Explaining Foursomes – Ryder Cup Edition

imageWith the Ryder Cup here, here’s a primer on the Foursomes game:

While the proper term is foursomes, most US golfers refer to this format as alternate shot. As defined in Rule 29 of the Official Rules of Golf, Foursomes are played between two teams of two golfers, each of which plays just one ball. Players on each team alternate teeing off, and then alternate each shot thereafter.

Example: Player A tees off while his partner, B, watches. Player B then hits the ball from where it lands after A’s shot. Then it’s A’s turn until the ball is in the hole. On the next hole, Player B tees off, even if he took the final putt.

Foursomes can be scored as either match or stroke play.

A couple of special rules apply:

In Foursomes match play, if a ball is played out of order—that is, if A takes a stroke when it’s B’s turn—the hole is lost.

In Foursomes stroke play, a ball played out of order results in a two stoke penalty. The offending team must correct the error before playing from the next tee. That is, if A accidentally took a stroke on B’s turn, A must hit again, with a two stroke penalty to get back into the proper order.

If the error is not corrected before the next tee shot, the offending team is disqualified.

For coaches and captains, Foursomes presents a dilemma: do you combine players with similar, or contrasting skills?

In a foursomes, the first instinct is to combine players with dissimilar, but complementary skills.  You might, for example, combine a long hitter with a short game specialist. Taking a look at the course, a captain then can identify the hole that confers the biggest advantage to the long hitter and assign her to tee off on that hole. This then determines who tees off on all the others, since tee shots are alternated between team mates.

Teaming players with different skills also can help to minimize the damage on any one hole. If a short hitter tees off, then the longer hitter can hit a higher numbered iron into the green, where, presumably, the short game player can make a good putt.

The problem with this, however, is that it takes a player out of her usual game. If the bomber is used to taking wedges into a green, she will be uncomfortable hitting a longer iron after a wedge-and-putter player’s tee shot. So, the other approach to foursomes is to combine players with similar styles. This ensures that players generally are hitting shots that are familiar.

For the pros, there’s also the question of whose ball to use. With games as precise as the world’s best, some consideration may need to be made for players with disparate ball preferences.

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