By Jack Moorehouse

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 lying 3 and is five inches from the hole, chances are he
or she is going to sink the putt for a 4.  If you’re lying 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 lying 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.
Tom's Golf Tips
Useful Links
Featured Lesson