Understanding Match Play

This week on the PGA TOUR schedule is the Accenture Match Play.  The field consists of the top 64 players in the World Golf Rankings.  This match play event has been around since 1999.  Like the NCAA basketball tournament – one loss and you’re done.  This is not the first professional match play event.  Let’s review a little history of match play and provide some tips for watching match play.

First, some match play trivia …

  • The PGA Championship, first played in 1916, was a match play event until 1957.
  • Walter Hagen won five PGA Championships – all at match play.
  • Nelson, Hogan & Snead won a combined seven PGA Championships, all at match play.
  • The Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup, the Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup all play foursomes, four ball and singles.  All are played as matches, i.e. match play.
  • Match play is the more traditional format in amateur golf.
  • The USGA Amateur Championship today is a match play event.
  • The USGA Amateur Championship has been played at match play every year since 1895 except for the eight year period from 1965-1972.
  • Bobby Jones won five US Amateurs and one British Amateur – all at match play.
  • The Western Amateur has crowned its champion via match play every year since 1899.
  • The North & South Amateur, played at Pinehurst since 1901, is a match play event.
  • Many states still conduct their state amateur championships via match play.  Most notable are Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland & California.
  • The European Tour has had a match play event for many years.  Before it was an official European PGA Tour event it was known as the Piccadilly World Match Play.  In 1964 Mark McCormick of IMG created the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth.  No doubt he did it to promote his “big three” clients Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.  He must have been proud of his efforts as Arnold won twice and Player won three times in the first five years.  In total Gary Player won five World Match Play events.  Today it is still a European PGA Tour event and is known as the Volvo World Match Play Championship.

Now, some helpful match play rules and hints to help you while you are watching.

  • The winner of each hole, regardless of how much he wins by, just wins that hole.
  • The standing of the match for the player leading is stated as 1 up or 2 up etc.
  • The winner is the player who is up more holes than remain to be played.
  • There are no 2 stroke penalties in match play.  It is just loss of hole.
  • Putting out is only okay if your opponent sanctions it.  There is no continuous putting.
  • A shot, a hole or the match can be conceded at anytime.  This means you may see players picking up their ball and not holing out.  Completion of the hole by holing out is not required in match play if your opponent has conceded your next shot or conceded the hole.
  • Practice after the play of a hole is sometimes allowed.  You may see a player miss a putt, drag the ball back and try the putt again.  This is often allowed in match play.
  • The player further away plays first.  A player who plays out of turn can have his shot recalled by his opponent but the opponent does not have to recall the shot.  One of the best examples of this was in the Solheim Cup of 2000.  In the match of Europe’s Annika Sorenstam and Janice Moodie vs. Pat Hurst and Kelly Robbins, with the Americans 1 up through 12 holes, Annika chipped in on the 13th hole for birdie.  However, upon further review, she was not away when she played.  Under Rule 10-1 (c) the opponents could recall the shot.  Captain Pat Bradley did just that.  The Americans went on to win the match 2 and 1.  It so shook up Annika that she was beaten handily that afternoon in her singles match by Juli Inkster.

Sometimes match play is as much a mind game as an athletic contest.

Enjoy the Accenture Match Play!


Tim Gamso
Salesmanship Club of Dallas