Match play is a system of scoring in which score is kept according to the number of “holes won,” rather than the total number of strokes (which is called medal play, or stroke play) from start to finish.
In match play, two players — or two teams of golfers — compare their scores on each hole. The side with the lowest score on the hole is declared the winner of that hole. Shot totals do not carry over from hole to hole. Each hole is a separate event.
If no side wins a particular hole, it is declared a “half.”
When two teams of golfers play a match, the best score on each side is compared.
Scoring in match play is kept according to the difference in the number of holes won. If, after three holes, Player A has won one hole and Player B has won two, then Player B is said to be “One Up.” If, at any time the players have won an equal number of holes (even if every hole was a half) the match is said to be “All Square.”
Unlike medal play, a match play competition may not actually go eighteen holes. If Player A is Four Up with three holes left to play, the match is over. Even if Player B wins the three remaining holes, he still loses the match.
Because a side can “run out of holes,” it is important during a match for spectators to know how many holes have been played. So, in addition to announcing which side is up, and by how much, the number of holes is indicated. For example, it could be said that “Player A is One Up Through Four,” or that “The Match is All Square Through Fourteen.”
At the end of a match, the score indicates the both the hole differential and the number of holes that were left to play when the match ended. A score of 3 and 2 indicates that the winning side was Three Up with two holes left to play. If a side wins One Up, the match has gone to the final hole.
The term “Dormie” indicates a situation in which a player, or side, is up by exactly the number of holes left to play. If the match is Dormie Three, then one side is up by three holes, with three left to play. Winning any of the next three holes results in a win.
On the other hand, if the side that is down wins those three holes, then the match ends in a draw, which is called a “halve.”
One seemingly strange score is when a player wins 5 and 3. On the surface, it looks as though the match should have ended with four holes to play, because one player was up by five. But what actually happened was that the match was Dormie with four to go. That is, Player A was Fpur Up on the 15th tee (four holes to go). At this point, Player B can Halve the match by winning the final four holes. But Player A wins the 15th, and the match is over. Player A wins by five, with three to go, or 5 and 3.
Match play is easily the most exciting format in golf, as it can generate wild swings and incredible tension. In stroke play, if Player A has some bizarre luck and scores a fifteen on the first hole while Player B gets a three, it is incredibly hard — if not impossible — to catch up. In match play, such an unfortunate turn of events results only in the loss of the single hole. Player B would be just One Up and Player A has a chance to square the match by winning the next hole.