Ryder Cup Dream Teams: All-Time Best U.S. and European Players

Friday September 23rd, 2016
Who are the best Ryder Cup players--ever?
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Selecting the 12 greatest Ryder Cup players of all time -- from each side of the Atlantic -- wasn’t easy, but we did it. Some of the players compiled stellar career records, while others peaked for one or two unforgettable weekends. Each, however, left a massive mark on the top team event in golf.

Here are the 12 all-time, all-star Ryder Cuppers from the U.S. and Europe.

U.S.

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Walter Hagen

Ryder Cups: 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1935
Career record: 7-1-1

The match play king of the Golden Era won five PGA Championships, including four in a row. With his exceptional record, penchant for gamesmanship and extroverted nature, he was the perfect choice for American captain, duties he ably performed six times, the first five as a player-captain. Hagen arguably was the greatest and most influential captain ever; as a player, he wasn’t bad, either, with his only loss “a terrific shellacking,” 10 and 8 in the 1929 Singles to 1920 Open Champion George Duncan.

Lanny Wadkins

Ryder Cups: 1977, 1979, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993
Career record: 20-11-3

A stalwart of eight Ryder Cups, Wadkins was renowned as a feared match-play competitor. In U.S. Ryder Cup history, he ranks third in total matches won, tied for second in total points won and tied for first in both foursomes won and four-balls won. His signature moment occurred in 1983, when he planted a wedge to 18 inches on the final hole against Spain’s Jose Maria Cañizares to clinch a critical late half-point in what turned out to be a one-point U.S. victory.

Sam Snead

Ryder Cups: 1937, 1947, 1949, 1951, 1953, 1955, 1959
Career record: 10-2-1

The three-time winner of the match-play PGA Championship proved equally adept in Ryder Cup competition, compiling an 81% winning percentage in seven Cups. He was defeated just once in singles and was at the height of his powers in 1947, when he and partner Lloyd Mangrum crushed Fred Daly and Charlie Ward 6 and 5 in Foursomes and he then defeated Henry Cotton 5 and 4 in Singles. He captained the U.S. team three times, in 1951, 1959 and 1969, the first two as playing captain and didn’t lose a match on either occasion.

Hale Irwin

Ryder Cups: 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1991
Career record: 13-5-2

For being one of golf’s steeliest competitors, Irwin’s greatness is often overlooked. His Ryder Cup record is no exception. Hale’s signature moment is actually a tie, one of history’s legendary halves, when Bernhard Langer missed his six-footer on the final green at Kiawah in 1991 that would have given him a singles win, halving the overall match and retaining the Ryder Cup. Irwin wowed in his 1975 debut, going 4-0-1, including team wins with three different partners.

Jack Burke Jr.      

Ryder Cups: 1951, 1953, 1955, 1957, 1959
Career record: 7-1-0

Due to the limited format in place during the 1950s, Burke Jr. made five Cup teams, yet played only eight total matches and didn’t see any action at all in the 1959 event. He dominated in his infrequent appearances, however winning every match but his final one, a 5 and 3 singles loss to Peter Mills, during a rare American defeat at Lindrick in England, where Burke was captain. He gained revenge as captain in 1973, leading the U.S. to a 19-13 victory at Muirfield in Scotland. Burke’s Ryder Cup highlight was his debut, in 1951 at Pinehurst, where he and Clayton Heafner led off the foursomes with a 5 and 3 win, then was first off again in singles, when he set the tone for a U.S. route (9 ½ to 2 ½) by thrashing Jimmy Adams 4 and 3.

Billy Casper

Ryder Cups: 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975
Career record: 20-10-7

Perhaps golf’s most underappreciated champion, with 51 PGA Tour wins and three majors, Casper was also an underrated Ryder Cup performer. He leads the U.S. in points won, with 23.5, and only Phil Mickelson has played in more matches. He was the winning U.S. captain at the Greenbrier in 1979, and starred as a player in his early years, going 3-0-0 in his 1961 debut and 4-0-1 in 1963. Oddly, he’s best known among trivia fans for breaking his toe in a middle-of-the-night bathroom accident at the 1971 match and after starting 0-3-0, sat out both Sunday Singles.  

