If you’re a member at a country club, then you might already be pretty familiar with match play. You’ve probably already played quite a few tournaments where some sort of match play was involved. The casual golfer (unless quite competitive) however, usually doesn’t have a reason to play a “match play” event. So as the PGA Tour is currently playing the “World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship” lets take a walk through the USGA’s definition of what match play is so that you’re more familiar with this type of format.
This particular tournament can be thought of as an NCAA bracket or a “Match Play Tree” whereas the players are slotted in the bracket based on their world ranking number. A typical USGA match play event usually starts with a stroke play qualifier to determine what “seed” or ranking you will be given. This tournament begins with the top 64 players in the world.
Match play is basically a competition between two players to determine who wins the match. Strokes are not tallied up, rather the player who has the lowest score on a hole, wins that hole. Therefore that player is “1 up”. Let’s say that same player has the lowest score on hole 2 – he is now “2 up”. This goes on until one player runs out of holes. For example if a Player A is “4 up” after the 15th hole, then Player B can no longer win, because not enough holes exist. Therefore, Player A wins “4 up with 3 to play” or “4 & 3” for short.
In the event that both players finish 18 holes at “all square” then the match goes in to a sudden death playoff. The players play hole-by-hole until someone wins the next hole. So if both players tie the “19th” hole, but Player A wins the “20th” hole – then Player A wins the match at “20 holes”.
One fun fact is that players can “concede” a hole – if a player hits his tee shot into the woods, he could simply turn to his opponent and say “you’ve won this hole”. Then both players would proceed to the following hole.
The main difference that you might see on TV this week between match play and stroke play is that players don’t have to “finish” the hole. You might see a player make birdie, then the losing player will simply pick up his ball and walk to the next hole. This is perfectly legal.