Like other international competitions, such as the Ryder and Solheim Cups, the playing format of the President’s Cup is unusual. Unlike a typical PGA event, which uses four days of “medal” play, international team competitions offer a variety of formats: foursomes, four ball and singles matches.
A “Foursome” is a match play format (for an explanation of match play, click here), in which a team of two players alternates hitting a single ball. Two teams; two balls. One player tees off, and the other takes the second where the first shot lies. Players alternate hitting tee shots.
A “Four Ball” match sometimes also is known as “best ball.” Like foursomes, four ball is played in teams of two. In this format, each team member plays his own ball throughout the hole. Four players; four balls. Then, at the end of each hole, the team’s low score is counted to determine who wins the hole.
There is a great deal of strategy involved in playing these events—particularly for the coach, or captain. As a golf coach, I was faced with a fundamental dilemma whenever my team had to compete in a match play team event: 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 coach then can identify the hole that confers the biggest advantage to the long hitter and assign him 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 guy can make a good putt.
The problem with this, however, is that it takes a player out of his usual game. If the bomber is used to taking wedges into a green, he will be uncomfortable hitting a longer iron after a wedge-and-putter guy’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.
On the course in foursomes, team mates must be constantly aware of the other’s abilities. Each must ensure that his shot puts the other in a position that plays to their strengths. It’s not simply a matter of hitting the best shot that you can.
For example, Tiger might be able to reach a par 5 in two. In doing so, however, the risk is that the ball ends up in a greenside bunker. If his partner is a sand wizard, that might be an acceptable risk; if not, he should lay up to his partner’s best distance.
Four Ball is a somewhat easier game on the coach. There, I usually combined players with different skill sets, on the theory that each hole would play to at least one of their strengths or weaknesses. Of course, with a player like Tiger, who has no weaknesses in his game, this isn’t an issue.
Another way of pairing players is by style. It’s often advantageous to pair a gambler with a cautious player. One can go for birdies, while the other plays for par.
On the course in a four ball match, the partners need to keep a good eye on how the other is doing. If player A has hit a ball to a safe spot, his partner might be able to attempt a riskier shot. If the risk fails to produce reward, the other player at least has a good chance. I like this format because played well, it encourages a gambling style of play.