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Team Europe's Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy are announced as a pair during the opening ceremony. Image Credit: Reuters

Rome: Last week’s dramatic Solheim Cup finale brought the concept of retaining the trophy into sharp focus at the Ryder Cup and produced mixed feelings among the players wrestling with how a draw can effectively be a win and a loss.

The 14-14 scoreline in Spain, the first draw in 18 editions of the women’s event, meant that, as holders, Europe retained the trophy. Since the Ryder Cup began in 1927 there have been only two tied matches. The 44th Ryder Cup, bienniel tussle between US and Europe, will be held at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome from Friday to Sunday.

However, the celebrations often start once the defending champions reach the magic 14-point mark where they are guaranteed to retain the trophy, even if they go on to win.

Stopping the rot

The first draw came in 1969 when Britain ended a run of five successive defeats by forcing a 16-16 tie at Royal Birkdale courtesy of Jack Nicklaus’s famous concession of Tony Jacklin’s final putt. The US duly retained the title, and then won the next seven too.

In 1985, having expanded from Britain and Ireland” six years earlier, Europe finally stopped the rot with their first victory since 1957.

There followed a series of terrifically close matches but only in 1989 at The Belfry did one finish level at 14-14 with Europe retaining the title having led 14-10 only to lose the last four singles.

Near-century old tradition

Cricket and boxing, where a defending champion is announced as “still…” after a drawn title fight, are among the few sports where a draw favours the holder. I was watching the Solheim Cup last week and obviously there were huge celebrations when Europe got to 14 and retained the Cup and I thought to myself, ‘jeez, they are celebrating a lot for a draw’, Rory McIlroy said this week.

“And then I go back to Medinah in 2012 and we went ballistic when we got to 14 as well. I love 14-all — whenever we’ve won the last one. It’s part of history and tradition.”

Fellow European veteran Justin Rose said he also liked the rule as part of a near-century of tradition. History is so important, I think,” he said. “It’s quite nice to wrestle it back fair and square. You have to win it to get the Cup back. In cricket I think retaining the Ashes is a big thing. You can have rain that can interrupt and cause draws. But retaining it, not letting the other team have the trophy, I think can be a win.”

American sporting culture, however, doesn’t generally appreciate a draw, a view shown by US rookie Max Homa.

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Team Europe's Tommy Fleetwood with Team Europe captain Luke Donald during a practice round. Image Credit: Reuters

“I’ve never liked ties, they don’t make sense to me” he said. The whole point of any competition is to see who wins. I do not like the retaining thing.

“I understand why they do it, but I’m not a fan. You have a completely new team, for instance, at the Solheim Cup, and they tied. Someone should play a playoff. Ties leave a bad taste in my mouth.”

Decisive end needed

Compatriot Justin Thomas also suggested the competition needs a decisive end. Think it would be really cool,” he said. “Both captains pick one player and sudden death playoff for the Cup.”

Englishman Tyrrell Hatton agreed, saying: It would be interesting if there was a way of putting in a playoff. I think it would be pretty exciting for fans, and it would certainly create a pretty epic atmosphere.”

Perhaps the best approach is that of US Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis, who reviewing the draw that was an effective defeat, decided to view it as a victory anyway.

“The whole week in general feels like a win” she said. Just where we were coming from out of Toledo (where Europe won 15-13 in 2021) to where this team is at now, it was a win, and that’s all that matters.”