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Match play is a scoring system for golf in which a player, or team, earns a point for each hole in which they have bested their opponents; this is as opposed to stroke play, in which the total number of strokes is counted over one or more rounds of 18 holes. In professional golf, a small number of notable match play tournaments use the match play scoring system.


Scoring system

Unlike stroke play, in which the unit of scoring is the total number of strokes taken over one or more rounds of golf, match play scoring consists of individual holes won, halved or lost. On each hole, the most that can be gained is one point. Golfers play as normal, counting the strokes taken on a given hole. The golfer with the lowest score on a given hole receives one point. If the golfers tie, then the hole is halved. i.e., in an 18 hole match, the first hole is a par-4 and player 'A' scores a 3 (birdie) and player 'B' score a 4 (par); player 'A' is now 1-up with 17 to play. In the same match on the second hole, a par-5, player 'A' takes 8 strokes and player 'B' takes 5 (par); player 'B' wins the hole and the match is now all square with 16 to play. On the third hole, a par-3, both players take 3 strokes and the match is 'all square' with 15 holes to play. Once a player is 'up' more holes than there are holes remaining to play the match is over. i.e., if after 12 holes player 'A' is 7-up with six left to play, player 'A' is said to have won the match '7 and 6'.

A team that is leading by 'x' holes with 'x' holes remaining is said to be "dormie-x", or simply "dormie", meaning that they need one more halved hole to win the match (or alternately, that the other team must win all the remaining holes outright in order to halve the match). i.e., if player 'A' is 2-up with 2 to play, he is dormie; the worst outcome for player 'A' at that point is a tie, unless the format calls for extra holes to determine a winner.

In a tournament event where the score is all square after the last hole, usually 18 or 36, the players will play on until a player wins a hole (sudden death). In the Ryder Cup and other similar team events, the match is not finished this way, and the teams each receive a half point. In such events there are points accumulated over several days, playing different formats, and the total determines the winner.

Scoring using handicaps

Scoring match play using handicaps is not done exactly the same way it is done in a stroke play event. In 18-hole stroke play where player 'A' is a -10 handicap and player 'B' is a -19 handicap, player 'A' gets one stroke off his score on the ten hardest holes (by handicap rating on scorecard); player 'B' gets two strokes off his score on the hardest hole and one stroke off on the other 17.

In match play, player 'A' would play as 'scratch' (zero handicap) and player 'B' would get one stroke off his score on the nine hardest holes. In other words, the 10 handicap becomes zero and the 19 handicap becomes a 9.

In team match play competition, where team 'A' consists of player 'A1' (a -10 handicap), and player 'A2' (a -15 handicap); where team 'B' consists of player 'B1' (a -19 handicap) and player 'B2' (a -30 handicap). Player 'A1' plays as 'scratch'; 'A2' gets one stroke off his score on the five hardest holes; player 'B1' gets one stroke off his score on the nine hardest holes; 'B2' will take 2 strokes off the 2 hardest holes and 1 stroke of the other 16. Exception: the USGA does not restrict the handicap of the low partner but some local clubs and organized tournaments do. i.e, in team play, if no player can have a handicap more than 8 strokes higher than his partner, 'B2' would play as if his or her handicap were -27 (high partners handicap of 19 + 8 = 27).

Tournaments featuring match play

Today, there are few professional tournaments that use match play. They include the biennial Ryder Cup played by two teams, one representing the USA and the other representing Europe; the biennial Presidents Cup for teams representing the USA and International (non-European) players; the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship; and the older Volvo World Match Play Championship, an invitational event which is now part of the European Tour. Formerly, the PGA Championship, one of the majors, used match play, but it changed to a stroke play event in 1958.

Women's professional golf had no event directly comparable to the Accenture Championship until the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship was introduced in 2005. It also has an event directly analogous to the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup. In addition, women's golf now has an event broadly analogous to the Presidents Cup in the Lexus Cup.[1] The U.S. Amateur Championships for both men and women are conducted with two rounds of stroke play to cut the field to 64, and then proceed to a single-elimination match play tournament. All elimination matches are 18 holes except for the final, which is 36 holes.


Golfers can employ a slightly different strategy during a match play event, since the scoring is different. The situation in the match and the outcome of each shot already played on a hole will both be taken into account. On the whole match play encourages more aggressive play, especially at the professional level, where a par is not usually good enough to win a hole. Since a very poor result for a hole is no worse than a slightly-below-average result when playing against an opponent with an average score, it often makes sense to accept the higher risk connected with aggressive tactics. However, in some circumstances players will be especially cautious in match play. For instance, one may choose to play more conservatively if the opponent has hit a poor tee shot or is otherwise under pressure to compensate a poor start on a particular hole, reasoning that there is a good chance to win the hole with an average result.

Alternative forms of match play

There is a format of match play called "Irish match play" in which 3 or 4 individuals may compete against each other. A points system is assigned where as an outright win on a hole for a single player constitutes 2 points, a half of the hole for 2 or more players is equal to a single point. This format allows golfers to enjoy the format of hole-by-hole match play in groups larger than 2 people.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ The analogy between the Presidents Cup and Lexus Cup, however, is not as clear as that between the Ryder and Solheim Cups. The Lexus Cup, unlike the other three events named, is annual and can be contested by golfers of all nationalities. The participating teams in the Lexus Cup are an Asia team and an International team drawn from the rest of the world.

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