Golf writer & photographer. Author of ‘Hooked’, the most comprehensive guide to Ireland's golf courses, and ‘Driving the Green’. Published by Collins Press. Editor for Destination Golf Ireland, feature writer for Irish Golfer Magazine freelancer for Irish Examiner. Golf is in the blood. http://www.kevinmarkhamphotography.com
Never, ever offer advice on the course. If your opponent
takes it and plays a blinder you’ll be kicking yourself when you lose the hole;
if your opponent takes your advice and fluffs it you can expect an angry stare.
Much better that you focus on your own shot.
Congratulate good shots and leave it at that.
Never comment on an opponent’s swing or stance. Firing off a
‘I don’t know how you even hit the ball
with that crazy swing looping around your head’ comment will get the thump
in the gut it deserves – especially when your opponent discovers they can no
longer hit the ball. I’ll also point out that this is a tactic I’ve encountered
during a match… it’s a cheap shot and, if you try it, expect some sharp
comments in the bar – and not just from your opponent, because that sort of
thing goes around the club like wildfire.
11. Poker Face
Keep your emotions in check and let your golf do the
talking. Don’t let your opponent see your emotions… especially when you’re
behind. By looking disconsolate you only give him confidence… and Matchplay is
all about confidence.
Not all Matchplay is Singles: there’s Fourball and Foursomes Matchplay as well.
tournaments will usually see you playing with a friend, but be sure to sort a
few things out before you start… for instance, you may suddenly discover that
your partner wants to line up every putt you’re about to take. How would you feel about
that? Is that a help or a hindrance? I play off 6 and one of my favourite
partners plays off 18, but I will always, always take his advice on the line of
a putt because he is utterly deadly in that area. Not that he would ever
presume to offer advice unless I ask for it. If you have a partner who starts
being intrusive, constantly suggesting clubs or shots, or offering weather
updates ("that's a two club wind up above the trees..."), you need to tell him firmly that you’re happy with your game or that if
you’re in a quandary you’ll ask for his advice (be sure to ask a couple of
times to keep the old chap happy, won’t you!). Alternatively, tell him bluntly that it’s
putting you off your game. Ideally, this is a conversation you should have before you start. Ask him how he likes to play, interact on the course and, specifically, how he likes to deal with asking for advice. Then it's your turn!
Sometimes, you’ll discover that the reverse will happen:
when your partner becomes a bumbling idiot unless you’re walking him through
every shot. I have no suggestions for that one – I did encounter it once – other
than recommending a good stiff slap on both cheeks, a good shaking and a “grow
a spine, dammit”.
Intraclub is a
whole different game, believe me. The Barton Cup for example is Foursomes,
with a combined maximum handicap of 14. This is a competitive environment which brings out the best and worst in golfers. Some will find they have a natural talent to take a higher handicapper under their wing, or establish an instant camaraderie with their partner that produces a great pairing, or have an intuitive understanding of what their partner needs on the course... or...
... imagine the fear a 14 handicapper will
feel when he’s paired with a scratch golfer… one who expects him to make every
12 foot sliding putt, hit 240 three irons, and knock bunker shots to two feet…
and then explodes when his partner can’t deliver. Even if it’s not verbal
tirades, there can be enough dirty looks or dark mutterings to put
you off your game completely. You’re already under tremendous pressure and what you need
is a partner who’s going to stroke your ego, compliment your play and gently
steer you around the golf course. I’d hope that most scratch/low golfers would
be like that but I know it’s not true.
To be honest, there are exactly two ways to deal with this,
assuming you find it unbearable: first, talk to the team manager and ask him to
have a word with your partner about his behaviour; and the second is to
consider very carefully whether you want to play in such an environment. There
are plenty of golfers around my club who blanche from their memories of playing
in the Barton Cup.
It’s an honour to be picked by your club to play in such
events, but sometimes it can have a detrimental effect on your game… so be
13. Putt, Putt,
Lengthy tomes have been written about the psychological
warfare that goes on when players reach the green. We’ll get to the ‘gimmes’ in
a moment, but always remember that it is the player furthest from the hole who
plays first, regardless of who is or isn’t on the green. If you take a shot out of turn your opponent is entitled to ask you to take the shot again... AFTER they've played their shot.
The ‘gimme’ is a
classic Matchplay tactic. Give the three foot putt at the start of the match,
but when it comes to the closing holes make them putt it. Yes, I get the logic,
but by the time it gets to the end it may be pointless and, like me, you’ll be
heading for the clubhouse from the 15th green. Look at your opponent’s putt and
consider how difficult you’d find it. Is it downhill? Is it across the slope?
