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What is a four-ball in Ryder Cup?

Familiarise yourself with the Four-ball that you can find in the Ryder Cup here.

09 December 2022 Words by Matthew 4 minute read What is a four-ball in Ryder Cup?

Table of Contents

  1. The Ryder Cup: A Brief Intro
  2. Choosing Ryder Cup Teams
  3. The Ryder Cup Format
  4. What is Four-ball?
  5. Ryder Cup Scoring
  6. Tips to Improve your Four-Ball Game
  7. FAQs
  8. Final Thoughts

The Ryder Cup; it's one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. And, although golfing fans across the globe tune into watching the nail-biting stand-off between Team USA and Team Europe, many of us could be forgiven for not fully understanding parts of the event.

Four-ball may seem like a difficult concept to understand, but mercifully, it's pretty straightforward. Allow this article to be your comprehensive guide to all things four-ball, including how it's played, how Ryder Cup scoring works and much more.

But first, a bit of background to the Ryder Cup itself.

The Ryder Cup: A Brief Intro

The Ryder Cup is a bi-annual (occurring twice a year) competition held between the United States and a team from European countries.

This exciting golf competition was named after Samual Ryder, a golf enthusiast and successful businessman, who donated the Ryder Cup gold trophy.

Today, watched by millions of people across the world, the Ryder Cup first began in 1927 at the Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, played between Great Britain and Ireland and the United States of America.

At that time, the Ryder Cup was strictly between the US and Great Britain, however, the rules eventually changed. Of note is that the Ryder Cup was paused between 1939 and 1945 due to the events of World War II. There was also no Ryder Cup in 2001 due to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

By 1979, the home nations team grew to include all of Europe. Today, 24 of the most talented players in the golfing world test their mettle in a battle of heightened tension and drama in a determined fight to nail the coveted Ryder Cup trophy.

As of 2022, Team America has beaten the European team 27 times, while Team Europe has won 14 Ryder Cup matches against their rivals.


Choosing Ryder Cup Teams

Each Ryder Cup team is assigned a team captain. The captain decides which players will compete together during the four-ball and foursome games, and which players will participate in the single matches.

It is no easy feat to be selected as a Ryder Cup player. Players are selected based on years of qualifying and earning points based on the money earned from playing in major golf championships, PGA Tours and World Golf Championships. The major winners and players with recent successes at these golf events are favoured.

Usually, there are eight players from the US that qualify through scoring points, and then the captain of the team selects the remaining four players.

The European team also uses a point system and selects the best four golfers from the European Points List. The top five leaders on the World Points List also automatically qualify for this team. The team captain can then select the remaining three players.


The Ryder Cup Format

There are three main events encompassing the Ryder Cup format. They are:

  • Singles
  • Foursomes
  • Four-ball


For many, the most exciting part of the Ryder Cup is singles play. Each match features a player from Team USA and Team Europe. The player with the lowest score wins the hole. In the event of a tie score, the hole is halved.


When it comes to foursomes, a team made up of two players plays one ball per hole. Each player takes a turn until that hole has been completed.

The players will alternate teeing off, and one will lead off with even-numbered holes while the other deals with the odd-numbered holes.

Whichever side scores the lower score on each hole wins the hole. Again, if the scores tie, the hole will be halved, with each team being awarded half a point.


Taking part on the Friday and Saturday of the Ryder Cup, alongside foursomes matches, is four-ball, which we'll now delve into in more detail.

What is Four-ball?

Four-ball is simply a match between two teams, with each team consisting of two players. Also known as "better ball," each team plays their better ball against the opposing side's better ball.

Although it sounds easy enough, four-ball is a stealthy game of strategy and tactical play. The biggest secret of four-ball is to encourage each team to play in such a manner that the collective team will score better than what the players would have done playing individually.

How to play Four-Ball

  • Four players make two teams of two.
  • Each golfer plays their own ball.
  • At the end of each hole, the teams use their lowest score.
  • At the end of the match, the team with the lowest score is declared the winning team.


In terms of strategy, this is where it begins to differ from the strategy that is usually a part of singles play.

If a team player is playing particularly well, this will overwrite a lesser performance from his playing partner. Partners are always meant to keep a close eye on each other's shots in order to balance each other's attempts.

Traditionally, Team Europe is better at four-balls and foursomes in the Ryder Cup, whereas Team America performs better at singles.


Ryder Cup Scoring

Each match played is worth one point. In those matches that end in a tie, the hole is halved, and each side is awarded a half point.

The time that reaches 14 and a half points is declared the winner. In the event of a tie, with the side having 14 points apiece, the team who won the previous Cup retains it and is declared the winner.


There are a total of 28 matches over the three days of play. In the event that both sides tie after 18 holes, a half point is awarded to each side as the hole is halved.


Tips to Improve your Four-Ball Game

If your team consists of one aggressive player and one steadier player, let your aggressive player tee first. They can swing freely and as aggressively as they like in this instance. How they fare will indicate whether the more reliable player should attempt to play the game more conservatively or similarly play in more of a "wild card" fashion.

Continually think about what play will help you and your golfing partner the most and keep your game under the least stress while piling on the pressure for the opposing side.

It's natural that you or your teammate might play a couple of dodgy clunkers. But there's no need to beat yourself up about it, and certainly don't keep apologising.

Remember, the game is meant to be fun, yet far too many amateur players let the perceived pressure get to them and act as though they are playing in a make-or-break tournament like the Ryder Cup themselves. Just try your best and treat it like practice.


When is the next Ryder Cup being held and where?

The 2023 Ryder Cup is the 44th time the event has been held since 1927. It will take place at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Guidonia, Rome, Italy, from 29th September to 1st October 2023, marking the first tournament the club has held since the 1994 Italian Open.

Which team won the last Ryder Cup?

Team America defeated Europe with a record 19-9 victory back in 2022 at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. The win is the biggest margin of victory in the Cup since 1967. Could they be the winning team and retain the Cup in 2023, too?


Is there a dress code for Ryder Cup?

There aren't many rules when it comes to what you can and cannot wear to attend the Ryder Cup. However, golf is a game that was built on etiquette, so you won't be surprised to learn there are a few preferred dos and don'ts, the main one being: don't wear golf shoes or spikes to the tournament.

How difficult is it to get tickets for the Ryder Cup?

Tickets to see any of the Ryder Cup match play competitions are extremely difficult to get your hands on. Tickets for the 2023 Ryder Cup are already taken after a ballot in September 2022.

Final Thoughts

Four-ball is a big part of the Ryder Cup format and, alongside foursome matches, it takes place prior to the singles matches on the Sunday of the Cup weekend.

But it's not just the golfing elites that enjoy a spot of four-ball; golfing amateurs love it too. Why not get a small group of friends together and attempt four-ball yourself if you haven't already?