What Is Match Play? – WGC Dell Match Play Edition

What Is Match Play - WGC Dell Match Play EditionWhat Is Match Play?

The WGC Match Play Championship once again is upon us, and thus, a refresher course in match play is in order. The PGA TOUR uses this format just once a year, in addition to either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. On the amateur level, match play decides the US Amateur, among other championships.

For what it’s worth, the GolfBlogger thinks that match play is the most pure and exciting form of golf. I count it unfortunate that golf fans only get to see it a couple of times a year. Part of the excitement of the Ryder Cup, I think is due to the cutthroat, every-hole-counts, winner-take-all nature of match play.

In the United States, casual amateurs generally see match play only in certain league formats, or in golf outings with group scrambles. Those usually are only a pale shade of the real thing. Thus, the lack of exposure to golf’s greatest game creates a lot of confusion over terms like All Square, Halve, 1-UP, 5 and 4 amd Dormie.

Most rounds of golf are “stroke play,” where golfers simply total the number of strokes they have taken over the course of the round. If money is on the line, the player with the fewest strokes (sometimes adjusted for handicap) is the winner.

Match play pits golfers — or teams of golfers— directly against each other. Each hole in match play is scored individually, and as a discrete event. A player (or team) wins a match by winning the most holes over the course of a round. A hole is won by the player (or team) who completed the hole in the fewest strokes. The total number of strokes in the round matters not at all.

If a match is over nine holes, the winner is the player with the lowest score on five holes, even if he had more strokes overall (thanks, perhaps, to blowing up on the other four holes). All that matters is winning the most holes, not the overall score.

Results of match events generally are not reported by strokes, or by the total number of holes won, but by the differential. The scoring also notes the number of holes that have been played. Suppose that after 10 holes, Dustin Johnson has won six holes and Justin Thomas has won four. In this case, Johnson would be 2-Up through 10. At the same time, Thomas is 2-down. If both players have won the same number of holes, the match is “All Square Through 10.”’

“All Square” indicates a tie.

What Is Match Play? - WGC Mexico Edition
Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Bridgestone. Credit: Keith Allison at ttps://flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/5830694247

A curious feature of match play is that it often does not go a full round. Each hole is played as a separate event, so it is possible for one player to get so far ahead in a match that the other has no chance to win. If Johnson and Thomas finish the 16th hole, and Johnson is 3-Up, the match is over. The best Thomas could do is to win the 17th and 18th, and he still would lose by one hole.

The score would be reported as Johnson wins, 3 and 2. That means that Johnson won because he was up by three holes, with only two holes to play.

When a player wins 1-up, the match has gone to 18 holes. The final hole was played either because the match was all square after 17, or because a player was only 1 up, and the other player could have made the match All Square on the final hole.

When a match ends in a tie, the match generally continues until the tie is broken — that is, one of the players wins a hole. It is sudden death in that case.

A Halve is a term used when players tie on an individual hole. Tied holes, however, are not counted in scoring an individual match. You will never see a score like Johnson 3 1/2 Thomas 1 1/2.

The fact that halves are ignored also explains why there will often be a result where the holes just don’t add up. Johnson could win four holes, Thomas win three and they could tie the other 11. If you just added up the number of holes won, it would look like they didn’t play a full match.

“Dormie” is the term used to describe a situation where one player is up by the exact number of holes left in the match. When a match is “Dormie,” the best the losing player can do is to tie. So, if Johnson and Thomas were on the 16th tee, and Thomas was 3-Up, the match is Dormie. The best Thomas can do is to win the final three holes (16, 17 and 18)and make things All Square.

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, Johnson was 4-Up on the 15th tee (four holes to go). At this point, Thomas can extend the match by winning the final four holes. If Johnson wins the 15th, the match is over, and he wins by five, with three to go, or 5 and 3.

What Is Match Play? - WGC Mexico EditionOne thing you will see in match play that seems to violate all the norms of golf is a player picking up his ball before finishing the hole. Generally speaking, this happens when the math makes it impossible for one player to win. Consider this example: Johnson hits a hole-in-one on a par three. Thomas hits the green within inches of the cup, but the ball does not go in. At this point, there is no need for Thomas to finish the hole. Even if he finishes with a birdie, Thomas still has lost the hole. There is no need to see if Thomas can make the putt because unlike Stroke Play, the score does not carry over to the next hole.

In a similar vein, players often will “concede” a stroke. This usually happens on a short putt. Johnson may conclude that Thomas is going to make the  tap-in, so he grants the “gimmie.” The real question for that hole is whether Johnson can make 12 footer to win the hole, or if he two putts for a halve.

Concessions are not automatic, however.  In a Solheim Cup competition a few years back, Alison Lee picked up a ball, thinking that Charley Hull had conceded. Petterson, Hull’s partner, however, insisted that there was no concession, so the American team of Lee and Brittany Lincicome lost the hole.  Players should be certain of the concession before picking up the ball.

Match play also has a couple of different rules. For example, in Stoke Play, if you play out of order, it is just a breach of etiquette. But in Match Play, your opponent can force you to replay the shot.

Other major changes generally have to do with the penalty for breach of rules. In Stroke play, most of the penalties involve the addition of strokes. In Match Play, the rules violations generally involve the automatic loss of the hole.

Match play is very exciting golf. But one of the reasons that you don’t see it a lot on television is that it is unpredictable. Individual matches can end quite suddenly, because you don’t have to play all the holes to determine a winner. For that matter, you don’t even have to finish every hole. A network could schedule three hours for a match, only to have one player win the first ten holes. The match would be over, and the network still would have an hour of programming to fill.

What Is Match Play? first appeared on GolfBlogger.Com

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