September 29, 2023 12:00pm

International Ties

When it comes to ties, the Golf Power Poll family is a house divided.

Photo of Scott Michaux
By Scott Michaux
Golf Correspondent

The first 14-14 tie in the 33-year history of the Solheim Cup last week prompted a lot of debate in the golf world on the eve of the 44th Ryder Cup over whether the wildly popular international team events in golf should be decided each time by an outright winner. While historically rare occurrences in the Ryder (twice) and Solheim (once) Cups, ties have gone to the previous outright winner, with the reigning champions retaining the trophy.

Our Power Poll voters narrowly lean towards preferring team events finish with a clear winner and loser, with 52 percent (68 votes) choosing a tiebreaker with 38 percent (50 votes) fine with the previous winner retaining the trophy. Only 10 percent (13 votes) think a tie and sharing the prize would by satisfactory.

How any proposed tiebreaker would be implemented, however, is another issue. Our pollsters are widely divided over sudden death decided by a singles (37 votes, 28 percent) or four-ball showdown (40 votes, 31 percent) or by having all tied singles matches continue in extra holes until a team reaches at least 14½ points needed to win outright (44 votes, 34 percent).

Like the Ryder Cup itself, it’s a topic that inspires a lot of opinion.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And it ain’t broke,” said Joe Logan, the co-founder of

“This is much ado about nothing to me,” said Sean Fairholm, senior writer at Global Golf Post.

“I kind of like the current system where one team has the cup and their opponent has to come take it from them, almost like a validation system. That's unique to golf. The competition isn't an entirely clean slate; the previous event can potentially be a deciding factor.”

But many disagree.

“Seeing the Europeans celebrate a Solheim Cup tie as a win is an eye-opening indicator that the format needs to be modernized,” said GolfLink editor Nicholas Heidelberger. “Things have changed in the 100 years since this system was created for the Ryder Cup. It's time to take a look through a modern lens.”

“There needs to be some sort of sudden death playoff,” said George Willis, contributing sports writer for the Miami Times. “‘You play to win the game,’ someone once said. There is too much financial and emotional investment to settle for a tie.”

“Ties are silly. No one plays for a tie. A winner and a loser should always be determined,” said Rob Goulet, CEO of Entertainment Sports Partners, Inc.

Hank Golf, retired New York Daily News golf writer, believes change is in order and could have been resolved from the start.

“Ties are a vestige of bygone days, particularly in Europe's soccer-centric culture,” Gola said. “A playoff between two designated players seems like an easy solution. Interestingly enough, at the first Ryder Cup in 1927, Walter Hagen proposed that a ninth singles match be played (not everyone on the squad played a singles match) to avoid the possibility of a tie and that tied matches go to sudden death. The Brits refused.”

For Matt Lawell, managing editor of Golf Course Industry Magazine, the concept is more philosophical.

“Guessing my opinion aligns with the minority, but American culture in general and American sports in particular place far too heavy an emphasis on winners and losers,” he said. “There is not always a winner and a loser, nor should there be, nor does there need to be. The journey is far more important than the destination.”

While a small majority would prefer a tiebreaker, defenders of the status quo feel strongly about maintaining tradition.

“Having the Cup holder retain the Cup in the event of a tie is fine with me,” said Rick Woelfel, a golf course industry contributor. “It's worked in the Ryder Cup and it works in professional boxing; if a championship fight ends in a draw the champion retains his title. Tradition matters. A playoff with a compressed format after something like the Solheim Cup or Ryder Cup is unfair to the players. They've focused their physical energy for three full days. To ask them to refocus after that would be anticlimactic as would deciding an event via one bad shot.”

“There have only been two ties in the (Ryder Cup’s) history. This past week was the only Solheim to end in a tie. It's not really a problem,” said GGP’s Fairholm. “Also, none of the tie-breaking ideas are appealing to me. … And any additional playoff seems unnecessary after three full days of golf with 24 guys involved.”

But others believe, as Len Shapiro said, that “ties are terrible” and it’s high time international team events get with the times and be more decisive.

“The previous winner retaining the cup is a quant relic of the past,” said Herb Gould, co-founder of

“The players, the fans, the networks have too much time and money invested for the matches to end in a tie. ‘Retaining’ the cup is a dud of a way to finish,” said Bill Hobson, host of Michigan Golf Live.

