Understanding Match Play And How It Can Help You

Some people feel match play is a child’s game. They don’t want know what they’re missing out. And yet, for something being called a child’s game, there are professional tournaments held in the format.

So what gives? The truth is, match play could help spruce up your game, and breathe some new life into a stagnant strategy.

Never tries a match play game? No worries; consider this a fast-track primer to the ins and outs of the format.

Understanding Match Play

Understanding match play can help you experieince a whole new way of enjoying the game. It's not just about the total number of strokes you take but rather how you perform on each individual hole compared to your opponent. 

The Meaning Of Match Play

Match play is about the duel; the one-on-one battle between you and another golfer. Imagine you're in a medieval tournament, but instead of jousting, you're showing off your skills on the greens. 

In match play, each hole is a separate contest. You're not tallying up all your strokes for the entire round; you're focusing on winning each hole. It's like a series of little battles within a war.

The Scoring System

The scoring system is pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it. If you take fewer strokes than your opponent on a hole, you win that hole. If you both take the same number of strokes, the hole is "halved," meaning it's a draw. 

You don't get any points for halved holes, but you don't lose any either. The overall match is determined by how many holes you're up (or down) rather than the total number of strokes taken.

golf score sheet

Let's say you're playing against your buddy. On the first hole, you sink your putt in four strokes, but your friend takes five. You're now "1 up." If on the next hole your friend wins, the match is back to "all square." 

You keep going like this until one of you is ahead by more holes than there are left to play. That's when you've clinched the victory. For example, if you're 3 up with only 2 holes to play, you've won the match because your friend can't possibly catch up.

One of the coolest things about match play is the strategy involved. Sometimes, it's not just about playing it safe. If your opponent is in trouble, you might take a more aggressive approach to try and win the hole. On the flip side, if you're ahead, you might play more conservatively to maintain your lead. This cat-and-mouse game adds a layer of psychological warfare that's unique to match play.

There's also something called "conceding" in match play. This means you can give your opponent the next shot if it's a short putt, essentially saying, "I trust you'd make that putt anyway." It's a gesture of sportsmanship and can speed up play, but use it wisely. Never concede a putt your opponent might miss!

Remember, in match play, it's all about the holes you win and not the total strokes. This means a player who might not have the lowest score in a stroke play round could shine in match play by being consistent and strategic on each hole. It brings a different kind of pressure and excitement, as every hole offers a chance for redemption or disaster.

The Role of Handicaps in Match Play

When you're gearing up for a match play contest, understanding the role of handicaps can be as crucial as knowing your clubs. As a golfer, you know that handicaps aren't just numbers; they're the great equalizers that make matches fair and competitive, no matter the skill level of the players.

In match play, they level the playing field by giving the lesser-skilled player a few extra "shots" or advantages. This doesn't mean you're physically taking more swings but rather you're getting some imaginary strokes to use strategically during the match.

golf handicap

So, how do these handicaps shake out in match play? It's all about the difference. Let's say your handicap is 15, and your friend's is 10. The difference is 5. This means, in an 18-hole match, you'll get one extra shot on the five hardest holes. 

These are usually indicated on the scorecard by the handicap number next to the hole, with 1 being the hardest. So, if the hardest holes are 1, 4, 8, 12, and 16, those are where you'll have your advantage.

Now, you might be wondering, "How do I actually use these strokes?" It's less about using them and more about knowing they're there. For instance, on those five hardest holes, if you and your opponent both take 4 strokes to finish, on the scorecard, you'd actually be 1 up for those holes because of your handicap.

But remember, with great power comes great responsibility (said Uncle Ben). Knowing where and when you have these strokes can drastically affect your strategy. If you're on a hole where you have a stroke advantage, you might play more aggressively, trying to maximize the chance to win the hole outright. 

Conversely, if you're playing a hole where your opponent has the advantage, you might be more conservative, trying to keep the match close.

It's also worth noting that in some formats, especially in club or tournament play, the player with the lower handicap might have to give strokes to the higher handicap player. This means instead of you getting extra shots, they would be deducted from your opponent's score on certain holes. The strategy remains similar, though. Know where these strokes apply and adjust your game plan accordingly.

You need to be aware of your advantages, understand your opponent's moves, and plan several steps ahead. It adds an extra layer of strategy and excitement to the game, ensuring that matches are fair and competitive, no matter if you're a weekend warrior or a seasoned pro.

The Concept of Conceded Putts in Match Play

In match play, there's a move known as the conceded putt that can be just as strategic as any swing you take. It's a fascinating part of the game that mixes psychology, sportsmanship, and tactics. Used wisely, they can impact the score and flow of your match.

Imagine you're on the green, and your ball is just a short distance from the hole, say, within the length of your putter. You're eyeing it up, ready to tap it in, but then your opponent says, "That's good." They've just conceded your putt. 

This means you don't have to take the stroke; it's assumed you would have made it. You pick up your ball, and you both move on to the next hole. It's like getting a free pass, but there's more to it than just skipping a stroke.

Conceded putts are all about sportsmanship and pace of play. They keep the game moving and acknowledge those "gimme" shots that most golfers would make in their sleep. But there's a psychological element, too. When to concede and when to make your opponent putt out can get into their head, affecting their confidence and strategy.

