8 Reasons You Should Be Playing More Match Play Golf
This week is the final WGC Match Play event on the PGA Tour, which is a shame because match play is the best format in golf. Let me prove it to you.
This week is the final WGC Match Play event at Austin Country Club in Texas, marking an end to a quarter century of match play on the PGA Tour. Yes, there’s still the Ryder Cup and the President’s Cup, and match play could return to the tour in the future. But for now it’s leaving the annual schedule.
Despite loving to watch match play, I actually don’t have a strong opinion about this particular change to the Tour schedule. What I do believe strongly is this: we should all be playing MORE match play MORE often. It’s an incredible format that offers a change of pace from the monotony of stroke play and it’s severely underappreciated and underutilized at the amateur level. It challenges players strategically, provides for unmatched drama, and most importantly is fun as hell.
But it’s not just that.
Here are 8 reasons you should be playing more matches:
1. It makes you FEEL something
I love a casual round of golf, but sometimes I want to feel something more. Pressure. Stakes. If you like to compete for money or pride there’s not a better format in golf than match play. Every single hole matters, including the first. The pressure is on from the very beginning and it only builds over time as you try to keep yourself in the match or close out your opponent. It’s NOT a casual round, and that’s what I love about it.
2. It’s strategic and rewards cool headed, smart players
While all golf is strategic, match play adds an element of strategy you don’t normally see in stroke play: making decisions based on other players’ shots. When all you care about is shooting the lowest score over 18 holes, you only need to be concerned with your own game. When the goal is to win and tie holes, you can gain an advantage by reacting to your opponent’s (or teammate’s) situation or benefit from knowing exactly what you need to do to win or tie. For example: if your opponent hits into a hazard off the tee, you are freed up to play a more conservative shot knowing they have to take a penalty. Smart players can exceed their natural capabilities with great strategy.
3. Head-to-head team golf is awesome
Singles match play can be fun, but the format really shines when teams are involved. It’s why we love the Ryder Cup: teams only serve to enhance the benefits of the format. The pressure is increased when teammates are relying on you and there are more strategic considerations with more balls in play. It also produces camaraderie unmatched by other formats. I relish the nervous feeling as my partner hits, the strategy talk in the cart, the mutual schadenfreude for your opponents mishits, and of course the team celebrations when clutch putts drop. Golf is a great team sport.
4. It works with basically any format
An overlooked aspect of match play is that it can be adapted to many formats, not just singles and team best ball. With Handicap Allowances you can layer match play over Alternate Shot (Foursomes), Chapman, Total Score of 2, and even a two-man Scramble. There’s also Nassau, Round Robin, and other formats that vary partners and the length of the match. The possibilities are essentially endless especially with appropriately weighted Handicap Allowances.
5. Every hole is a new hole
One of the most significant advantages of match play is that it allows you to recover from a bad hole much easier than in stroke play. In match play, every hole is a separate event, and the score on one hole does not affect the score on the next. This means that a player can have a blow-up hole and not have it ruin their entire round, as can often happen in stroke play. With each hole, there is a chance to start fresh and come back from a deficit.
6. It’s fair even for golfers of different abilities
Many golfers ask “what is the benefit of a Handicap Index if you don’t plan to play in a tournament or club event?” One answer is because it’s a tool to make net games fair, including match play. With an accurate handicap you can theoretically take on any other golfer, good or bad, and be relatively evenly matched. It’s a rare thing in sport that individuals of differing abilities can compete on a level playing field, so go out and take advantage of it!
7. It’s the basis for Ryder Cup and bracket-based events
Playing one match is fun, but a match play event or a best of series is even better. The number of amateur Ryder Cup-style events has exploded in recent years, and for good reason. Match play-based events are fun and fair for all the reasons I’m laying out here. Beyond dedicated events, you might try having a best of series or bracket event over the course of a golf season with your friends. And if you really want to commit, try what two of my friends in Minnesota are doing: a (probably decade long) first to 100 series for an irresponsible amount of money.
8. It can go to extra holes
While a match can end in Tie, there’s no rule that you can’t settle on a winner. A Tie in a match or match-based event is an excellent excuse for sudden death playoff holes or putts, preferably with a horde of teammates following along invested in the outcome.