Most golfers are used to playing stroke play – where you play your own ball and count your strokes. An alternative format is Match Play – where you are playing head-to-head with another golfer, rather than playing stroke play against an entire field. While both formats require the same skills, Match Play offers a unique type of strategy since the Rules are slightly different from stroke play.
The most common differences are the ability to concede putts thereby allowing your opponent to not have to hole out every putt. Other unique Rules in stoke play have a one or two stroke penalty whereas Match Play the penalty is loss of hole (since the format of play that is scored in a hole-by-hole competition.)
The following are some strategies you may elect to use when playing Match Play against an opponent or you and a partner may use if playing a team Match Play event:
Be first on the tee – the obvious reason of playing first from the tee means you have the honor for having won the previous hole. Secondly, by playing first, you set the tone for the hole and have a slight advantage – if you hit a booming tee shot, your opponent will feel the pressure to “keep up.”
Get off to a fast start – set the tone for the match by trying to play well right away at the first hole. If you are successful and win multiple holes early in the match, you may close out your opponent early and not have to play all 18 holes.
Play your game by maintaining your usual pace of play. If you like to play quickly, don’t let a slower player bother you and get you out of your comfort zone. If the opposite is true and you are playing with someone much faster than you like to play, go with your normal routine so you don’t feel rushed (but still be cognizant of keeping pace.)
Play smart and play to your strengths. During an important match is not the time to try to carry the 40-yard water hazard from 200 yards away. Know your shot strengths and always think ahead – play the shot to layup short of the hazard, hit the next shot on the green and think two-putts for par or bogey. If your opponent hits in the water, you now have an advantage by playing smart and knowing the strengths of your game.
Watch your opponent. If she changes her pre-shot routine, chances are she is feeling some pressure. Since match play involves mental toughness, watch for any changes that allow you to have an advantage.
Utilize your partner. If you are playing in a team event with a partner, take advantage of each other. If one of you has a bad hole, pick up the ball and move to the next hole. You may help each other read putts and talk about your strategy. It may help you feel calmer by having a partner to talk with rather than having very little conversation with an opponent.
Be cautious conceding putts – one nice element of the match play format is the ability to concede putts. As a player, go into your match planning to hole every putt. With that mindset, you will be pleased when your opponent offers a conceded putt. Be careful when giving your opponent a conceded putt. If you continually give putts (especially early in the round), the opponent may expect that you will continue to concede putts. A great strategy is to give a few putts early in the round, then make the opponent hole all putts as the round continues. A missed putt could make a difference in the outcome of the match so keep that in mind when conceding putts.
By knowing some simple match play strategies and trying them during your next match, you may be able to win your match.