The mental_floss Guide to the Ryder Cup

Getty Images
Getty Images

Golf's Ryder Cup takes over Louisville's Valhalla Golf Club this weekend as Europe and the United States vie for world supremacy in the sport. The biennial event is a big date on golf's calendar, but what are the origins and history of this heated tradition? Let's try to answer a few questions.

1. How long has the Ryder Cup been around?

The idea of pitting the top American golf pros against their British counterparts was the brainchild of Sylvanus P. Jermain, the president of Toledo's Inverness Club. Jermain first presented the idea in 1921, and the two countries played an unofficial exhibition match that year. The British creamed the Americans 9-3. A 1926 rematch was even more disastrous for the Americans, who lost this tilt 13.5 to 1.5. The event became an actual competition in 1927 in Worcester, Massachusetts.

2. Why is it called the Ryder Cup?

The 1926 exhibition contest drew a healthy crowd, but no one was quite as interested as Samuel Ryder, an Englishman who had become quite wealthy selling packets of seeds. Ryder was an enthusiastic amateur golfer and a devoted student of British star Abe Mitchell. After the exhibition ended, Mitchell and his fellow golfers talked Ryder into donating a trophy to get the two countries to compete on a regular basis. Ryder also offered five pounds apiece to the members of the winning team, a post-match party, and picked up a shortfall in the British travel budget for the first Ryder Cup in 1927.

3. What's the trophy like?

Ryder commissioned a large gold chalice for the winning country and shelled out 250 pounds for its design and creation. The 17-inch trophy reaches its peak with a tiny golfer modeled after Ryder's favorite British star and tutor, Abe Mitchell.

4. Wait, British and American golfers? Aren't there Europeans in this year's Ryder Cup?

Yes, there are. Although the British pummeled the U.S. team in those two early exhibitions, the tables turned once the official Ryder Cup began. Americans won the inaugural event in 1927, and although the British team won in 1929 and 1933, they only picked up one more victory in the next 50 years. During the 1977 Cup, American legend Jack Nicklaus pointed out that the Cup's popularity would probably wane if something didn't level the playing field. After some debate and the approval of Samuel Ryder's family, organizers decided to transform the British team into a European squad for the 1979 Ryder Cup. Although the American team won the first three Cups against the European team, the Euros have taken eight of the last 11 meetings, including a three-Cup winning streak coming into this year's competition.

5. What's the format of the Ryder Cup?

Every part of the Ryder Cup tournament is played according to match play rules, which means that the two teams compete to win each hole and whichever side wins more holes over the course of the round wins the game. Each game won earns the player or team's side a point. Ties are "halved," which means each team gets half a point.

Various rounds throughout the weekend have different structures, though. This year four groups of two-man teams will pair off in fourball play on Friday and Saturday. In fourball matches, two golfers from each team play each hole on their own, and the team whose player has the lowest score on the hole wins the hole. On Friday and Saturday four more groups of two-man teams will face off in foursomes play in which each team just plays a single ball and teammates alternate shots. Whichever team holes the ball in the fewest strokes wins the hole. Finally, on Sunday each team sends out 12 golfers for one-on-one singles match play against a member of the opposite team. Lowest score on each hole wins it. Whichever team wins the most points over the course of the 28-game weekend wins the Ryder Cup.

6. What happens if the two teams tie?

In the event of a tie, the Cup stays with the defending champs, so if the U.S. wants the hardware, it needs to win outright. This rule came into play in 1969 and again in 1989.

7. What do the team captains do?

This year's captains, Nick Faldo for the Euros and Paul Azinger for the Americans (above), won't be playing, but they'll play a crucial role in their team's chances. PGA Tour earnings or World and European Points ranking determine most spots on the teams' rosters, but the respective captains get to pick the final four golfers for the American squad and the last two for the Euro team. The captains determine the team pairings for the early rounds, an important task that requires a keen eye for team chemistry. The captain of the home team also gets to determine the format of certain rounds; this year Azinger used this power to change what had been a better-ball format back to the alternate-shot foursomes.

8. Who's the best Ryder Cup golfer ever?

Hard to say, but Nick Faldo deserves to be in the conversation. The English great has appeared in a record 11 Ryder Cups, and has won more points (25) than anyone else in Ryder Cup history. He's the captain of this year's Euro squad, but like we said, he won't be playing. German pro Bernhard Langer isn't too far behind Faldo, though. The winner of the 1983 and 1985 Masters has the second-most points in Ryder Cup history (24) and is tied for second-most appearances with Irish pro Christy O'Connor, Sr.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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7 Tips for Winning an Arm Wrestling Match

iStock
iStock

Geoff Hale was playing Division II college baseball in Kansas City, Missouri, when he sat down and started flipping through the channels on his TV. There—probably on TBS—was Over the Top, the 1987 arm wrestling melodrama starring Sylvester Stallone as Lincoln Hawke, a truck driver who aspires to win his estranged son’s affections. And to do that, he has to win a national arm wrestling tournament. Obviously.

