Rulebook: Do You Match Up?

Paul Casey concedes a putt to Steve Stricker

w/ Rich McLean – Golf Canada Referee

It’s the oldest form of competition in golf. A game that pits a player’s skills directly against those of another, and even pre-dates the first mention of Stroke Play by some 60 years. In fact, the first rules published in the mid-1700’s refer to both a player’s adversary (opponent), and that the player whose ball lies farthest from the hole is the first to play. Two cornerstones of Match Play that exist to this day.

Matches are normally contested over 18 holes, with scoring being kept as holes won, lost or tied. That being said, a match is more like 18 mini-competitions within the round because each hole is contested separately, and the number of strokes taken on previous holes don’t factor into the holes yet to come. As a result, the general penalty in match play is loss of hole, as opposed to the normal two strokes in stroke play

The idea of using the rules to your advantage, along with the added element of player vs player, at the same time as having to navigate the course, adds a great dimension to the game, and brings in a more tactical aspect that is less prevalent in the stroke play game.

Most of the rules of golf are the same for both forms of play, but it’s the ones that are different that help make match play what it is. Here are a few examples.

The most important rule in match play is Rule 6.4a, Order of Play. The order is so important that a player who plays out of turn risks their opponent cancelling that stroke so that the order of play can be restored or ignore the mis-turn entirely depending on the outcome of the previous stroke. With the possible exception of the first hole, the order in which the players play from the tee (the honour), and on subsequent strokes, is an earned advantage that allows the player to play first to attempt to exert pressure on their opponent.

Next up, Rule 3.2d. In a nutshell, this rule covers a player’s responsibilities regarding keeping their opponent informed about the number of strokes they’ve taken, if asked, during the play of the hole, and to inform your opponent as to any penalties incurred as soon as reasonably possible. Knowing where you stand during the play of a hole, and being honest about it, is an essential element of match play because it helps each competitor formulate their strategies from shot to shot. Real-time scoring in its purest form.

And finally Rule 3.2b, Concessions. Technically “gimmes” are not allowed in stroke play. However, not only are they allowed in match play (with your opponent’s permission) they can also be used as a tactical tool by a player to apply pressure to an opponent. Imagine giving your opponent a whole bunch of 3-footers early in a round, only to make them putt them later in the round. It’s perfectly allowable within the rules. The main thing to remember about a concession is that it can’t be withdrawn by a player once given, and an opponent can’t refuse one. A concession either be applied to an opponent’s next stroke before it’s played, a hole before the play of the hole is complete, or the entire match even before it has started. It’s a powerful tool in the match play arsenal.

In my opinion, match play is the ultimate combination of skill, mental fortitude, and competition that you can have in golf. Sadly, with the exception of a few high-profile amateur tournaments, like the Men’s and Women’s US Amateur, and the PGA Tour WGC event at the pro level, match play is much more popular outside of North America. However, if you’re familiar with the Ryder, President’s or Solheim Cups you know how riveting it can be to watch. It can also be just as riveting to play it. If you’re looking to change things up and test your game one-on-one, I encourage you to try it. You never know, it could end up being your new favourite game. Do you have what it takes to match up?

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