As I played my Traders’ Cup match on Friday evening, I remembered how much fun match play can be. Match play and stroke play are two completely different games. Match play allows for more aggressive play, no worry over a blow-up hole, or four, and arguably the most fun part of all – strategy, (which should never be confused with or cross the line into poor sportsmanship). Incidentally, after 18 holes we were all square, so we set off down the 1st once more, only to halve that hole. The light was falling, however we did manage to play the 2nd (20th) and yes, it was halved again. By this time it was well nigh impossible to see, so we didn’t even contemplate the 3rd – we’re reassembling there later in the week to carry on where we left off!
My playing partners heading up the 2nd/20th.
Over the weekend I searched on-line and came across some match play tips from 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year Lou Guzzi.
1. Be relaxed.
Unlike stroke play, it’s OK to have one or even a few terrible holes. Whereas a 10 on the scorecard in stroke play can cripple a round, a 10 in match play means you’ve likely only lost one hole.
“Match play can put people in a relaxed position,” Guzzi said. “You can free wheel it a little bit, which can make it a lot more fun. One bad hole isn’t going to cost you the match.”
2. Be aggressive.
In match play, you can pull clubs and go at pins you wouldn’t even think of attacking in stroke play. It’s all about putting pressure on your opponent and forcing them to make a mistake, or — at the very least — take them out of their comfort zone.
“If you’re a good stroke tournament player, you’re not focused on anyone else,” Guzzi said. “It’s just you and the course, one shot at a time. In match play, it’s all about the person you’re playing. Your strategy can change hole to hole and shot to shot because of what they’re doing. Let’s say they’re 1 up with two to go. Obviously, you may need to take chances you wouldn’t take in stroke play. Be more aggressive with a drive because you’re down in the match. Going at a flag you wouldn’t in stroke play. These are decisions based on playing someone in the match.”
3. Be devious — embrace the gamesmanship.
There are so many things you can do to dictate your opponent’s next move in match play. Take advantage of that.
The gamesmanship can be particularly emphasized on the greens.
“How about when you give an opponent 2-footer after 2-footer after 2-footer?” Guzzi said. “Then you’re running out of holes and, instead of conceding that 2-footer, you suddenly make them putt it. That’s where doubt creeps in. The opponent thinks, ‘You’ve been giving me these putts all day and now you’re not?’
Also, when you lag a putt up to 3 feet and in, don’t even think of marking it. If your opponent doesn’t concede, tell them you’d like to go ahead and finish up.
“You want them to know before they hit their putt that that you’re already in with, say, par, versus marking it and giving them that thought, ‘he’s not in yet and might not make it.’
“Then, what if they make the 8-footer and you marked?” Guzzi asked. “Now the pressure is on you to make your short putt. If we have a putt for par and I’m closer, I’m going to finish. If I mark and you make, the pressure is suddenly on me.”
4. Turn every perceived negative into a positive.
“Let’s say you’re going into a match with someone who is a long ball hitter,” Guzzi said. “Instead of focusing on how far ahead of you they may be off the tee, look at it like this: Since you’ll be hitting your approach shot first, you have the opportunity to knock it close and put pressure on them.”
And what if you hit the approach to 25 feet and your opponent is in there tight?
Guzzi said you have to keep your chin high and be confident.
“Instead of being bummed out all the way to the green, think about how much longer that short putt is going to look to your opponent after you make your 25-footer.”
5. Always expect the unexpected.
This, folks, is the golden rule of match play. When you expect the unexpected — long putts to drop, chips to go in, hole-outs to happen — you can keep an even keel.
“They’re going to get up and down, they’re going to make the putt, they’re going to chip in,” Guzzi said. “If you don’t mentally prepare yourself to expect the unexpected, then you’re going to be emotionally destroyed when that unexpected happens… and it will happen.”