How to Prepare for a Match-play Tournament

By Steve Silverman

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Most professional golf tournaments are described as medal play. Golfer's scores are totaled for 18 holes and that score gets posted and added to the 18-hole totals of the next three rounds of the tournament. Match play is played infrequently on the pro tour--although it is featured in the Ryder Cup competition between golfers from the United States and Europe. It is a staple, however, of amateur competition.


Difficulty: Moderate
  1. Realize that match-play golf is the ideal competition for the underdog in any match. If player A shoots a 4 on the first hole and player B shoots a 7, player A is plus-1 in the competition. If player B shoots a 5 on the second hole and player A shoots a 6, the match is even. Player A gets no advantage from winning his hole by three strokes while his opponent won his by a single shot. This favors the underdog, because he is less likely to dominate the competition on a particular hole.
  2. Know the nuances of the course before you tee the ball up on the first hole. You need to study the course layout so you know where to be aggressive and where to be more conservative. Much of your strategy will depend on whether you are long hitter, but you need to have a game plan before starting your round.
  3. Plan out each hole and that it is an entity in an of itself. Even if you made several mistakes on the previous hole, don't bring those errors with you when you go to the next tee. Don't dwell on past mistakes.
  4. Don't take unnecessary chances if your opponent is in trouble on a particular hole. You may be a very aggressive player who wants to go for the flagstick with every approach shot. However, if your opponent has already hit the ball in the water and there's another water hazard in front of the green, don't put yourself in harm's way. Lay up when you have an easy win on a particular hole, and don't take a chance on losing strokes by putting the ball into the water.
  5. Play very aggressively when you play the back nine of your match and you are behind. If you are minus-2 with five holes to play, you are running out of opportunities to get back in the match. If you and your opponent both tie on the 14th hole, you remain minus-2 and you only have four holes left after that. You may need to take chances in order to steal a hole from your opponent.

Tips & Warnings

  • Know the course before you start playing. Make sure you get a scorecard so you can study the layout before you play.

About the Author

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.