Neither the worst nor the best of Stallone’s efforts, Over the Top made Hale recall his high school years and how the fringe sport had satisfied his athletic interests, which weren't being met by baseball. “I had never lost a match,” Hale tells Mental Floss of his arm wrestling prowess. “The movie reminded me that I was good at it.”

That was 13 years ago. Now a professional competitor known as the Haleraiser, the full-time petroleum geologist has won several major titles. While you may not have the constitution for the surprisingly traumatic sport (more on that later), you might still want to handle yourself in the event of a spontaneous match breaking out. We asked Hale for some tips on what to do when you’re confronted with the opportunity to achieve a modest amount of glory while arm-grappling on a beer-stained table. This is what he told us.

1. KNOW THAT SIZE DOESN'T MATTER.

A child uses books to help in arm-wrestling an adult
iStock

Well, it does. But really only if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Otherwise, having a bowling pin for a forearm isn’t anything to be wary about. If anything, your densely-built foe may have a false sense of confidence. “Everyone has arm-wrestled since they were a kid and thinks they know what it is,” Hale says. “It looks easy, but there’s actually a very complex set of movements. It’s good to check your ego at the door.”

2. PRETEND YOU’RE PART OF THE TABLE.

A man offers to arm wrestle from behind a table
iStock

When you square up with your opposition to lock hands—thumb digging into the fleshy part, fingers wrapped around the back—don’t lean over the table with your butt in the air. And don’t make the common mistake of sitting down for a match, either. “It limits you from a technique standpoint,” Hale says, and could even open you up to injury.

Instead, you want to plant the foot that matches your dominant hand under the table with your hip touching the edge. With your free hand, grip the edge or push down on the top for stability. “Pretend like you’re part of the table,” Hale says. That way, you’ll be able to recruit your shoulders, triceps, and biceps into the competition.

3. REMEMBER TO BREATHE.

Two men engage in an arm wrestling match
iStock

If you’re turning the color of a lobster, you’re probably holding in your breath. “Don’t,” Hale says. Remember to continue taking in air through your nose. There’s no benefit to treating the match like a diving expedition. The lack of oxygen will just tire your muscles out faster.

4. BEAT THE HAND, NOT THE ARM.

Two hands appear in close-up during an arm wrestling contest
iStock

There are three basic techniques in arm wrestling, according to Hale: the shoulder press, the hook, and the top roll. The shoulder press recruits the shoulder right behind the arm, pushing the opposing appendage down as if you were performing a triceps pressdown. The hook is more complex, varying pressure from all sides and incorporating pulling motions to bend the wrist backward. For the best chance of winning, opt for the top roll, which involves sliding your hand up your opponent’s so your grip is attacking the top portion nearest the fingers. That way, he or she is recruiting fewer major muscle groups to resist. “When you beat the hand, the arm follows,” Hale says. Because this is more strategy than strength, you might wind up toppling some formidable-looking opponents.

5. IN A STALEMATE, WAIT FOR AN OPENING.

A man and woman engage in an arm wrestling contest
iStock

While lots of arm wrestling matches end quickly, others become a battle of attrition. When you find yourself locked up in the middle of the table, wait for your opponent to relax. They almost always will. “In a neutral position, it’s good to stay static, keeping your body and arm locked up,” Hale says. “You’re just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.” The moment you feel their arm lose tension, attack.

6. TRY SCREAMING.

A woman screams while winning an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestlers play all kinds of psychological games, and while some might be immune to trash talk, it’s likely your rival will be influenced by some selective insults. “You can make someone lose their focus easily,” Hale says. “In a stalemate, you can give them a hard time, tell them they’re not strong. It’s intimidating to be out of breath and to see someone just talking.”

7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GO SECOND.

A man struggles while losing an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestling exacts a heavy toll on winners and losers alike: The prolonged muscle contractions can easily fatigue people not used to the exertion. If you fear a loss from a bigger, stronger opponent, conspire to have them wrestle someone else first, then take advantage of their fatigue.

If all goes well, you might want to consider pursuing the sport on more competitive levels—but you probably shouldn’t. “It takes a toll on the body,” Hale says. “I’ve got tendonitis and don’t compete as much as I used to. On the amateur level, it’s common to see arm breaks, usually the humerus [upper arm] bone. The body was not really made for arm wrestling.”