Tom Kite

Ryder Cups: 1979, 1981, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1993
Career record: 15-9-4

One of the game’s true grinders, Captain Kite (1997 at Valderrama) never got the credit he was due as a player. He currently ranks seventh in U.S. Ryder Cup matches played and eighth in points won, and he’s in the top five for singles and foursomes. Most remarkable is his undefeated record in Singles (5-0-2), including an 8 and 7 annihilation of Howard Clark in 1989 and a 5 and 3 triumph over Bernhard Langer in 1993, both at The Belfry in England.

Jack Nicklaus

Ryder Cups: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1981
Career record: 17-8-3

Due to obscure and at times confounding PGA of America regulations in place at the time, the Golden Bear didn’t make his Ryder Cup debut until 1969, after he had already amassed seven professional major titles. He made up for lost time and continues to rank among the U.S. leaders in matches played, matches won and points won. True, he lost two singles in one day to Brian Barnes in 1975, but he’ll long be remembered as a Ryder Cup hero for his ultimate act of sportsmanship in 1969, conceding a missable putt to Tony Jacklin to preserve a tie in their singles and in the overall match.

Arnold Palmer

Ryder Cups: 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971, 1973
Career record: 22-8-2

More than 40 years have passed since the King last teed it up in the Ryder Cup, but he has yet to relinquish his crown. No U.S. golfer has won more matches, more singles (6), more foursomes (9) and more fourballs (7). The successful playing captain in 1963 at East Lake, when he went 4-2-0 on the way to a 23-9 U.S. victory, Palmer’s most powerful performance took place in 1967 at Champions in Houston. Even while privately feuding with captain Ben Hogan, Palmer won all five of his matches, leading the U.S. to a 23 ½ to 8 ½ romp.

Arnold Palmer owned a 22-8-2 record in the Ryder Cup.
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Lee Trevino

Ryder Cups: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1979, 1981
Career record: 17-7-6

The Merry Mex could be a loner off the course, but during a Ryder Cup competition, he was the ultimate team player. He owns a fourth place tie among U.S. players for fourball wins (6) and ranks among the top seven in matches played, points won and nearly every other category as well. Most impressively, he remains tied with Palmer for most singles victories, with 6. Trevino went out in style at the 1981 match at England’s Walton Heath, with a 4-0-0 slate that featured three straight wins over Sam Torrance.

Tom Watson

Ryder Cups: 1977, 1981, 1983, 1989
Career record: 10-4-1

Despite a rocky ride as the 2014 captain, Watson the player earns his spot among the golden dozen thanks to a 70% win percentage -- and that number could well have been higher. In 1979, he was the world’s top-ranked player, and accompanied the U.S. team to the Greenbrier, but was called home before the matches started when his wife went into labor. Watson never did go unbeaten, but he starred in the 1983 match at PGA National, going 4-1-0, including the clinching singles point against Bernard Gallacher to give the U.S. a 14 ½ to 13 ½ victory.

Larry Nelson

Ryder Cups: 1979, 1981, 1987
Career record: 9-3-1

It’s tough to pass on legends such as Gene Sarazen , who went 7-2-3 in six Ryder Cups, Ben Hogan (3-0-0) and Jimmy Demaret, who was unbeaten in three Ryder Cups at 6-0-0. However, Larry Nelson earned his place, due to the most remarkable run in modern Ryder Cup history. As a rookie, Nelson won all five of his matches in 1979, four of them against Ryder Cup giant-to-be Seve Ballesteros. Two years later, at England’s Walton Heath, he played only four times -- what was Captain Dave Marr thinking? -- and went 4-0-0. He wouldn’t win another Ryder Cup match after that, but his 9-0-0 start is unlikely ever to be equaled.

