Monday, November 5, 2012

Golf Matchplay Strategy - The 'Front 9'

Matchplay in golf is something that not many of us get to play, so Matchplay Strategy tends to get left on the shelf. Our regular game is strokeplay or stableford and, apart from a couple of major events – the Ryder Cup, obviously – we don’t get to watch it very often either.

Which is a shame. Win or lose, matchplay is highly entertaining, tense and educational. The President’s Prize at my home club is matchplay and starts with 256 golfers. It’s one of my favourite competitions but this year was not one of the better ones. After winning in the first round, thanks to a new father who looked like he hadn’t slept in a month… and played like it… I was well beaten in the second round. And I shouldn’t have been. 2 up after 8 and I lost on the 15th. I simply threw it away by not following some of the most basic Matchplay tactics, aka Common Sense.

So, here are 18 pearls of wisdom on how to win/behave at Matchplay… if I heed them I might even make it to the third round next time. Some you’ll already know; others you might not.

1. Are You a Man or a Mouse?
Decide how seriously you want to take the match. Do you want to win or are you here to socialise? If the latter, then take your name off the time sheet and stop wasting my time. I want to play someone who wants to beat me as much as I want to beat them. I’m not talking Ian Poulter intensity here, but every winner wants to know that they’ve won and not that their opponent folded or was uninterested. To get the full enjoyment you need to be focused.

And if your opponent happens to be one of those laissez faire types, who never feels the pressure, and proceeds to beat you on the 12th, well you’ll just have to learn from the experience.

2. Who’s the Scariest Golfer of All?
Never be put off by your opponent’s handicap. The truth is, low handicappers fear high handicappers much more than the other way around. A high handicapper knows that on a good day he can par most of the holes – and the low man fears that. The low man knows that one slip will cost him, while the high handicapper can toss in his usual few bad holes and not worry too much about it, knowing a couple of pars will get him back on track.

3. Get Your Ducks in a Row
Take a scorecard and mark on the card where you’re getting/giving shots, before you start. There’s no point reaching the green and then remembering that you had a shot. Hitting your driver into the trees wasn’t such a smart move now, was it… not when a rescue club or three iron onto the fairway would have given you the advantage you needed.

4. Know The Course
You’ll probably play most of your Matchplay golf on your home course, so you’ll have a good idea of what the course holds. But, home or away, pay attention to the condition of the course, the greens particularly, and you can improve your performance. If the greens are hard you’ll know not to fire at the pin. Always watch how your opponent’s ball reacts to a surface – you can learn a lot.

5. Look Who’s Talking
Starting on the 1st tee, you’ll learn a lot about your opponent. Pay attention, it could serve you well later in the match. There’s also the delicate matter of conversation.

Some opponents don’t want to talk – others don’t want to shut up. If your opponent is the latter and you’d prefer it if they shut their trap, simply try to engage them only occasionally and hope they get the message. The match is supposed to be friendly, but some people just talk endlessly. Maybe it’s a tactic, maybe it’s nerves, maybe he’s got verbal diarrhoea. The only thing you need to do is concentrate on your shot so, once you get to your ball, take your time and shut out his blathering. When he sees you in ‘shot mode’ he should button it.

Of course, if that’s you I’m talking about, get a feel for your opponent and try to adjust. I like a good natter, but someone talking in my backswing is unacceptable… and I will hit you.

6. Stay in Play
Probably the most important thing of all. Off the tee, 180 yards dead centre of the fairway is far more valuable than 250 yards in the trees or buried in the dunes. Keeping your ball in play is crucial…

… so to is not taking silly options: sliding a three iron under the branches from an impossible lie, so that it fades towards the green is a wonderful thought… but, realistically, are you going to pull it off or are you going to duff it and leave yourself in a worse position? Get yourself back in play and don’t give your opponent a chance to relax – a bogey could win the hole.

7. Play to Your Strengths
You know the strongest parts of your game, so play to them. If you’re deadly from 100-130 yards, why go for a big 200 yard shot, which could put you in real trouble and out of the hole, when two shots of 100 yards will leave you stitched to the pin. 

If you don’t hit the ball that far, but you’re a Steady Eddie type who knocks the ball up the fairway every time, you’ll unnerve your opponent no end.

Remember, there is NO SHAME in playing the shot you trust… or taking advantage of an opponent’s mistake.

8. Brains vs. Brawn
One of the most difficult things to cope with – and one of the most common traps golfers fall into – is trying to match their opponent when it comes to tee shots. A 24 handicapper can hit the ball 300 yards dead straight, but be utterly hopeless around the greens. If you hit the ball 240 yards and decide to try and match him off the tee, you’re stuffed.

9. One Hole at a Time
That’s what Matchplay is. So, if you duff a tee shot, hack it into the trees, slash it out and still only find yourself by the Ladies’ tee, it doesn’t matter. It’s only one hole. Think of it as getting the bad shots out of your system and start again on the next tee.


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  2. Playing your own game is a must in match play. Taking too many chances will kill your chances of winning. It seems that even the American pro's do not have a good feel for match play and struggle under the pressure. Learn to play your own game well and not let your opponent's game or demeanor unnerve you.