How to Play Match Play

what is match play golf

The most exciting golf competition formula used in the Ryder Cup

Match play is the most exciting format of Golf

Learn the basics of Match Play and get the friendly competitions started

What is Match Play Golf

Match play is perhaps one of the most exciting and perhaps one of the most underused formats in golf.

Rarely do you find regular Match play competitions being held at clubs at the weekend at there are just a few Match play tournaments on the professional tour?

However, the Ryder Cup, perhaps the best golf competition in the world, is entirely matchplay, which is perhaps why it is so exciting an event.

It is man against man or two-man team against two-man team (or pairing) and the score is kept by recording the number of holes won or lost.

Match play Format - rules for match play golf with handicaps

It is usually played over 18 holes. If a competitor takes fewer strokes on a hole than his opponent, he wins the hole and goes one up. If he wins the next, he goes two-up; if he loses it he is back to all-square. A match is completed when a player is more holes ahead than there are holes left to play – as when, for example, he goes four up with only three holes remaining. In this instance, he has won 4&3. In the event of the opponent being all-square after 18 holes, the match is halved, or shared, with each player collecting half a point.

A player is regarded as ‘dormie’ when he is ahead by the number of holes remaining to be played. So if, for example, he should win the 16th to be two up with two to play, he cannot be beaten. His opponent may still, however, win the final two holes to halve the match.

Because they are playing each other, putts may be conceded, or given, so if a player putted his ball to within a few inches of the hole, his opponent would probably ‘give’ him the remaining stroke to save time. Equally, if player A has difficulty on a hole and eventually gets to the green in four strokes and at best can score five, while his opponent is six feet away from the flagstick in two, he may well concede the hole, certain that his opponent will do no worse than two-putt. Because of this, scores in match play are often estimated.

The TermsMatch Play Explanation
All-square
Match is equal
2 Up
2 hole ahead
3 down
3 holes behind
5&3
5 holes ahead with only 3 holes left to play. Wins on the 15th Hole

 

Benefits of Match play

One of the major benefits of Match play is that one or two bad holes do not necessarily ruin your round, as they can do in strokeplay. You are simply trying to beat your opponent. Another benefit of Matchplay is that it introduces tactics as an essential part of the game. 

Gimmies

If your playing partner is less than a yard from the hole, you could concede or ‘give’ the putt. When the match gets tight towards the end of the round, you give nothing and suddenly your opponent is facing a knee-knocker of a three-foot putt that he has had no chance to practice.

Alternatively, if you think your opponent is likely to become rattled or annoyed, give nothing, even the six-inch putts – the inference being you think he might miss. Few golfers play well when they are angry.

Get your retaliation in first

If your playing partner is less than a yard from the hole, you could concede or ‘give’ the putt. When the match gets tight towards the end of the round, you give nothing and suddenly your opponent is facing a knee-knocker of a three-foot putt that he has had no chance to practice.


Alternatively, if you think your opponent is likely to become rattled or annoyed, give nothing, even the six-inch putts – the inference being you think he might miss. Few golfers play well when they are angry.

Weight up the risks - Matchplay tactics

The situation of the match determines your shot selection. If you are facing a difficult approach early in the round – to a green fronted by a water hazard, for example, near the limit of your range – play the percentages and lay up. But if you face the same shot late in the round, when your opponent is in good position and you are behind in the match and running out of holes, you need to take the shot on.

Rules for Match Play golf with Handicaps

Matchplay competitions can be ‘scratch’, which means that everyone in the field is assumed to be equal, or they can be based on handicap. So if a five handicapper is playing a 10 handicapper, he gives his opponent five strokes during the round – on holes 1-5 stroke index on the scorecard.

 

The stroke index, incidentally, is an assessment of the difficulty of the holes in relation to each other, so the stroke index 1 hole is considered to be the toughest on the course, while the stroke index 18 hole is the easiest. In our example, if the two golfers are playing the stroke index 3 hole, a par four, and both score 5, the 10 handicapper wins, because his opponent is expected to play the hole in one stroke less.

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Foursomes

Each match involves two players on either team, who play in tandem using one ball. One player from each side tees off and then he and his team-mate play alternate strokes until the hole is completed. Irrespective of who makes the final stroke on that hole, the other play then tees off at the next and they again play alternate strokes (which is why the Americans often call foursomes ‘alternate shot’). 

 

It is probably the most difficult form of golf because each player only play half the number of shots they would usually take and it becomes difficult to get into a rhythm. In addition, it emphasises team-work, because each competitor has to play from wherever his partner leaves him and the two members of a team have to accept that they are each doing their best. 

 

A philosophy that can be seriously tested if, for example, the first member of a team hits a shot to within four feet of the hole and his partner then misses the putt.

Fourballs

Each match involves two players on either team, who play in tandem using one ball. One player from each side tees off and then he and his team-mate play alternate strokes until the hole is completed. Irrespective of who makes the final stroke on that hole, the other play then tees off at the next and they again play alternate strokes (which is why the Americans often call foursomes ‘alternate shot’). 

 

It is probably the most difficult form of golf because each player only play half the number of shots they would usually take and it becomes difficult to get into a rhythm. In addition, it emphasises team-work, because each competitor has to play from wherever his partner leaves him and the two members of a team have to accept that they are each doing their best. 

 

A philosophy that can be seriously tested if, for example, the first member of a team hits a shot to within four feet of the hole and his partner then misses the putt.

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