Stroke play is the most popular format in competitive golf. It’s used in all PGA Tournaments, except in specific situations, like the Ryder Cup. The goal in stroke play is shooting the lowest score. In stroke play your focus is more on the course than your opponents. So it’s hard to apply pressure on your opponent in stroke play, even for players with low golf handicaps.
Match play differs from stroke play. In match play golfers compete directly against each other. Whoever shoots the lowest score on a hole wins the hole. Whoever wins the most holes at the end, wins the match. If the players (or teams) finish with the same score, the match is halved. Match play is a simple, straightforward format. But unlike stroke play, increasing pressure on your opponent is the secret to winning in match play.
A Balancing Act
Match play is a balancing act. You’re constantly weighing the need to play aggressively, putting pressure on your opponent, against the need to play conservatively. The player who plays the best under pressure usually wins the hole and the match. Handling pressure isn’t something golf lessons prepare you for. It’s something you learn on your own. Thus, if you’ve never played match play format, it takes getting used to.
Many golf leagues use match play format. It works well in this venue, but the format often differs slightly from league to league. In some leagues, golfers with lower golf handicaps must give players with higher golf handicaps strokes. Giving strokes evens off the competition, which is what handicaps are intended to do. It also adds pressure if you’re giving strokes to your opponent. It takes off pressure if you’re receiving strokes.
Match play dramatically changes how you play. While some experts urge you to play normally, others suggest playing aggressively. Playing aggressively enables you to apply pressure on your opponent and can force him to make mistakes. What determines how aggressively you play usually comes down to where you stand on the hole, where your opponent stands on the hole, and where the match stands.
On The Tee
Among the best places to apply pressure is on the tee. Hitting the fairway with your drive puts pressure on your opponent to do the same. If you hit a bad drive, you obviously take pressure off your opponent. Since the goal is to apply as much pressure as possible, use whatever club you have the most confidence in 3-wood, driver, or hybrid to get off the tee well.
On the fairway you can apply pressure to your opponent by hitting good approach shots, just as most golf tips recommend. But keep in mind that you can hit a bad approach shot and still win the hole if your opponent also hits a bad shot. In fact, you can shoot an 8 on a hole and win the hole, if your opponent shoots a 9. So don’t fret on bad shots. Instead, stay focused. The key is always being aware of where your opponent is and what his or her score is on the hole.
On The Green
The green is also a great place to apply pressure to your opponent. Knowing when to play aggressively and when to play conservatively is the key. For example, if your opponent is laying 3 and is five inches from the whole, chances are good he or she will sink the putt for a 4. If you’re laying 3, you need to sink the putt to tie your opponent for the hole, so you might as well be aggressive no matter where you are. The last thing you want to do is leave yourself short.
On the other hand, if your opponent is laying 3 and is 20 feet from the hole, you might as well putt conservatively, if you are also laying 3. You don’t want to run the ball 10 feet past the hole. It could cost you an additional stroke or two and, quite possibly, the hole. The secret is knowing where your opponent is and what he or she is shooting. Knowing when to concede a putt and when not to is also a great way to increase pressure on a golfer.
Match play is fun and different. It’s about winning holes, not lowering your golf handicap. In match play, always know where you stand on the hole, where your opponent stands on the hole, and where the two of you stand in the match. And don’t panic if you fall behind early. You can still win the match. Just stay focused, like my golf tips suggest.