1979 Ryder Cup: Team Europe Debuts

The 1979 Ryder Cup was the 23rd time this tournament was played, but the first time the United States team faced Team Europe. The Great Britain & Ireland team was expanded this year to include golfers from continental Europe. Following the Team USA victory, the all-time standings to this point were 19 wins for the United States, three wins for Great Britain/Ireland/Europe, and one draw.

Final Score: United States 17, Europe 11

Dates Played: September 14-16, 1979

Golf Course: The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

Team Captains: John Jacobs for Europe, Billy Casper for the United States

Team Rosters:

Match Notes: This was a Ryder Cup of firsts, the most important of which was the first time for a Team Europe to compete. What was originally Team Great Britain, then Great Britain & Ireland, was expanded to include golfers from continental Europe.

And the first two continentals to play? Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido. They didn't help much this time — they each went 1-4-0 — but with Nick Faldo (who went 3-1-0) and Sandy Lyle joining Ballesteros on the team, the foundation was laid for Europe's later successes.

The 1979 Ryder Cup also had the first use of what is still the current format, what we now think of as the standard Ryder Cup schedule of play: two doubles sessions per day on first two days, one of foursomes, the other of fourballs; and 12 singles matches on Day 3, with 28 points total at stake.

This was the first Ryder Cup in which either side used wildcard selections, also called captain's picks, to fill out their team. European captain John Jacobs added the first two wildcards, Peter Oosterhuis and Des Smyth. (Team USA didn't add captain's picks until 1989.)

This was the first time team captains used "the envelope" in the Ryder Cup. That's the still-used custom where both captains pick one player from his side, write down that player's name, and place it in an evelope. Then, if someone on the other side becomes injured and can't play, the opposing captain opens his envelope. The player whose name is inside also sits out. The injured player and the envelope player are drawn against each other in singles, and the match is automatically halved. Here, when Europe's Mark James couldn't play singles due to injury, Gil Morgan was revealed as the player in the USA's envelope.

Tom Kite and Larry Nelson each made his debut for Team USA, and Nelson went 5-0-0 — the first golfer in Ryder Cup history to play a maximum-possible five matches and win all five. Four of his wins, including in singles, were against Ballesteros. Lee Elder also played for Team USA, becoming the first black golfer in the Ryder Cup.

Kite teamed with Hale Irwin in one of the foursomes matches to beat Ken Brown and Des Smyth, 7-and-6. It was a new Ryder Cup record at the time for largest margin-of-victory in an 18-hole foursomes, since tied but not yet beaten.

Jack Nicklaus was missing from Team USA — injury-plagued in 1979, he simply didn't make the team. Tom Watson was also absent, departing the day before play began to be with his wife for the birth of their son. Mark Hayes, as the first alternate, took Watson's place.

1979 Ryder Cup Results

Day 1

  • Lanny Wadkins/Larry Nelson, USA, def. Antonio Garrido/Seve Ballesteros, Europe, 2 and 1
  • Lee Trevino/Fuzzy Zoeller, USA, def. Ken Brown/Mark James, Europe, 3 and 2
  • Andy Bean/Lee Elder, USA, def. Peter Oosterhuis/Nick Faldo, Europe, 2 and 1
  • Bernhard Gallacher/Ben Barnes, Europe, def. Hale Irwin/John Mahaffey, USA, 2 and 1
Score after first session: USA 3, Europe 1


  • Hale Irwin/Tom Kite, USA, def. Ken Brown/Des Smyth, Europe, 7 and 6
  • Seve Ballesteros/Antonio Garrido, Europe, def. Fuzzy Zoeller/Hubert Green, USA, 3 and 2
  • Sandy Lyle/Tony Jacklin, Europe, halved with Lee Trevino/Gil Morgan, USA
  • Lanny Wadkins/Larry Nelson, USA, def. Bernard Gallacher/Brian Barnes, Europe, 4 and 3
Score of second session: USA 2.5, Europe 1.5
Cumulative score after two sessions: USA 5.5, Europe 2.5

Day 2

  • Tony Jacklin/Sandy Lyle, Europe, def. Lee Elder/John Mahaffey, USA, 5 and 4
  • Nick Faldo/Peter Oosterhuis, Europe, def. Andy Bean/Tom Kite, USA, 6 and 5
  • Bernard Gallacher/Brian Barnes, Europe, def. Fuzzy Zoeller/Mark Hayes, USA, 2 and 1
  • Lanny Wadkins/Larry Nelson, USA, def. Seve Ballesteros/Antonio Garrido, Europe, 3 and 2
Score of third session: Europe 3, USA 1
Cumulative score after three sessions: USA 6.5, Europe 5.5


  • Lanny Wadkins/Larry Nelson, USA, def. Seve Ballesteros/Antonio Garrido, Europe, 5 and 4
  • Hale Irwin/Tom Kite, USA, def. Tony Jacklin/Sandy Lyle, Europe, 1-up
  • Bernard Gallacher/Brian Barnes, Europe, def. Lee Trevino/Fuzzy Zoeller, USA, 3 and 2
  • Nick Faldo/Peter Oosterhuis, Europe, def. Lee Elder/Mark Hayes, USA, 1-up
Score of fourth session: Europe 2, USA 2
Cumulative score after four sessions: USA 8.5, Europe 7.5

Day 3

  • Bernard Gallacher, Europe, def. Lanny Wadkins, USA, 3 and 2
  • Larry Nelson, USA, def. Seve Ballesteros, Europe, 3 and 2
  • Tom Kite, USA, def. Tony Jacklin, Europe, 1-up
  • Mark Hayes, USA, def. Antonio Garrido, Europe, 1-up
  • Andy Bean, USA, def. Mark King, Europe, 4 and 3
  • John Mahaffey, USA, def. Brian Barnes, Europe, 1-up
  • Nick Faldo, Europe, def. Lee Elder, USA, 3 and 2
  • Hale Irwin, USA, def. Des Smyth, Europe, 5 and 3
  • Hubert Green, USA, def. Peter Oosterhuis, Europe, 2-up
  • Ken Brown, Europe, def. Fuzzy Zoeller, USA, 1-up
  • Lee Trevino, USA, def. Sandy Lyle, Europe, 2 and 1
  • Mark James, Europe, halved with Gil Morgan, USA
Score of fifth session: USA 8.5, Europe 3.5
Overall and final score: USA 17, Europe 11

1979 Ryder Cup Player Records

(Records are listed as wins-losses-halves.)

Seve Ballesteros, 1-4-0
Brian Barnes, 3-2-0
Ken Brown, 1-2-0
Nick Faldo, 3-1-0
Bernard Gallacher, 4-1-0
Antonio Garrido, 1-4-0
Tony Jacklin, 1-2-1
Mark James, 0-1-1
Michael King, 0-1-0
Sandy Lyle, 1-2-1
Peter Oosterhuis, 2-2-0
Des Smyth, 0-2-0

Andy Bean, 2-1-0
Lee Elder, 1-3-0
Hubert Green, 1-1-0
Mark Hayes, 1-2-0
Hale Irwin, 3-1-0
Tom Kite, 3-1-0
John Mahaffey, 1-2-0
Gil Morgan, 0-0-2
Larry Nelson, 5-0-0
Lee Trevino, 2-1-1
Lanny Wadkins, 4-1-0
Fuzzy Zoeller, 1-4-0

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