Who Is the Ryder Cup Named After?

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Who put the "Ryder" in the Ryder Cup? Why is this every-other-year competition, one of the biggest events in golf, named the Ryder Cup? The namesake who seeded the idea of the Ryder Cup happens to have been a man who made his fortune selling ... seeds.

The Ryder Cup is Named for Samuel Ryder

Samuel Ryder was born in Lancashire, England, in 1858, and died in London in 1936. His father was a well-to-do businessman who, among other things, ran a nursery, operated a florist business, and was a seed merchant.

Sam himself, as a young man, went to work for a business rival of his father's before starting his own seed-selling operation. And that was where Sam made his money. You know those small envelopes that you can buy seeds in today? Many grocers and hardware stores have display racks of them near the gardening sections. It was Samuel Ryder who pioneered that method of selling seeds.

Ryder packaged seeds in those envelopes and priced them at a penny ("penny packs," he naturally called them). His other innovation was selling the seeds through the mail with a catalog operation.

Ryder later started another business with his brother James selling herbs. He also was involved in local politics, even serving as mayor of the town of St. Albans. He didn't begin playing golf until he was 50 years old.

How Samuel Ryder Put His Name on the Ryder Cup

Ryder's name is on the Ryder Cup because Samuel Ryder, literally, invented the Ryder Cup. He paid for the creation of the trophy that is the literal cup, and he spurred the playing of the tournament we know today.

Ryder was coming off some years of poor health when he reached his 50s, and it was suggested to him that the physical activity and fresh air available through golf would benefit him. So at age 50, Ryder began playing golf. And he quickly became obsessed.

That obsession with the game, plus his wealth and social status, allowed him to meet most of the top British golfers of the 1920s. Along with his brother, Samuel began putting up his own money or using his own companies to sponsor professional golf tournaments. In 1925, Abe Mitchell, a leading British pro, was hired by Ryder as his personal golf instructor in a move that was equally designed to provide Mitchell with expense money to pursue tournament golf full-time.

The Walker Cup, played by teams of amateur male golfers representing Great Britain and the United States, began in 1922. An idea quickly germinated in Ryder's mind: a similar competition, but for British and American pros. It was reported by a London newspaper in 1925 that Ryder was considering launching just such a tournament.

In 1926, Ryder commissioned and paid for the creation of a new trophy that he planned to award to the winning side in a goodwill match pitting teams of American and British professionals. That trophy was a gold chalice about a foot-and-a-half-high, topped by the figure of a golfer (believed to modeled after Abe Mitchell). That trophy took the name of its benefactor and is the literal Ryder Cup.

That 1926 goodwill match was, in fact, played. Team Great Britain dominated, beating Team USA 11-1. But it was an informal, hastily assembled match, and today is considered a precursor to, rather than the start of, the Ryder Cup Match. Ryder withheld the trophy, deciding it would be better to first present it at a more formally established tournament.

That tournament happened the following year, with the first, official competition: the 1927 Ryder Cup, played in the United States. Ryder's trophy had its public unveiling in 1927 at a send-off for the British squad as it prepared to sail for America.

And that is why the Ryder Cup is named after British seed entrepreneur Samuel Ryder. Sam attended the 1929 and 1933 matches, and also sponsored a handful of other professional tournaments in Britain before his death in 1936.

(Addendum: In the 2010s, a golfer named Sam Ryder appeared on the PGA Tour and its feeder tours. That golfer is no relation to the Samuel Ryder of Ryder Cup fame.)

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