I’ve really enjoyed playing golf since clubs reopened in May. I suppose it was the first opportunity I’d had to see friends that I’d missed (albeit from a distance of 2 metres) and it was a step closer to normality, however I was a little surprised to realise just how much I’d missed hitting the small white ball. It was when we progressed from three balls to four balls that the real fun began – four ball better ball match play! In singles match play you can muck up a hole or two and still be in the game, however in four ball better ball match play you can actually muck up a lot of holes if your partner is playing well and still have a chance of winning!
We’ve had some really good, tight matches and others that finished earlier than expected but they’ve all been great fun and lots of craic. When I sat down to count how many different people I’ve played with over the past month I was surprised that the total was 12! That’s a lot of people to chat to and anyone who knows me knows that I can talk for Ireland, so I’ve been in my element!
Now, getting back to the serious matter of golf and match play in particular; this form of the game requires strategy and good decision making. To give a putt or not give a putt? We’ve had a lot of discussion about that issue, but as we’re not playing for money or a place in a final it hasn’t mattered too much. Of course, we’ve wound up our opponents many times by making them putt very short putts, just to annoy them and put them off their game. There’s also been the odd comment along the lines of “Oh dear – that hasn’t gone into the bunker, has it? What a pity!” heavily laced with sarcasm. It’s all said and taken in good humour though – our opponents always give as good as they get!
Over the weekend I searched on-line and came across some match play tips from 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year Lou Guzzi:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”