The Subtle Differences of Match Play vs Stroke Play


The WGC-Cadillac Match Play is a wonderful event simply because it is match play. Match play is totally different from stroke play and this makes it so difficult to predict who is going to do well. I had the great pleasure of growing up on match play. When I was coming along all of my high school matches were eighteen hole match play. Most of my college play was also match play. This was before colleges became the training ground for the PGA Tour. It enabled me to gain a wealth of knowledge and experience. The strategy of match play is entirely different and brings in the almost lost art of “Gamesmenship”.

More from Golf News

Seve Ballesteros was a master of gamesmanship. He understood the art of getting inside his opponent’s head. The strategy of each match is different because the opponent is different each time. You must be able to adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent and play accordingly. The beauty of it is that you can make a 10 on a hole and you are only one down.

There are a lot of different strategies that you can have in your arsenal to draw from and one of the best and most effective came from one of the toughest competitors ever – South African Bobby Locke. He said, “I try to avoid all extremes. I have been called many things when I am playing because my expression never changes — ‘poker face,’ ‘muffin face,’ etc., but that is due to a determination never to convey to my opponent what my inner feelings are.” The “poker face” analogy is wonderful, but it also helps to be a gladiator. For eighteen holes your goal had better be to destroy your opponent.

Most matches or battles are not won by hitting brilliant golf shots, but more often by letting your opponent be the one to make the mistakes and eventually win the match for you. There is no time for socializing and making small talk early in the match. The goal is to beat your opponent 10 and 8 if possible. Even if you get down early in the match, keep in mind that sheer determination can wear an opponent down.

One of the most effective strategies is totally foreign to players with only stroke play experience. In stroke play everyone has it hammered into them to have a routine and never vary it. In match play you want to force your opponent to do that if possible. If he plays quickly, then you play slowly. This can be difficult, but take the extra time to plan your shot. If he plays deliberately, then force him to speed up. This will affect his concentration and cause him to make mistakes.

“One of the best ways to judge when the pressure is getting to your opponent is by watching his routine”.

If changing your routine is difficult, then spend time studying your opponent’s routine. Sam Snead was wonderful at this. He said: “One of the best ways to judge when the pressure is getting to your opponent is by watching his routine. Everyone has a pace of play and a routine that he follows, but when the noose starts to tighten, he falls out of his pace and routine. Instead of taking two practice swings, he may take three. He may hesitate over club selection. When you sense this, it’s time to pour it on and turn up the pressure.”

There are any number of other strategies that can be used, but the bottom line is that the toughest competitor is generally going to win and that is why it is so hard to pick the players that will do the best. Unless you have insight into their personalities you can’t predict. Who is the hottest right now and who has the best stats, etc. just doesn’t mean as much this week.

In any event, it is going to be fun to watch and to see who survives seven rounds of match play golf in five days and I hope this article has given you some insights in what to look for.

Next: Women’s Masters- A Great Concept.