Do great Ryder Cup players make better captains?

Does individual past performance matter for team success

Ryder Cup – player/captain

Ryder Cup - player/captain
(John Walton/PA)

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes


As Padraig Harrington’s European side are facing Steve Stricker’s team, 8/15 favourites in the online betting odds with Betway, we look into how great Ryder Cup players of the past performed when they became captains.


Ryder Cup – player/captain

The Ryder Cup is unique in golf and the best players in the game don’t always perform the best in the biennial event. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are unquestionably two of the best but their results in the Cup don’t reflect that fact, having lost more matches than they have won.

In recent years, Europe’s successes have often come when formerly successful players turned their expertise to leading the team.

Ryder Cup - player/captain

Ryder Cup – player/captain

Five European players have scored twenty or more points and moved on to the captaincy: Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and José María Olazábal.

Faldo is the only one whose team lost, 16½-11½ in 2008 at Valhalla, on US soil.

Langer and Olazábal both led their teams to victory in America. Langer’s side won 18½-9½ at Oakland Hills in 2004 and Olazábal oversaw the Miracle at Medinah in 2012 when Europe came from behind to win 14½ -13½.


Ryder Cup – player/captain

Ten captains have won the Cup for Europe, of those, seven had a points percentage of at least 50% and seven had won ten points or more in their playing careers.

The only recent exception is Thomas Bjørn, who was selected three times and went 3-4-2, picking up two points with a points percentage of 44.4, before leading Europe to a 17½-10½ win at Le Golf National in 2018.

While the best European players demonstrably make great captains, the same can’t be said for the Americans.

The five most successful American Ryder Cup players who became captains, Tom Kite, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Lanny Wadkins and Billy Casper, all won at least seventeen points over the span of their careers and had points percentages over 60%.

Of those, just two won their matches when they were captain. Nicklaus was selected twice and won 14½-13½ at PGA National in 1983 but was defeated four years later at Muirfield Village ending a 60 year 13-0 winning streak for the Americans. Casper’s team won 17-11 at the Greenbrier in 1979.

Ryder Cup - player/captain

Ryder Cup – player/captain

Since 1999, none of the three winning captains has had an impressive playing record.

Davis Love III possessed a 9-12-5 (W-L-H) record, earning 11.5 points from twenty six matches, but won 17-11 as captain in 2016 at Hazeltine.

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Paul Azinger recorded 5-8-3 as a player, earning 6.5 points from sixteen matches, but won 16½-11½ at Valhalla in 2008.

And finally Ben Crenshaw, whose 29.17 points percentage is the lowest of any player who went on to captain the USA, having played in twelve matches for 3.5 points going 3-8-1, yet his team went on to win 14½-13½ at the ‘Battle of Brookline’ in 1999.

It’s perhaps therefore a good thing for the US side that neither captain this year has an impressive personal record.

Harrington made six appearances between 1999 and 2010 and while the Europoean team won four times, he earned just 10.5 points in twenty five total matches going 9-13-3, including 3-3-0 in the singles.

Ryder Cup - player/captain

Ryder Cup – player/captain

Stricker only took part three times, winning at Valhalla in 2008 but losing at Celtic Manor in 2010 and at Medinah in 2012.

His personal record is the worst of any US captain since Crenshaw in 1999 having earned 3.5 points with a 3-7-1 record, including 1-2 in the singles.

Knowing how Crenshaw’s team performed however, this need not worry any US fan and while Harrington’s better record would seem to bode well, history tells another tale.


In collaboration with Betway