Match Play And Good Sportsmanship

Today’s Accenture Match Play duel between Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia featured an incident that both illustrated the difference between Match and Medal Play, and the good sportsmanship that usually characterizes golf.

On the seventh hole, Ian Poulter, up by two, found his approach shot in the desert under a bush, with a television tower between ball and hole. He called the walking official and asked for relief, since the tower blocked his shot.

The official, however, was not inclined to grant relief. He seemed to think it was not the shot Poulter normally would attempt, and that he was gaming the rules for a better lie. Under that logic, Poulter should instead just chip out.

Poulter agreed that would be the case in stroke play, but that it was different in Match Play. Since Sergio was already on the green, Poulter argued that he had no choice but to try to go directly at the hole. Chipping sideways, while the correct move in stroke play, would essentially concede the hole to Garcia.

Ian Poulter was absolutely correct. In Match Play, the strategies are quite different. If Poulter tried to go for the green, and caught the bush, he would be no worse off than if he chipped out. Sergio would win the hole. On the other hand, if he somehow made the green, Poulter could halve the hole.

Few players would ever go for the green in stroke play because of the potential for a double- or triple-bogey. The safe thing to do is to cut your losses and get off the hole with as little damage as possible. But because each hole in match play is held in isolation—no shots spill over—there’s no such penalty. Whether losing a hole by one stroke or two, the effect is the same.

A second official was called over, and he seemed just as skeptical.

Then Sergio stepped in, evaluated the shot, and—in a great demonstration of sportsmanship—agreed with his opponent. The only sensible thing to do in Match Play, Garcia seemed to say, was for Poulter to go for it.

Accordingly, Poulter—with Garcia’s assistance—measured out his potential relief from the tower and evaluated his options. That was no better, so he returned to his original position and hit from there. He made the green, then missed his putt. Sergio sunk it for a par, and Poulter ended up with a bogey.

There also was the subtext of the ball having moved from its original position during all the official deliberations. Again, Sergio agreed that it was nearer to a little rock, and the ball was replaced.

In all, a good lesson on both Match Play strategies and a terrific show of grace and sportsmanship from Sergio Garcia.


Poulter drubbed Garcia 7 and 6, meaning he was up by seven holes with six yet to play. Match over.

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5 thoughts on “Match Play And Good Sportsmanship”

  1. Unless they limit the size of the team – say four, plus two alternates.

    Possible: use multiple courses (random selection)
    and shotgun start (random selection at start).

  2. Apparently you didn’t catch the end of the match.

    Sergio engaged Poulter in a rather lengthy conversation shortly after the traditional handshake. The camera then caught Poulter saying, “No, wait a minute.” As they were walking off the green the conversation became difficult to follow, but clearly Poulter and Sergio were at odds over something.

    Immediately following that episode, the CBS announcer asked Sergio if he took issue with what had transpired on the 7th green. Sergio’s reply:

    “I just told him that if it were me, I would’ve played the shot that I was trying to get relief for. But that’s just me. He did what he felt was right and he’s the one who has to live with it.”

    To clarify: Sergio felt that Poulter was out of line by not opting to take the drop that he (Sergio) had lobbied for in taking Ian’s side. Because in fact Poulter realized that his nearest point of relief would make the shot even more unlikely to pull off, given that his drop area would’ve been in the middle of dense shrubbery and cactus. So subsequently Poulter opted to play the ball as it lied, which was certainly permissible per the rule.

    Poulter chiped the ball sideways (away from the tower) into the green side rough, then pitched his fourth shot to within 12 feet of the hole. From there he would go on to make the putt for bogey, forcing Sergio to hole his 8 footer for par to win the hole. OF WHICH SERGIO DID, WINNING THE HOLE.

    The accusation of impropriety at the end was anything BUT sportsmanship. Sergio felt that Poulter was under some sort of moral obligation to take the free relief simply because he (Sergio) played the sportsman and lobbied the rules official on his behalf. When Poulter changed his mind, apparently Sergio became upset. Why, I have absolutely no idea, because again—Poulter had the OPTION at that point of taking relief OR playing the ball as it lied.

    Poulter won the match 7&6, and Sergio WON the hole in question. Why Garcia decided to make a stink about it, after the fact, is beyond me.

    Garcia has always been a sore loser, and his actions Saturday afternoon do nothing but support that.

    If you have footage of the coverage, you can go back and look for yourself at the end of the match. You can also go to PGATour.Com and see a transcript of the interview where he talked about it.


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