“I know that the original Ryder Cup was a ‘hail fellow, well met’ hands-across-the-sea type of event, but that approach is in the past,” said freelance writer Gary K. McCormick. “Time to settle things up at the end of the event and be able to declare a real winner.”

Sports Illustrated writer Gary Van Sickle thinks the solution is to simply make the implied half-point advantage the reigning winner has be made official on the starting scoreboard: “No playoffs for Solheim or Ryder Cups. Defending champion gets a half-point lead at the start so teams can’t end up tied.”

There is no consensus on the best way to incorporate a tiebreaker should one be implemented. The only time it was attempted happened at the 2003 Presidents Cup at Fancourt in South Africa. Previously selected players – world No. 1 Tiger Woods for Team USA and No. 2 Ernie Els for the Internationals – faced each other in a sudden-death playoff after competition ended in a 17-17 tie. Still tied after three holes with darkness falling, captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player huddled and agreed the cup would be shared by both teams.

“Sudden death is the perfect format, particularly for television, where the drama mounts with each passing minute,” said former Washington Post golf writer Len Shapiro.

“Change it only if you’re giving us sudden death,” said Todd Mrowice, equipment writer. “Otherwise, go and take it if you don’t want to see someone retain.”

Others think, as the Presidents Cup ultimately concluded, that it’s too much to leave on the shoulders of two players.

“A tie-breaker decided by match between two individuals puts too much pressure on those two,” said GWAA member James Davis. “Let the tied singles matches proceed until a winner is decided.”

“Continuing tied matches works for me. Play on!” said Gould, expressing the sentiments of the those who think singles matches should use extra holes to decide outright winners.

The idea of making it more of a team playoff effort got the most support.

“I would prefer a 4-hole, 4-ball match-play playoff with two pre-designated players from each team,” said Reid Spencer, owner and publisher of Metro Golf Magazine. “If tied after 4 holes, continue as sudden-death.”

“If the powers that be demand a tiebreaker, then have two players from each side in the envelope and reveal them to go into a three-hole, four-ball match,” said Bob Denney, PGA of America’s Historian Emeritus. “If not, just battle on to retain the cup and a tie means a lot.”

“Given the team nature of the matches, I'd like to see any playoff as a team event, preferably foursomes because all the players have to be involved,” said James A. Frank, Links Magazine golf writer. “And nothing raises the pressure like sudden-death. To heighten the excitement, the two teams that play off should be randomly drawn.”

“A tie-breaker for the Solheim and Ryder Cups would enhance these events,” said Terry Moore, founding editor of Michigan Golfer. “I like the idea of a pre-selected foursome match to decide the outcome in a three-hole aggregate format. It's better than a playoff between just two players.”

Jeff Shain, golf writer at The Villages Daily Sun, had a more unique idea. “Designate four players each and one par-3 hole with plenty of spectator space (like No. 17 at Finca Cortesin). Total score,” he said. “If still tied, send fifth choices out. Then sixth choices, etc.”

Some would like a more comprehensive tiebreaker including even more team members.

“Would like to see things settled in a similar fashion to how the event was played. It seems playing a mix of singles and four-ball the next day would be fairer and a thrill for the fans,” said public relations director Dan Shepherd.

Janina Jacobs, media consultant for The A Position, believes extending singles matches to extra holes is the simplest option, but concedes that “since this is a team event, conduct a playoff the next day, with selected players competing in each format: foursomes, fourball and singles. It would be great to do it right after play on Sunday, but that is probably not timely nor feasible.”

Freelancer McCormick thinks any Monday conclusions would be a non-starter. “Any concepts which require an extra day at the venue are not going to be popular, so make it a same-day shootout of some sort to heighten the tension,” he said.

As an aside, we also asked our Power Pollsters what tiebreaking playoff system they preferred in major non-team events, and the decisive losers are the two systems the USGA uses to determine its U.S. Open winners – the old 18-hole playoff got only 11 votes (8 percent) and the new two-hole aggregate a paltry 2 votes.

The most popular current tie-breaking systems with our panel is the three-hole aggregate used by the PGA and Players Championships (54 votes, 41 percent) and sudden death used by the Masters and most regular tour events (43 votes, 33 percent). The four-hole aggregate often used at the Open Championship received 21 votes (16 percent).

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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