team with more rookies is bolded up:

2018 Europe 5 USA 3 - EUROPE WON 17½-10½
2016 USA 2 Europe 6 - USA WON 17-11
2014 Europe 3 USA 3 - EUROPE WON 16½-11½
2012 USA 4 Europe 1 - EUROPE WON 14½-13½
2010 Europe 6 USA 5 - EUROPE WON 14½-13½
2008 USA 6 Europe 4 - USA WON 16½-11½
2006 Europe 2 USA 4 - EUROPE WON 18½-9½
2004 USA 5 Europe 5 - EUROPE WON 18½-9½
2002 Europe 4 USA 3 - EUROPE WON 15½-12½
1999 USA 1 Europe 7 - USA WON 14½-13½

Twice the rookie count has been level so that leaves eight Cups to assess. If collective experience means something, it suggests the team with the fewest rookies wins. Not so: the count is 4:4.

Maybe going into the event with no scar tissue can be just as useful as having been there and done it.

For the record, this year the rookie count is USA 6, Europe 3 but history says it's not a great pointer.

Points awarded: 4pts to USA, 4pts to Europe

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World Rankings

A simple question... does the team with the lowest average world ranking usually win?. Or does that idea that world rankings go out of the window in this format have any substance?

Here's the list since 1999 (lowest in bold).

2018 Europe 19.08 USA 11.16 - EUROPE WON 17½-10½
2016 USA 17.08 Europe 27.33 - USA WON 17-11
2014 Europe 19.92 USA 16.25 - EUROPE WON 16½-11½
2012 USA 12.17 Europe 18.92 - EUROPE WON 14½-13½
2010 Europe 18.25 USA 17.30 - EUROPE WON 14½-13½
2008 USA 24.75 Europe 22.17 - USA WON 16½-11½
2006 Europe 22.75 USA 29.42 - EUROPE WON 18½-9½
2004 USA 18.67 Europe 38.25 - EUROPE WON 18½-9½
2002 Europe 52.58 USA 31.08 - EUROPE WON 15½-12½
1999 USA 11.83 Europe 40.58 - USA WON 14½-13½

This is the area where the phrase 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts' shines through. The team with the lowest average world ranking should hold the aces but it just isn't the case. The best team on paper has just won three times.

Obviously, the Americans messing up could explain that but note that Europe lost in 2008 when having the better world ranking.

Dustin Johnson at Augusta 2020.jpg

This year, the Americans have the lowest average world ranking in their history at 9.0. Europe's is 29.4. Don't be fooled: history suggests that's a negative. Being the perceived underdog can be a huge motivational factor.

Points awarded: 7pts to Europe, 3pts to USA

Home advantage

Europe have scored some memorable victories on American soil and perhaps none more so than at Medinah in 2012.

But away wins are starting to become a rarity in Ryder Cups as captains continue to get more savvy about squeezing out every bit of home advantage they can.

In fact, had Europe not produced their miraculous comeback at Medinah, you'd have to go back to 2004 to find the last away win.

Here's the hist of hosts and who won:

2018 Europe (Le Golf National) - WON
2016 USA (Hazeltine) - WON
2014 Europe (Gleneagles) - WON
2012 USA (Medinah) - LOST
2010 Europe (Celtic Manor) - WON
2008 USA (Valhalla) - WON
2006 Europe (K Club) - WON
2004 USA (Oakland Hills) - LOST
2002 Europe (The Belfry) - WON
1999 USA (Medinah) - WON

This has been an excellent predictor of the final outcome. With eight home wins in the last 10, it's strongest guide there is.

Points awarded: 8pts USA, 2pts Europe

Moliwood 1280x720 Ryder Cup.JPG

Fate of the favourites

There's a perception that the USA are always favourites to win the Ryder Cup and usually blow it. Does history support the idea? Here's a list of the last 10 market leaders and how they fared:

2018 USA - LOST
2016 USA - WON
2014 Europe - WON
2012 USA - LOST
2010 Europe - WON
2008 Europe - LOST
2006 Europe - WON
2004 USA - LOST
2002 USA - LOST
1999 USA - WON

The strike-rate for favourites in the last 10 Ryder Cups is just 50%. So no easy trends points for the Americans here.

Points awarded: 5pts to USA, 5pts to Europe

Wildcards

Steve Stricker had six wildcard picks this year, the most in history.

By contrast, Padraig Harrington only chose to have three. That's more than many other European captains but there were plenty who thought he missed a trick by not leaving himself four wildcards given the disrupted build-up due to the pandemic.

That really came home to roost when Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry and Justin Rose all failed to secure automatic qualification. Someone had to miss out and Rose was the man to receive the bad news.

But will that ultimately matter? Are wildcards all they're cracked up to be? After all, why didn't they do enough to qualify in the first place?

Let's see if having more wildcards and being able to manipulate the final line-up to a greater extent actually proved a help or a hindrance.

The team with the most wildcards is bolded up:

2018 Europe 4 USA 4 - EUROPE WON
2016 USA 4 Europe 3 - USA WON
2014 Europe 3 USA 3 - EUROPE WON
2012 USA 4 Europe 2 - EUROPE WON
2010 Europe 3 USA 4 - EUROPE WON
2008 USA 4 Europe 2 - USA WON
2006 Europe 2 USA 2 - EUROPE WON
2004 USA 2 Europe 2 - EUROPE WON
2002 Europe 2 USA 2 - EUROPE WON
1999 USA 2 Europe 2 - USA WON

Six times in the last 10 Ryder Cups, both sides had the same number of picks. On the other four occasions, the team with more won two and lost two.

Perhaps all the furore over Padraig having fewer picks is pointless! The trends say Europe are not at a disadvantage.

Points awarded: 2pts to USA, 2pts to Europe

Final scores

Here we go then, which team comes out on top when totting up the scores from each category?

Rookie count: USA 4pts, Europe 4pts
World rankings: USA 3pts, Europe 7pts
Home advantage: USA 8pts, Europe 2pts
Betting favourites: USA 5pts, Europe 5pts
Wildcards: USA 2pts, Europe 2pts

Final score: USA 22 Europe 20

That's 52% to 48%.

Translate that into a Ryder Cup scoreline and the outcome falls between USA 14.5-13.5 Europe and USA 15-13 Europe.

Game on!

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