The Ryder Cup features formats the casual golf fan might not be familiar with. One of those: foursomes, also known as alternate shot.

By Daniel Rapaport
September 14, 2018

The Ryder Cup is golf's preeminent team event, and it features match-play formats that non-avid golf fans might be unfamiliar with.

The two teams—one consisting of 12 Americans, the other of 12 Europeans—will compete over three days (Sept. 28-30) at Le Golf National outside Paris. There will be two team sessions featuring four matches on both Friday and Saturday: one foursomes and one four-ball session each day, the order of which will be determined by European captain Thomas Bjorn. On Sunday, all 12 players for each team will play in a singles match-play match. 

Each match will have one point at stake, meaning there are a total of 28 points up for grabs over the course of the competition. The American team needs to win 14 points to keep the Cup, having won it back in 2016 at Hazeltine, while the Europeans need 14.5 points to retake it. 

Here's how foursomes, also known as alternate shot, works. 

• There will be four matches in both foursomes sessions—one on Friday, one on Saturday—with Bjorn and American captain Jim Furyk each choosing four two-man teams to face off against each other. That means four players for each team will sit out.

• In foursomes, the players alternate hitting shots while playing the same ball—this is why the format is colloquially known as alternate shot. Player A will hit the tee shot of the first hole, then Player B will hit the next shot, then back to Player A, and so on and so forth until the ball is holed.

• One player will be tasked with hitting tee shots on the even holes, with the other hitting tee shots on the odd holes. If Player B is teeing off even holes, he will do so on the 10th hole even if he holed the final putt on 9.

• The team with the lower score on a specific hole wins that hole, and if the teams tie the hole is halved. So, if the American team makes a 4 on the first hole and the European team makes a 5, the American team would win the hole and go "1 up."

• Unlike in stroke play, the teams don't have to complete every hole—for example, if the American team gets out of position and concedes a hole to the Europeans, both teams can pick up their ball and move onto the next hole. 

• The two-man team that wins more holes will win a full point for their team. If the teams win equal amount of holes, the match is halved and each team receives .5 points.

• If a team has already clinched a victory before the 18th hole, the two teams do not play the rest of the round. For example: if a team is 4-up (having won four more holes than the opponent) after the 15th hole, the match is over and the official scores is 4 and 3 (up four holes with three remaining). 

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