10 Best Ryder Cup Golfers of All-Time

Counting Down the Greatest at Playing the Ryder Cup, from No. 10 to No. 1

Seve Ballesteros reacts during the 1987 Ryder Cup in Ohio
Seve Ballesteros during the 1987 Ryder Cup.

David Cannon/Getty Images


Who are the best golfers in Ryder Cup history? We don't mean the best golfers to play in the Ryder Cup; we mean the best at the Ryder Cup—those golfers who excelled on the big stage of the USA vs. Europe team competitions. Here are our picks, starting with the 10th golfer and counting down to No. 1:

10. Nick Faldo, Team Europe

Nick Faldo during the 1995 Ryder Cup
Steve Munday/Getty Images

There are plenty of great candidates we could have put here instead of Nick Faldo: Bernhard Langer, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Gene Littler and several others who deserve consideration. Even Luke Donald.
But we went with Faldo because he heralded the great wave of European golfers when he first played in 1977, because of his 6-4-1 singles record, because he holds the Ryder Cup records for most match victories (23), most matches played (46) and most Cups played (11). His overall winning percentage—.543 (23-19-4)—is good but not among the best-ever. But there's a lot to be said for showing up every time and grinding out points for your side.

9. Sergio Garcia, Team Europe

Garcia is one of two active players on our list, and he went 1-2-2 in 2016. That dropped his career record 19-11-7 (60.8 percent), which is still among the best. Garcia, surprisingly, hasn't done so well in singles, losing more than winning. He halved his singles match in 2016 to improve to 3-4-1.

Doubles is where Garcia excels: 9-3-3 in foursomes and 7-4-3 in fourballs. Garcia went 3-1-1 in his debut in 1999 (where he set the Cup record for youngest player at age 19) and 4-0-1 in 2004.

8. Arnold Palmer, Team USA

Arnold Palmer (playing the 1973 Ryder Cup at Muirfield) never won the PGA Championship
Arnold Palmer (pictured in 1973) came close several times but never won the PGA Championship. Don Morley/Getty Images

There are a couple surprises on this list, and having Arnold Palmer this low is one of them. After all, the King has, arguably, the greatest Ryder Cup record ever when looking strictly at the numbers: At the time of his final appearance, he held the Ryder Cup records for most match wins, most points won, best winning percentage, and shared several others. Palmer still has the best-ever record—22-8-2, .719—among all Americans with at least 15 matches played.
Good stuff! But here's the thing: The Great Britain/Great Britain & Ireland teams Palmer beat up on in the 1960s and early 1970s were simply nowhere near the level of today's European (or American, for that matter) squads. Palmer's outstanding record was compiled against a lower level of competition. That's true for all the outstanding American Ryder Cup records compiled before the Cup expanded to include all of Europe. Palmer still had to beat the guy(s) he was matched up against, of course, and far more often than not he did. But we have to take into account that Palmer was facing far weaker opposition than are current Ryder Cuppers.

7. Peter Oosterhuis, Team Great Britain/Great Britain & Ireland

Peter Oosterhuis at the 1977 Ryder Cup
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Palmer had a winning percentage of 71.9, Oosterhuis just 55.4 percent. Yet we have Oosterhuis ahead of Palmer. Are we nuts? (Don't answer that!) In fact, Oostie and Arnie faced off in singles twice, and Oosterhuis won both times. But more to the point: The American teams Oostie was facing were incredibly strong, with rosters full of future Hall-of-Famers. Again, level of competition must influence how we view Oosterhuis' 55.4-percent winning record. In his case, the mark looks a lot better over time.
Oosterhuis played six Ryder Cups, 28 matches total, with an overall record of 14-11-3. But it's in singles where Oostie's value is clear. He went 6-2-1 in singles, not losing until his final two Cup appearances (those losses were to Hubert Green and Raymond Floyd, two future Hall of Famers).
In Oostie's first seven singles matches, he beat Gene Littler, beat Arnold Palmer (twice), halved Lee Trevino, beat Johnny Miller, beat J.C. Snead and beat Jerry McGee. That's an amazing singles performance. (His overall win-loss record was dragged down by an 0-3-0 showing in his final Cup in 1981.)
Oosterhuis also partnered Nick Faldo to two wins in Faldo's first Cup appearance in 1977, beating Floyd/Lou Graham and Floyd/Jack Nicklaus.