The only easy putts are straight uphill. And never give a putt for a win.
If you want to get into the psychological side of things,
you can operate a ‘reward for bad behaviour’ approach. If your opponent leaves
a putt short always give it to them; if they go past, make them putt it. The
psychology is that you reward them for the bad behaviour of lagging a putt.
When it comes to the crunch, they will be tempted to leave the vital putt short
because you’ve given those putts all day. And, if you think about it, it’s much
harder to hole a putt when you’ve left the previous putt short, because you
won’t have seen the line – as you do when you putt past the hole.
I once played someone who would take a putt from, say, 20
feet, and leave himself two feet away. Instead of marking it he’d bend down to
pick it up and then glance across at me, waiting for me to say ‘pick it up’. It
worked, too, because I fell into his trap several times. Another sneaky tactic
that made me mad and affected my game.
And remember, always, always, always assume that your
opponent will sink their putt – from anywhere. That way you won’t be surprised
when they do.
Luck plays an enormous part in Matchplay. A deflection off a
tree, a bad kick, a dog barking mid swing… or, far more relevant, a shot sunk
in the unlikeliest of circumstances. As an example, and it wasn’t actually
Matchplay, in the 1972 Open Championship, Lee Trevino and Tony Jacklin were
playing together and leading the tournament. On the 71st hole, Jacklin was
comfortably on the green of the par five in three while Lee was off the green
in four. Advantage Jacklin… you’d think. Trevino chipped in for par and
Jacklin, understandably rattled, three putted from 15 feet to go one behind.
Just remember that luck swings both ways, so never be
surprised when an opponent’s ‘fluke’ undoes all your hard work because chances are you'll have your moments too.
15. How Do I Win?
Take fewer shots than the other guy. Obvious, yes, but not
always followed. Don’t give up until your opponent’s ball is in the hole. In
Matchplay anything can happen and frequently does. This year, I was in the
middle of the fairway in 1, while my opponent was 20 yards ahead in 4. My hole,
easy. So I stuff my approach into the bunker and he holes out from 150 yards. I
couldn’t match him.
So, when your opponent leaves the door open for you, don’t
walk into it. Say ‘thank you very much’ and do what needs to be done. Lay up
short of the bunkers or water and go for a bogey if that’s what it is going to
take to win the hole. If your opponent puts their tee shot in the trees
reconsider the club in your hand. There is no shame or weakness in switching
the driver for a 5 iron. If anything, it serves as an advantage because your
opponent will know you’re smart and you know how to win. If you take the driver
and end up making as big a mistake as him, you hand back the advantage, plus he
knows he got out of jail free while also knowing that you’re kicking yourself
for being so dumb.
16. The Rules
You are allowed – indeed, you are expected – to use the
rules to your advantage should the opportunity arise. That’s why they’re there.
Plenty of times there will be two or four golfers playing who don’t know the
rules that well, so if you’re one of them, take along the Rules Book. Red or
yellow stakes on a water hazard, losing a ball in GUR, staked trees… they can
all cause consternation.
As for lost balls – probably one of the biggest problems – help
should always be offered. You’d want your opponent to help you, wouldn’t you!
Five minutes are allowed, so work towards that. When your opponent says ‘alright, don’t worry about it,’ take him
at his word and move on.
17. Ups and Downs
3 up with 5 to
play. You’re cruising, now you have to finish it off. You have to walk a fine
line between being too cautious and being too aggressive. Only you can decide
how best to deal with the pressure. My advice is not to take the foot off the
gas – play as you’ve been playing all day and crush your opponent as quickly as
3 down with 5 to
play. Never assume hope is lost. Anything can happen – a piece if luck can fall
your way or your opponent might start feeling the pressure and give away a
couple of holes. Don’t start forcing things and keep playing to your strengths.
And, whatever you do, don’t let your opponent see that you’re giving up.
18. What’s He Up To?
Painful as it is to say it, some golfers cheat. They might
nudge a ball a few inches, press down the rough behind their ball or try to
bamboozle you with rules. I’d say 1 in 100 falls in to that category, but if
you play him and you’re suspicious, stay close and keep an eye. If he knows
you’re watching he’s unlikely to try anything. And if he does try something and
you call him on it, expect righteous indignation and aggression. There’s
nothing you can do about it, which is why it’s worth staying close. No one
wants to lose because the other guy cheated.
The only thing you have to remember is this: you don’t always
have to play BETTER Matchplay golf than your opponent, you just have to play
SMARTER. And try to enjoy yourself!