Sports runneth over with . . . Cups! There's the World Cup in soccer, Stanley Cup in hockey, America's Cup in yacht racing, Davis Cup in tennis and even newer trophies, including NASCAR's Nextel Cup. This weekend the best professional golfers from the United States and Europe will compete for my favorite -- the Ryder Cup.

One of the reasons I love the Ryder Cup is the wonderful story behind it. Samuel Ryder was an English businessman who made a fortune when he started selling packets of flower and plant seeds to English gardeners for a penny in 1898. Before Ryder, seeds were sold mostly to farmers in big bags.

Ryder also became mayor of the town of St. Albans. He worked so hard at both jobs that he got sick. The doctor suggested fresh air and exercise as part of his cure, so Ryder took up golf. He loved the game. He played every day except Sunday (he was very religious), and even hired a British golf champion, Abe Mitchell, as his personal coach. That's Mitchell's likeness on top of the Ryder Cup.

In the 1920s, some American professional golfers went to play in the British Open. While they were in England, they arranged to have a series of matches with some top British professionals. The golfers agreed the matches were so much fun that they should do it more often. Ryder, who had watched the competition, volunteered to put up the money to buy a solid-gold trophy that would be awarded to the winning team.

The trophy became known as the Ryder Cup.

But the story of Samuel Ryder and his famous cup is only one reason to watch this year's match on television, even if you are not a golf fan. The Ryder Cup is different from most tournaments because the golfers play on teams. Golf is usually an individual sport in which the winner is the one who shoots the lowest score.

In the Ryder Cup, the Americans are matched against European players in exciting head-to-head competition. If a player wins his match, he earns a point for his team. If the players tie, each team gets half a point. There are 28 matches over the pressure-packed, three-day competition, which starts today. The team that wins at least 141/2 points wins the Ryder Cup.

Another great thing about the Ryder Cup, which is held every two years, is that it is one of the few professional events not played for money. The players think it is an honor just to be chosen to represent their countries and play for the cup.

And that's the way Samuel Ryder wanted it.

Wanna talk sports with Fred Bowen? Join him for a discussion of his book "Winners Take All" at the Baseball as America exhibit Oct. 2 at the National Museum of Natural History. For information go to or call 301-585-2932.

Colorful fans of the U.S. and European teams add to the appeal of Ryder Cup matches. The competition is named for Samuel Ryder, top left, who bought the gold trophy in the 1920s.