5/6. (tie) Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe

Seve Ballesteros
Stephen Munday / Getty Images

Jose Maria Olazabal actually has the better record of the two—18-8-5 (.661) to Seve Ballesteros' 20-12-5 (.608). And surprisingly, like their Spanish compatriot Garcia, neither of these guys excelled at singles. Olazabal was 2-4-1 in singles, Ballesteros 2-4-2.
But it's only appropriate we list them together since their partnership— the greatest partnership in Ryder Cup history—is what gets both of them on this list.
Ballesteros and Olazabal partnered one another 15 times and lost only twice. Called the "Spanish Armada," they were 11-2-2 as partners, earning 12 points for their team. That's six points more than any other Ryder Cup partnership.

4. Ian Poulter, Team Europe

Like Garcia, Poulter is still active and played in the 2014 match. And 2014 was his first time with a losing record: he went 0-1-2.

And that made his overall record 12-4-2, a winning percentage of .722—still the best in Ryder Cup history for all golfers with at least 15 matches played.

And he kept his singles record unblemished by a loss by halving Webb Simpson in 2014, making him 4-0-1 career in singles. In previous Cups, Poulter's W-L records included showings of 4-1-0, 3-1-0 and 4-0-0.

3. Tom Kite, Team USA

Tom Kite during the 1989 Ryder Cup
David Cannon/Getty Images

Here's our final surprise. When talk turns to the greatest Ryder Cuppers, Tom Kite's name never comes up. He was slow and steady in every part of his long and successful golf career; nothing showy, he just kept plodding and grinding (and winning). So his Ryder Cup record gets overlooked.
But not by us. Kite was 15-9-4 in his Ryder Cup career, a winning percentage of 60.7. That record was compiled against European teams that were gaining in strength and that finally broke through against their American competition.
Kite played in seven Cups, 28 matches, but it's in singles where Kite really stands out. He played seven singles matches and never lost (5-0-2). That is, arguably, the second-best singles record in Ryder Cup history.
He sometimes won big, too. At the 1989 Ryder Cup, Kite beat Howard Clark 8-and-7, tied for largest margest of victory ever in an 18-hole Ryder singles match. In 1979, Kite and partner Hale Irwin beat Ken Brown and Des Smyth 7-and-6, tied for largest margin of victory ever in a Ryder Cup foursomes match.

2. Lanny Wadkins, Team USA

Lanny Wadkins at the 1989 Ryder Cup
Lanny Wadkins is fired up after sinking a chip shot during the 1989 Ryder Cup. Wadkins was one of the best American Ryder Cuppers of his generation. David Cannon/Getty Images

Lanny Wadkins is the highest-ranked American on our list for several reasons: His overall record, which is excellent; the fact that he compiled that record in the European era, and mostly against European teams that were very competitive or were winning; and the fact that he had a winning record in all three formats.

Wadkins was 9-6-0 in foursomes, 7-3-1 in fourballs and 4-2-2 in singles. That adds up to 20-11-3, a 63.2-percent success rate. In fact, Wadkins is one of only a handful of Americans from his era with a winning record (minimum 15 matches played).

Wadkins, like Ballesteros for the Europeans, also brought a passion to the Ryder Cup that spilled over to his teammates and the fans.

1. Colin Montgomerie, Team Europe

Colin Montgomerie during the 1995 Ryder Cup opening ceremony
J.D. Cuban/Getty Images

That's right: Colin Montgomerie is the greatest Ryder Cup player ever. Lots of Team USA fans dreaded this (some European fans, too: Monty was a polarizing figure even with many Continentals), but there's no denying Montgomerie's place at the head of our list.
Montgomerie played the Ryder Cup eight times, 36 matches total, and lost only nine times. His overall record was 20-9-7 (.653), and that included an 8-3-3 mark in foursomes.
Singles is where Monty shined: He played eight singles matches and never lost. It's the best singles record in competition history. Six wins, two halves, zero defeats. That includes the half-point he squeezed out against Mark Calcavecchia in 1991 after being 4-down with four holes to play; it includes victories over Lee Janzen, Ben Crenshaw, Payne Stewart, Scott Hoch and David Toms (twice).
Montgomerie played every Ryder Cup from 1991 through 2006, and he was the rock for Europe in many of them. He inspired his teammates, got under the skin of the opposition (and drove opposition fans nutty), and just kept winning points. He's the best ever at the Ryder Cup.