While the pros on the PGA tour primarily compete in medal (stroke) play, most amateur golfers play against one another using a match play format. In match play, the players compete on a hole-by-hole basis. If Joe and Francine are competing in a match play tournament and Joe shoots a 4 on the first hole and Francine shoots a 5, Joe won the hole and is plus-one. However, if Francine shoots a 3 on the next hole and Joe shoots a 6, Francine wins the hole and they are even.
It doesn't matter that Joe won his hole by one stroke and Francine won hers by three. In match play, the only thing that matters is who won the individual hole. Then the battle begins again on the next hole. A winner is determined when the leader has won more holes than there are holes remaining. So if Francine wins the 16th hole to go up by 3, she has won the match because Joe could not catch up even if he won the next two holes.
Play a very relaxed game on the first hole. You want to win the hole, but you want to get the feel for your opponent. There is no pressure on the first hole. If you win, you are plus-1; but if you lose, you have 17 chances to catch up. There is nothing to get nervous about.
Push it hard on the second hole. You want to assert your personality by showing you are aggressive and unafraid. If the second hole is a long par 4 or a par 5, go for the distance and take a chance to pressure your opponent. If you happen to hit a couple of powerful shots, your opponent may not be able to cope with the pressure and may hit it out of bounds as he tries to catch up.
Go for the green when you are in a bunker, even if you are buried. In a normal match you might try to lay up and play it safe. In match play that will not work. Remember, you don't lose any more if you lose a hole by 3 strokes than if you lose it by 1. You may not be able to blast out of that trap and give yourself a makable putt more than 1 time out of 10, but in match play it is the correct strategy.
Go for the hole when you have a long putt and your opponent is within 15 feet. Normally, you might try to just get close. However, if your opponent has a birdie or par possibility and you are likely facing a bogey, you have to attempt to hit the difficult putt to go for the birdie yourself.
Hit your approach shots to the green, but do not go for the hole if you are hitting to a difficult two-tiered green that will likely not hold your shot. If your opponent sees your shot on the green he will feel that he has to better it so he may attempt the next-to-impossible and try to go for the flagstick. That will likely roll off the green and give you a big advantage.
Tips & Warnings
While it will ultimately come down to how well you execute on the course, you can put mental and emotional pressure on your opponent by using the correct strategy in match play.