 

EUROPE

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Nick Faldo

Ryder Cups: 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997
Career record: 23-19-4

Is it possible that Sir Nick started his Ryder Cup career in diapers? It seems the only way possible for a man to have competed in so many Cup matches. Faldo holds nearly every important record in all-time Ryder Cup history: Most times on a team (11), most matches played (46), most points won (25), most matches won (23) and is tied at the top for most singles matches won (6). He was mercilessly second-guessed during his 2008 losing captaincy, but as a player, he was unrivalled. In his first Ryder Cup, at the age of 20, he suffered from glandular fever, yet went 3-0-0, including a singles win over World No. 1 Tom Watson. From there, the Ryder Cup highlight reel never stopped.

Bernhard Langer

Ryder Cups: 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2002
Career record: 21-15-6

Not since that ski jumper disintegrated on Wide World of Sports had anyone so forcefully displayed the agony of defeat as did Bernhard Langer upon missing the six-foot putt on the final green at Kiawah in 1991 to cost Europe the Cup. Yet Langer rebounded from that mishap to make four more teams, winning another 10 ½ points in the process. Langer remains in second place all-time for most appearances (10) and points won (24) and is history’s best in foursomes, with 11 wins alongside seven different partners. Now that’s a teammate.

Colin Montgomerie

Ryder Cups: 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006
Career record: 20-9-7

Jeered unmercifully by the Boston crowd in the 1999 Ryder Cup at the Country Club, rabbit-eared, high-strung Montgomerie responded as he usually did, with a winning record (3-1-1). While he could never produce his best in a major, Monty always fed off the Ryder Cup intensity en route to a 65% winning percentage, including a best-ever 6-0-2 singles mark. As a partner, he was nearly as capable, with an 8-3-3 foursomes record. With 23.5 points, Montgomerie is currently third place all-time. For all of his quirks and failures, he has unquestioned status as one of the Ryder Cup’s all-time greats.

Seve Ballesteros

Ryder Cups: 1979, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995
Career record: 20-12-5

So significant was Seve Ballesteros to the growth, appeal and lore of the Ryder Cup and so successful was he as a player and captain, his legend has approached mythical status. Did he ever lose a match? Yes, 12 of them. But he won 20, in the most fiercely competitive Ryder Cup era of all, and so many of them were big, important victories. Notable is his 10-3-1 foursomes record, usually in the company of countryman Jose Maria Olazabal. The passion, talent and yes, gamesmanship, that Seve brought to the Ryder Cup helped elevate it from a who-cares exhibition to must-see spectacle. For that, he is perhaps the greatest Ryder Cup figure, ever.

Lee Westwood

Ryder Cups: 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014
Career record: 20-15-6

The former World No. 1 (in 2010) endures the label, “Best Player Never to Win a Major,” but at crunch time in the Ryder Cup, Westwood has been a force for nearly 20 years. By playing in the 2016 match, and winning two and a half points or more, he’ll overtake Nick Faldo most points won ever by any Ryder Cup player. He’s definitely one of the Ryder Cup’s top partners, compiling a 9-4-4 record in foursomes and an 8-5-2 record in fourballs.

Lee Westwood has been a Ryder Cup mainstay for the Europeans for two decades.
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Jose Maria Olazabal

Ryder Cups: 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2006
Career record: 18-8-5

In Ryder Cup annals, he’ll always be overshadowed by his mentor and countryman Ballesteros, but in truth, Olazabal has the better record. As a partner, Ollie is without peer, evidenced by a 7-2-1 foursomes record and a 9-2-3 fourballs mark. Victimized by Justin Leonard’s pandemonium-inducing, 45-foot bomb at the 17th hole in their 1999 singles match, Olazabal rebounded strongly, posting a 3-0-2 record in his final Ryder Cup as a player, then extracted further revenge by captaining Europe to a stunning comeback victory at Medinah in 2012.

