If you ever compete in match play events, you need to know how to approach them in order to get good results. If you think match play is the same as stroke play in golf, then read on because I’m going to tell you what you need to do in order to succeed.
Match play pits one golfer (or one team) against another. Unlike in stroke play, in which total score counts, the golfers compete for each hole. Whoever shoots the lowest score on a hole wins the hole. If the two golfers (or teams) finish with identical scores, the hole is “halved.” Whoever wins the most holes wins the match. If the players (or teams) finish with the same score, the match is halved. Match play does not usually affect your golf handicap. These are the basics.
This head-to-head confrontation, as golf instruction manuals tell you, radically changes how you play the game. Some golf tips urge you to be more aggressive in match play than in stroke play. Other golf tips urge you to play your normal game. What determines how you play is where you stand on the hole, where your opponent stands on the hole, and where the two of you stand in the match.
Most golf instruction will tell you that match play is a balancing act. You’re always weighing the need to put pressure on your opponent against the need to win the hole. The player who plays the best under pressure, regardless of where his golf handicap is, usually wins the match. Handling the pressure is not something golf lessons prepares you for. It’s something you need to experience yourself.
On the tee it’s more important than ever to hit the fairway with your drive. If you’re first off the tee, hitting a good drive increases the pressure on your opponent to also hit a good drive. And vice versa. If you hit a bad drive, that takes the pressure off your opponent. And vice versa. The object is to apply pressure as much as possible during the match.
On the fairway you need to be aware of where your opponent is and what his or her score is on the hole at all times. Keep in mind those golf lessons that tell you to maintain focus. You can hit a bad shot on the hole and still not lose the hole if your opponent also hits a bad shot. In fact, you can shoot an 8 on a hole and win the hole, if your opponent shoots a 9. The key to winning a hole in match play is knowing where your opponent stands on the hole and not panicking if he or she hits a good shot. The next shot could be out of bounds.
On the green, how aggressive you are on any putt depends on where your opponent is, where you are, and where you stand on the hole. Normally, if you had a difficult down hill putt, you’d play the shot conservatively, so as to not slip ten feet past the hole and cost yourself additional strokes. That’s what most golf tips emphasize. In match play, where your opponent is and what his or her score is dictates putting strategy.
If your opponent is laying 3 and is five inches from the whole, chances are he or she is going to sink the putt for a 4. If you’re laying 3, you need to sink the putt to tie your opponent for the hole, so you might as well be aggressive with it.
On the other hand, if your opponent is laying 3 and is twenty feet from the hole, you might as well play that downhill putt more conservatively, if you are also laying 3. You don’t want to run the ball 10 feet past the hole. It could cost you an additional stroke or two and, quite possibly, the hole. Always know where your opponent is on the green and what he or she is shooting before deciding on your putting strategy.
Conceding putts is an issue in match play. You don’t have to concede a putt, even if your opponent has conceded one to you. But most golfers do if it’s short (within 2 feet) and it’s not going to cost you the hole. Some players will concede short putts right up until crunch time, then make his opponent putt everything out just to put some additional pressure on him.
It’s also good to know if your opponent is a good or bad putter. If he’s a poor putter, you might make him putt everything out. Chances are your opponent may 3 putt or even 4 putt on the hole, giving you the hole if you 2 putt.
And then there are going to be times when you need a “hero shot” to win the hole or the match. If the hole or the match is on the line and you have a difficult shot, which you’d play conservatively in stroke play, you want to be more aggressive. If you play the shot conservatively, as most golf instruction dictates, you’ll probably lose the hole and/or the match anyway, so you might as well go for it in the hopes of saving the hole or match.
The key in match play is knowing when to be aggressive and when to be conservative. Match play is not about lowering your golf handicap. It’s about winning holes. Where you stand on the hole, where your opponent stands on the hole, and where the two of you stand in the match dictates strategy. Try not to let the pressure get to you and try to increase the pressure on your opponent whenever it’s prudent. And don’t panic if you fall behind early. You can still win the match, if you don’t give up.