Ryder Cup: Win, Lose, Draw, “Retain”

The first tie in Ryder Cup history occurred in 1969. It was secured on the final hole of the final match, when Jack Nicklaus conceded a short putt to Tony Jacklin, halving the hole, halving their match, and halving the Cup. After picking up Jacklin’s marker, Nicklaus said, “I don’t think you would have missed it, but I wasn’t going to give you the chance, either.” Ever since, Nicklaus’s gesture has been celebrated as one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship in the history of competition.

On the other hand, it could be viewed as one of the greatest acts of gamesmanship. By giving Jacklin the putt, Nicklaus made the half look less like an accomplishment by the British (who had won the cup only once since 1933) than like a personal gift from Nicklaus. It also left forever hanging the possibility that the reigning British Open champion might have gagged over his eighteen-incher. That’s one of the cool things about match play.

Because the United States had won the previous Matches, in 1967, it “retained” the trophy in 1969. Television commentators and others often speak of “retention” as though it were a form of victory, but it’s not. The only possible outcomes in any match, or in the overall event, are win, lose, and draw. “Retention” is just a housekeeping issue: who will hold the hardware till next time if the two teams tie? Players don’t go to the Ryder Cup hoping to “retain.” They go hoping to win.

2 thoughts on “Ryder Cup: Win, Lose, Draw, “Retain”

  1. You mention that in 1969 Nicklaus gave Jacklin an 18 inch putt, halving the match and halving the cup. This year Tiger gave Molinari a much longer ‘short’ putt. halving the match and conceding the cup.

    It appears that the captains and players should have read your article before Sunday. Before the final match was complete, with the score 14-13, the Europeans were celebrating the ‘win’ and interviews with captains Olazabal and Love mentioned ‘winning’ the cup and ‘losing’ the cup, when in fact they meant ‘retaining’ the cup. Not until Woods conceded the short putt to Molinari did Europe ‘win’ the match.

  2. Exactly right. If Tiger had made his putt, 2012 would have been the third tie in Ryder Cup history; instead, it was the fifth U.S. loss in the past six tries. (See my trivia question at the end of my next day’s post.)

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