Match Play Advice

“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course -- the space between your ears.”

-- Bobby Jones, who won the U.S. Amateur five times – 1924, ’25, ’27, ’28 and ’30. In his 13 starts, he compiled a match-play record of 44-8.


On Saturday, April 9th, after 25 Four-Ball matches and 50 Singles matches the Campbell Clan bested the MacGregor Clan 41 – 34 in the 14th 1502. While the pressure to play well in The Kansas City Country Club’s only BIG TEAM event is keen and intense, at the least it was played using the match-play format. I am a fan of the hole-by-hole, match-play format over an every-shot-counts, medal-play event for one primary reason: Too often this 15-handicapper has a blow-up hole or two in a medal tournament. Match play asks a golfer to be resilient versus impeccable, dogged rather than rock solid.

After my two 1502 9-holes contests, I walked away remembering one BIG match-play rule: Never make an assumption that a hole is either won or lost until the result is ALL-TOO OBVIOUS. However, since so many of us amateurs play in match-play events, I thought I would seek the advice of men who know the ins and outs this hole-to-hole format.

“There is one thing that has helped me more in match play than any other factor. And that is to play each shot itself. This faculty didn’t come naturally or easily. It came only through hard practice and concentration.” – New Yorker Jerome “Jerry” Travers (1887 – 1951) 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 (Image credit: Painted for Golf Illustrated & Outdoor America by Lillian Fiske Thompson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)

“You don't have the game you played last year or last week. You only have today's game. It may be far from your best, but that's all you've got. Harden your heart and make the best of it.” – Walter Hagen (1892 to 1969) won 11 Majors (U.S. Open: 1914, 1919; British Open: 1922, 1924, 1928, 1929 and PGA 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927).

The PGA was a match-play event from 1916 to 1957.

“One secret of match play greatness is to remain serene and unworried in the face of an unexpected rally, to continue playing golf regardless of situation or circumstance, from the first drive to the closing putt.” – Gene Sarazen (1902 to 1999), who was a career grand-slam winner with a total of seven Majors -- Masters 1935; U.S. Open 1922 & ’32; British Open 1932; PGA Championship 1922, ‘23, ’33.

“When in doubt, check your opponent’s lie. If you’re trying to decide how to play your shot, take a moment to inspect your opponent’s situation. This is especially important on a do-or-die decision. If he has a bad lie, take the safer route and aim for the middle of the green.” -- Sam Snead (1912 – 2002), who won 7 Majors (Masters, 1949, ’52 & ’54, British Open, 1946, and PGA Championship, 1942, ’49 & ’51). He had a 10-2-1 Ryder Cup record and was the captain three times -- 1951, 1959 & 1969. The ’51 & ’59 teams won outright and the ’69 team tied 16-16, but retained the Cup.

“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 whe. They might end up giving you some putts you could easily miss.” -- Seve Ballesteros (1957 to 2011), who won the Masters in 1980 & 1983 and British Open in 1979, 1984 & 1988. He had a 20-12-5 record in eight Ryder Cup appearance and he was the captain of the winning 1997 European team. He won the World Match Play Championship five times.

“In match play you have to attack every pin, and when you get a lead, keep your foot on the accelerator. After every shot, the clock is ticking, and it's a lot easier to win holes early than late. Don't give anything away from the start. That's how you become a player who's tough to beat.” – Englishman Ian Poulter (born 1976), who has a Ryder Cup record of 15-8-2, including a 6-0-1 singles record.

“You can’t put blinders on (in match play) and play your own game, but also I can’t look at my opponent the entire time. It’s the ebb and flow of each and every shot, and each and every hole is its own match. And that’s something that for the better part of the most of my career is I’ve been good at is feel what I need to do in that particular moment. You can never turn a switch on and off. It’s got to always be on.” – Tiger Woods (Born 1975), who has won 15 Majors and 82 PGA Tour tournaments. He won the U.S. Amateur, which is a match-play event, three years in a row – 1994, 1995 & 1996.

Play Away!

Allan Stark


(Bobby Jones photo credit information -- Source Collection: Bain News Service photograph collection. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Library of Congress Control Number: 2014709418.)

Leave a comment