Match Play Is A Head Game


A couple of weeks ago, my club’s head pro, Andy Fisher, sent out the brackets for the season-long, match-play events -- Four-Ball Match Play; Presidents' Cup; Willits Match Play; Senior 50-64; Senior 65-74, and Senior 75 and Older.

It was good to see that these popular, long-standing club golf events haven’t been cancelled or postponed due to the virus.

Even though scheduling these matches with fellow members is often challenging, I can’t help but think that the match-play format is one of the primary reasons these events are so popular.

While many low-handicap golfers thrive in medal events where there is pressure on every shot, the more garden-variety golfers like me prefer match play, the one-bad-hole-won’t-kill-me format.

Put another way, match play allows for redemption; medal play is unforgiving.

And while individual or team match play does allow for a hiccup or two, it is a competition that is known for its mental challenges. You are playing against your opponent, not just the golf course. Plain and simple, there is often a difference between match-play strategy and medal-play strategy. Perhaps a few tips and observations from some of the world’s all-time best match-play golfers will come in handy throughout the summer.

FREDDIE TAIT(1870 – 1900)

The Scottish amateur won the British Amateur in 1896 & 1898. He tied for 3rd in The Open Championship in 1896 & 1897. The British Amateur is still a match-play event. The Open Championship, which started in 1860, has always been a medal-play event

“A golf course exists primarily for match play, which is a sport, as distinguished from stroke play, which more resembles rifle shooting than a sport in that it lacks the joy of personal contact with an opponent.”

O.K. NIBLICK: From his book “Hints to Golfers” (1902 The Salem Press, Salem, MA)

“Remember that more games are lost from carelessness at the beginning of the match than in any other way. … Play your hardest from the first swing. By winning the first few holes, expenditure of nervous force and the nervous tension, which often lasts to the last putt, may be saved.”

JEROME “JERRY” TRAVERS (1887 – 1951): The New Yorker won the U.S. Amateur in 1907, ’08, ’12 & ’13 and the 1915 U.S. Open. He was inducted into the World Golf of Fame in 1976. Except for the years 1965 through 1972, the Amateur has been a match-play event.

“The little ball is tricky and eccentric. Consequently, it behooves you to keep on playing golf with all the skill at your command until your man is actually beaten.” --  New Yorker Jerome “Jerry” Travers (1887 – 1951), winner of the U.S. Amateur in 1907, ’08, ’12 & ’13 and the 1915 U.S. Open. He was inducted into the World Golf of Fame in 1976.

SAM SNEAD (1912 – 2002): The winner of seven Majors had a personal Ryder Cup record of 22-8-2.

“After winning a hole, concentrate on hitting a solid drive. Don’t let up when you get ahead. The tendency for most golfers is to follow a winning putt with a poor drive. Collect your thoughts on the next tee, forget about sympathizing with your opponent and make solid contact.”

“No matter what happens, never give up on a hole. . . . In tossing in your cards after a bad beginning you also undermine your whole game, because to quit between tee and green is more habit-forming than drinking a highball before breakfast.”

LEE TREVINO (Born 1939): The six-time Major winner had a Ryder Cup record 17-7-6

“Tony Jacklin and I played 36 holes in the "72 Piccadilly World Match. We teed off about 7:30 in the morning, and it was cold. I remember on the first tee, Tony comes up and says, ‘Mex’ — he called me Mex — he says, ‘Mex, I don't want to talk today. Let's just play golf.’  I said, ‘Tony, you don't have to talk. Just listen.’ Tony and I had 26 birdies and three eagles between us in 36 holes, and I beat him 1-up, on the last hole.”

JACK NICKLAUS (Born 1940): Nicklaus was 16-8-3 as a player on six Ryder Cup teams: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977 and 1981.

“When your opponent gets in serious trouble, play safely. Winning with a bogey is still winning.. However, if I am behind in match play, I often will take bigger risks with a recovery shot than I might in  in stroke play. This is simply because I have only one hole, rather than a bundle of strokes to lose. And if I succeed, it could rattle my opponent.”

TOM WATSON (Born 1949): The eight-time Major winner had a 10-4-1 record in four Ryder Cups. He was the captain twice – winning in 1993 and then in a loss in 2014.

“I hear players say they want to hit first to put the pressure on. Not me. I’d rather hit second in match play no matter what my opponent does.  I want all the information possible so I know what I have to do. If my opponent hits a terrific shot, I know I have to hit a terrific shot. If he get in trouble, my options change.”

SEVE BALLESTEROS (1957-2011): He had a 20-12-5 record in eight Ryder Cup appearances and he was the captain of the winning 1997 European team. He won the World Match Play Championship five times. He also won five Majors.

“Try to get your opponent thinking on the greens. Just like in poker, this is the time when you should really be watching your opponent’s demeanor. Obviously, you want them to putt out when they look nervous. But you also want them second-guessing green reads and their ability to hole putts. Plus, if you hit a putt close to the hole, always offer to putt out before they have a chance to concede it. They’ll start to think you’re ready to putt, not matter when. They might end up giving you some putts you could easily miss.”

HORACE G HUTCHINSON (1859-1932): Author - Hints on the Game of Golf

“If your adversary is badly bunkered, there is no rule against your standing over him and counting his strokes aloud, with increasing gusto as their number mounts up; but it will be a wise precaution to arm yourself with the niblick before doing so, so as to meet him on equal terms.”

ANDY FINALLY FROM SERGIO GARCIA (Born 1980): The Spaniard has a career record at the Ryder Cup of 22–12–7. He is the all-time Ryder Cup points leader, with 25½ points in 9 appearances.

“Match play is so much more fun than stroke play.”

Play Away!
Allan Stark

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