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What do I need to do differently when playing ‘match play’ in golf?

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“I never learned anything from a match that I won.”Bobby Jones

By Ian Hardie

A while back, a new golfer that I have been helping through that difficult year or two of their life – which is commonly known as ‘starting to play golf’

Asked me a question that I have heard a few times over the years:

“I’ve been told that I have to play something called ‘a match’ next week – what is that all about and what do I need to do differently from normal golf?”

Now, having been a golfer that had played very little match play over the years due to a couple of reasons

The first of which being that I never really enjoyed playing that form of the game

Simply because it didn’t really suit the way I approached the game due to my golfing personality – you can find a clue about just what that is here if you want to

The second reason, was easily added to the foundation of the first due to the fact that as a young golf professional – every event I ever played in was a ‘stroke play’ event

This obviously meant that if I wanted to perform well in those events – which oddly enough is something that I set out to do

I had to focus my game around playing ‘stroke play’ as opposed to the many subtle (and some not so subtle) differences that are required for good ‘match play’ golf

All of that meant that I gave the new golfer my usual answer for that question

“Basically, ‘match play’ is when you play against another golfer as opposed to ‘stroke play’ where you are trying to compile the best possible score that you can on your own for the entire round of golf”

The new golfer nodded politely when I answered in that way and told me that they understood but on my way home that evening I considered my answer a bit more and decided that while being accurate

It wasn’t really as useful for the new golfer as it could have been

Mainly because I hadn’t really given them any idea as to what they needed to do differently when playing ‘match play’ in golf as opposed to the more usual ‘stroke play’ format that most golfers around the world play each day

As a result I have spent a bit of time putting together a list of the differences between the two forms of the game – things like the way it’s scored, the fact that a bunch of different rules are involved as well as a bunch of different penalties for breaking them, the order of play is a big thing………………………………….

I could go on and on with examples here as the list actually ended up to be a lot bigger than I first expected it would – in fact it’s so big that instead of publishing it in a series of articles like I usually would – I may actually end up producing something like:

“The almost complete guide to learning golf match play in a week”

If that’s something that you might be interested in buying then let me know by sending me an email here (use the something else box on the form and just type the words ‘match play’)

When and if that will happen – I’m not sure – so today I figure it’s best to get started by taking a look at situation where the difference between the two forms of play is most notable

Let’s imagine that you are playing in a normal ‘stroke play’ event at your course with a friend and that you have both arrived on the tricky 16th hole of the course you play at

A golf hole that is a little bit more difficult than all the rest on the course

I’m sure you can imagine the sort of hole I mean somewhere on the course that you play

A hole that almost every golfer is happy to be able to have a reasonable score on before getting past it and heading to the last couple of holes of their round

But because it is a little tricky – on some occasions it can also be that hole that ends up

Destroying any chances of having a good round that the golfer had up until that point

Due to your friend making an outstanding birdie on the previous hole – they are going to be teeing off first on the hole which gives you a bit more time than usual to prepare

Now, as I have spent many hours writing about on Golf Habits on this particular hole you would of course do the same things as you do on every other hole on the golf course

Using the information you would have gathered before the round, you would decide on the shot that would be best for you to get to the position you have identified in the fairway

As the best place to approach the green from for your second shot

You would of course then do your practice swings before starting your final approach to tee off

To carry out such important but mundane tasks such as this and this

Meanwhile your friend has just hit the worst hook you have ever seen them hit

Although hopefully you were only watching the flight of the golf ball and not them as I wrote about here

With their golf ball ending up way out of bounds and them heading back towards their golf bag to get another golf ball – no doubt chastising themselves for their poor shot

You pause momentarily and feel a little bad for your friend

As every golfer knows just how bad it feels to have that happen to them

A moment is all there is though because as you are playing a ‘stroke play’ event – what your friend has just done is of no consequence to you and the shot you have planned

You simply need to put that out of your mind and get back to the process of hitting your drive to exactly where you are aiming

The fact that your friend is about to re-load and hit their third shot from the tee is of no use to you in a ‘stroke play’ event as you are attempting to have the lowest or best score of the day

Over all of the golfers on the golf course that are in your event

As a golfer – you just need to focus on the task at hand and play the hole as well as you can with the ability that you have to keep your overall score for the round going well

Now, if you are golfer who basically only plays ‘stroke play’ events – you will be sitting there thinking

‘Yes, that’s exactly what needs to happen – what’s your point Ian?’

Well, if the situation I have described above was taking place in a ‘match play’ event which is something that is scored hole by hole as opposed to over the entire round

Things might be very different due to the basic concept of this form of the game as

‘Match play’ is when you play against another golfer – not all of the other golfers

Each individual hole is like a mini match on its own – which I’m going to talk more about in

‘What do I need to do differently when playing ‘match play’ in golf? – part two’

Until then see if you can work out what the differences might be and of course

Play well

 

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