Sergio Garcia

Ryder Cups: 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014
Career record: 18-9-5

Another elite European who’s yet to hoist a major championship trophy but somehow conjures major-worthy performances in Ryder Cup play, Garcia thrives on this event like few others in history. Still the youngest ever to participate in the Ryder Cup when he debuted at The Country Club in 1999 at age 19, Garcia wowed with a 3-1-1 mark that year.  He solidified his status as a Euro Alpha Dog by winning three points in 2002, four-and-a-half points in ’04 and four more points in ’06. A brilliant 9-2-2 foursomes slate and a 6-3-3 fourballs mark help account for his 64% win percentage. As with Lee Westwood, a successful 2016 campaign could propel Garcia past Nick Faldo as the all-time Ryder Cup points leader.  

Ian Poulter

Ryder Cups: 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014
Career record: 12-4-2

Brash, outrageous and extremely successful -- at least when it comes to this event -- Poulter was likely the best Cup player on either side from 2008 through 2012. In those years, he backed up his overheated rhetoric with fiery passion and an impossibly hot putter, leading to a four-point performance in 2008, three in 2010 and four again in 2012, resulting in a sizzling 72% winning percentage. His 4-0-0 mark in 2012 (every other European player had at least two losses, except Martin Kaymer, who went 1-1) and 4-0-1 lifetime singles record have cemented Poulter’s reputation as a Ryder Cup legend.

Peter Oosterhuis

Ryder Cups: 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981
Career record: 14-11-3

During a Ryder Cup era where the Americans routinely routed Great Britain and Ireland, British heroes were hard to come by. Englishman Peter Oosterhuis was a wonderful exception. Oosterhuis managed a 55.36% winning percentage in a time when he was never on a winning team, and in fact the closest margin in those six matches was a five-point loss. His exemplary singles record (6-2-1) includes triumphs over Arnold Palmer in 1971 and 1973 and over Johnny Miller in ‘75. Later a popular broadcaster, Oosty remains among European career leaders in points won (15 ½), matches won, fourball matches won (5) and is tied at the top for singles victories.  

Tony Jacklin

Ryder Cups: 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979
Career record: 13-14-8

To place a golfer with a losing record among the 12 all-time greats may generate controversy, but Jacklin’s case is easy to make. As with Oosterhuis, Jacklin competed in an era where Great Britain was hopelessly outmanned by the U.S. Still, he showed his mettle via his accumulation of 17 points, placing him easily among Europe’s top eight and his foursomes record of 8-1-4 ranks first. From Jacklin’s role in 1969’s halved singles with Jack Nicklaus (“The Concession”) to his pioneering, transformative captaincy (1983, 1985, 1987, 1989), he remains one of the Ryder Cup’s most influential figures, as well as one of its greatest players.

Justin Rose

Ryder Cups: 2008, 2012, 2014
Career record: 9-3-2

Justin Rose’s Ryder Cup resume is somewhat small, but significant. Only three Cups, yes, but a remarkable 71.43% win percentage places him in rarefied air. He’s admittedly better known for his fourth place British Open finish as an amateur in 1998, his 2013 U.S. Open triumph and his 2016 Olympic gold medal. But his Ryder Cup prowess can’t be overlooked. He snagged three points in both 2008 and 2012, and won four points in 2014, via a 3-0-2 mark. Rose has a winning record in singles, foursomes and fourballs, though his most electrifying victory was his 1-up singles win over Phil Mickelson at Medinah in 2012.  

Ian Woosnam

Ryder Cups: 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997
Career record: 14-12-5

OK, it was a close call picking the Wee Welshman over Golden Age star Abe Mitchell, Rory McIlroy, Neil Coles and Bernard Gallacher, among others. What’s even tougher to justify is including Woosy despite an 0-6-2 singles record. Still, he makes the team on the strength of ranking in the top 10 in points won (16 ½) and matches won (14), and ranking first for wins in fourballs (10-3-1). The 5’ 4” Woosnam turned giant in 1993 at the Belfry, winning four straight matches with partners, and halving with Fred Couples in Sunday’s singles.

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