Now, how do these concessions impact scoring? In match play, remember, you're counting holes won, not total strokes. So, if you're about to win a hole and your opponent concedes your putt, you win that hole just as if you'd sunk the putt yourself. It doesn't change the overall score of the match, but it can certainly change the momentum. 

A timely concession can either be a sign of respect, essentially saying, "I know you've got this," or a tactical play, not giving you the chance to feel the satisfaction and confidence boost of making the putt.

But here's where the strategy really comes into play. When do you concede, and when do you hold back? If your opponent has a tricky 3-footer, do you let them sweat it out, or do you concede to maintain a brisk, friendly pace? 

Some players never concede, preferring to see every putt dropped. Others use concessions generously to keep the game amicable. It's a personal and strategic choice.

Conceding putts can also set the tone for the match. Concede early, and you might establish a friendly, generous atmosphere. But remember, it's a two-way street. Your generosity might not be reciprocated, leading to a shift in how you approach each putt. Conversely, if you're stingy with concessions, you might ramp up the pressure, but you could also sour the mood.

For this reason, conceded putts are like subtle nods to your partner. They're part of the etiquette, the unwritten rules that make the game as much about respect and sportsmanship as it is about skill. 

But never forget, while conceding putts can be a powerful tool in your arsenal, it's also a gamble. Each concession is a bet that your opponent would have made the shot, a nod to their skill, and a moment that could change the tide of the game.

The Use of Match Play Scoring in Professional Golf

Match play scoring isn't just for your weekend rounds with friends; it's also a big deal in the professional golfing world. While stroke play might dominate most of the tournaments you watch, match play has its special place, offering a thrilling head-to-head format that brings a unique flavor to the professional scene.

So, do professional golfers use match play scoring? Several high-profile tournaments feature this exciting format. It's where the pros go toe-to-toe, hole by hole, adding an intense personal duel to the mix. 

One of the most famous tournaments featuring match play is the Ryder Cup. Here, teams from Europe and the USA face off in a series of matches, including singles and pairs. The Ryder Cup is more than just a tournament; it's a biennial spectacle of nationalism and pride, with a format that allows for dramatic moments and intense rivalries. 

Every match counts, and the cumulative score determines the winning team. It's match play at its most dramatic and is a must-watch event for any golf enthusiast.

Then there's the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, another highlight of the professional golf calendar. This event gathers the world's top players for a week-long match play battle. The tournament starts with group play, where golfers compete in a round-robin format, and then the top players move on to the knockout stages. It's a test of endurance, strategy, and nerve, showcasing the unique challenges and excitement that only match play can provide.

But what makes match play so special in the professional ranks? It's the personal nature of the game. In stroke play, you're battling the course and the field, trying to post the best overall score. 

In match play, it's just you and your opponent, hole by hole. Every shot can swing the momentum. A great recovery or a missed putt isn't just about your score; it's a direct blow or boost against your opponent. This mano-a-mano battle adds a layer of strategy and psychological depth you don't always get in stroke play.

Not surprisingly, professional golfers must adjust their strategies in match play. They might take more risks, going for shots they'd avoid in stroke play because a single hole won't ruin their entire round. They're also reading their opponents, deciding when to be aggressive and when to play it safe. 

And then there's the drama of the comeback. In stroke play, a few bad holes can put you out of contention, but in match play, you can always fight back, one hole at a time.

Can Match Play Change the Way You Play Golf?

Understanding and playing match play isn't just about a different scoring system; it's about shifting your mindset, strategy, and how you handle pressure on the course. 

In stroke play, you're usually battling against the course and trying to keep your score as low as possible. But in match play, you're directly up against an opponent, and every hole is a fresh start. 

This means you need to stay mentally sharp and resilient, hole after hole. Even if you have a disaster on one hole, you can bounce back on the next. This resilience and short-term memory can be a massive asset, even when you switch back to stroke play.

For this reason, it is important to take your pre-match rituals seriously. This includes solid nutrition, and packing high value snacks like a Whole In One bar for eating between holes.

Then there's the strategic side. In match play, you're constantly adapting to what your opponent is doing. If they're in trouble, you might play more conservatively, knowing you can win the hole with a safer strategy. If you're behind, you might take more risks to try and catch up. This constant assessment of risk versus reward, and the ability to adapt your strategy on the fly, can make you a more versatile and thoughtful golfer.

Match play also teaches you about pressure. Every shot can swing the balance of a match, so you learn to handle those high-pressure situations. This is invaluable. Being able to keep your cool and make a crucial putt or approach shot under pressure is a skill that will serve you well in any golfing situation.

Understanding match play can also make you a savvier golfer when it comes to the rules and etiquette of the game. Knowing when to concede a putt, for instance, isn't just about sportsmanship; it's about strategy. This deeper understanding of the nuances of golf can make you a more rounded and knowledgeable player.

So, can match play change the way you play golf? You bet it can! It sharpens your mind, hones your strategy, toughens your mental resilience, and deepens your understanding of the game. Whether you're playing match play itself or carrying those skills over to stroke play, the lessons you learn from head-to-head competition can make you a better, more confident golfer. 

Final Words

Even though many “serious” golfers look down on match play golf, you can learn a lot from going in with an open mind. A well-developed strategy is superior to a narrow view of the game and will allow you to make wiser decisions across all forms of play.