Understanding fourballs and foursomes at the Solheim Cup

Understanding fourballs and foursomes at the Solheim Cup
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The 18th edition of the Solheim Cup will be contested Sept. 22-24 at Finca Cortesin in Malaga, Spain.

A team of 12 players from the United States will compete against a team of 12 European-born players in the women’s premiere team event.

(Click here to learn more about who is on the American team and click here for European player capsules.)

The sides will compete over three days, playing two team match-play sessions on both Friday and Saturday and one individual session on Sunday.

The first two days will consist of both foursomes and fourball, with four matches in each session. The home team (Europe) decides the order each of those two days. On the final day, all 12 team members will compete in singles matches. So, it might look like this:

  • Friday morning: Foursomes (4 matches)
  • Friday afternoon: Fourball (4 matches)
  • Saturday morning: Foursomes (4 matches)
  • Saturday afternoon: Fourball (4 matches)
  • Sunday: Singles (12 matches)

A win in each match is worth 1 point. A tie is worth a half-point (no extra holes). With 28 points up for grabs, whichever team reaches 14 ½ (or more) will claim the cup. If the competition ends in a 14-14 tie, the defending champion (Europe) will retain the cup.

So, what are foursomes and fourball?

Fourball is also known as better ball. The U.S. will send out four teams of two players. Europe will blindly do the same (neither side knows the other’s teams or where they will be slotted, until the reveal).

In fourball, the two U.S. players will play their own ball on each hole, while the European players will do the same. If one player makes a lower score than the two others on the opposing team, her side wins that hole. For example: if a European player makes a birdie at the first and the two Americans make par, Europe wins the hole and goes 1 up.

This will continue until a team has won more holes than there are remaining to play. So, if Europe wins the 15th hole to go 4 up, then it wins that match, 4 and 3, because only three holes are left, giving the U.S. no chance to win or tie.

That’s the difference between match play and stroke play. In match play, winning holes is the objective, regardless of score. If a player makes a bogey, but no one does better, then bogey wins the hole. Stroke play aggregates the score and the player/team with the least number of total shots at the end of the round wins.

Foursomes is known less formally as alternate shot. In this format, each team designates who will tee off on odd holes and who will tee off on even holes. For example: Player 1 of the U.S. will tee off on No. 1 and then Player 2 of the U.S. will hit the second shot on that hole. They will alternate turns until the hole is completed. Player 2 will then tee off on No. 2 (regardless of who hit the last shot on the previous hole) and they will alternate accordingly.

As noted, there are only four matches per team session, so the captains must choose which four players they want to sit each time. In singles, all 12 compete in one-on-one matches.

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