Does the University of Florida Still Make Money Off Gatorade?

George Frey, Getty Images
George Frey, Getty Images

In September 1965, 10 freshmen players on the University of Florida's Gators football team agreed to let the school's kidney disease specialist, Robert Cade, assess their hydration levels during practices. He took urine samples. He interviewed athletes. He asked to take their rectal temperature during games.

The players agreed to all but the last request. In analyzing his results, Cade discovered that the wilting heat, coupled with a lack of hydration, resulted in subjects who were very low on electrolytes like sodium and potassium, sometimes losing six to nine pounds of water per practice session—with some footballers having anecdotes of 15 to 20 pounds lost during games. Cade felt that players suffered from low blood volume and low blood sugar. Many, in fact, were being hospitalized after overexerting themselves without drinking enough water, traditionally seen as a way of building toughness in players. Those who remained on field were surely not playing up to their potential.

Cade mixed water, sugar, salt, and lemon juice, then ordered them to drink the solution to keep their bodies in balance. By 1967, the Gators were all consuming "Gatorade," and incidences of heat stroke fell sharply. The Gators secured a 9-2 record in 1966; the team became renowned for their renewed energy during the second half, and ignited a transformation in sports science. Decades later and backed by a massive promotional machine, Gatorade has permeated both professional sports and amateur athletics alike, replenishing electrolytes lost during physical activity. Roughly 632 million cases were sold in 2013 alone.

With the sports drink having been born on the Gators's playing field and invented by a University of Florida employee, it's not hard to see why both Cade's estate (he died in 2007) and the school get a percentage of royalties from sales, an agreement that's still in place today. But if they had their way, the university would be getting all of it.

A University of Florida coach is soaked in Gatorade by his players after a win
Donald Miralle, Getty Images

After Cade and his co-researchers finalized Gatorade’s formula, Cade approached the school's head of sponsored research to see if they wanted to come to an arrangement over the rights to the drink (Cade wanted $10,000) and determine if they wanted to try and sell it to a national distributor. According to Cade, University of Florida (UF) officials weren't interested, so he struck a deal with beverage maker Stokely Van-Camp in 1967.

Stokely's offer was for Cade and his cohorts—now known as the Gatorade Trust—to receive a $25,000 cash payment, a $5000 bonus, and a five-cent royalty on each gallon of Gatorade sold. When UF realized that they had been shortsighted in assessing the brand's mass market appeal—and that they were missing out on profits—they allegedly told Cade that the drink belonged to them.

"Go to hell," Cade responded, a statement that kicked off several years of litigation.

While Cade was a university employee, funds for his work actually came from the government—specifically, the Department of Health. He also managed to avoid signing an agreement solidifying his inventions as school property. For these reasons, and because both sides anticipated an endless and costly legal jiu-jitsu match in their futures, the two accepted a federal ruling in 1972. The Gatorade Trust would continue to receive their royalties, and the school would take 20 percent of the disbursement.

Initially, that meant one cent for every gallon of Gatorade sold, a fraction of the five cents owed to the Trust. In September 1973, following the first full year of the agreement, UF made $115,296 in royalties and earmarked the funds for kidney research and marine science.

Gatorade cups are shown stacked in a locker room
J. Meric, Getty Images

That's a considerable sum, but it's nothing compared to what poured out in the decades to come. When Stokely Van-Camp was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1983, they kicked off a heavy promotional campaign that highlighted Gatorade in commercials and sponsored teams. Coaches began getting doused with jugs full of Gatorade following big victories. When PepsiCo bought Quaker for $13.4 billion in 2000, they leveraged their marketing muscle to further engender the brand.

Consequently, both the Gatorade Trust and UF have profited immensely. As of 2015, the Trust had earned well over $1 billion in royalties, with 20 percent, or about $281 million, going to UF. The five-cent per gallon formula has been replaced by a percentage: between 1.9 percent and 3.6 percent depending on how much Gatorade is sold annually, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell, with the University taking a fifth of that. The funds have been invested in the school's Genetics Institute, the Whitney Marine Laboratory in St. Augustine, and to help disperse seed money for grants.

The school naturally has an affinity for the stuff, but that can occasionally come into conflict with other marketing deals. In 2016, the University of Florida’s women's basketball team played in the NCAA Tournament, which was sponsored by Powerade, a competing sports drink made by Coca-Cola. As a compromise, the players dumped their Gatorade into Powerade bottles and cups. The beverage born on campus—one that's netted them nearly $300 million to date—always comes first.

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