Calaveras Enterprise

THE GOLF GUY: Play to your strengths in match play

So you’re starting off a match with your opponent and hit the ball out of bounds on the first hole and are headed for a high number right off the bat. Sound familiar? No worries, you’re playing a match, remember? Just pick up and head for the second hole and resolve to win the next hole and you’re back to even. This is one of the beauties of match play. You are playing your opponent, not the toughest starting hole in the county.

On the other hand, if you knock it right down the middle on the first hole, hit the green in regulation and have a birdie putt, you have already applied pressure on your opponent and maybe get them off their game in a hurry. Make the putt, or make an easy par, and now you’ve got momentum on your side right off the bat.

The drama starts to unfold, and you are only on the first hole. In a match, there are 18 such battles, and that’s the other wonderful thing about playing a match. The ebb and flow, the ups and downs of 18 individual matches within the overall match. What could be better?

Last week, I discussed how to score a match, and e-mail me if you need some help here. This week, I want to discuss some strategies for match play, and how to keep the advantage on your side.

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important in playing a golf match. For example, if you are a straight hitter, but not very long, play to that strength. In other words, don’t try to hit the ball farther than you are accustomed, just because your opponent is a long hitter. That will get you off your game and playing into the longer hitter’s hands. Just keep hitting fairways and greens, with whatever club it takes, and keep putting for pars and birdies. You’ll wear the long hitter out with your consistency. In fact, a good strategy for this scenario is to simply remark to the longer hitter how you are amazed at how long they hit it … and see if they will try to impress you by hitting the ball further into the woods.

Match play is about putting the ball into play and hitting greens, so if you are first to hit, you’ve got to get the ball onto the fairway or into good position on or around the green. That is imperative, especially early in a match.

Matches take on many different moods and we have to be ready to change our game plan as needed. We must also be able to change or take notice when our opponents get out of their game plan. It’s kind of like poker. Being conscious of how our opponents are playing, and how we are playing in a match will determine how we should progress in the match.

We should start out a match with our normal game plan, playing to our strengths, not to our opponents’ strengths. If we go up early in a match, chances are our opponents will have to change their strategy a little bit and get more aggressive in their play. That’s good. Now you are dictating the match and can continue to play to your strengths, or even play a bit more conservatively. Not in how you swing, but in your club selection. If you, or the team, goes up a few holes early in the match, well maybe the three or five wood comes out on the tee more instead of the driver, just to keep the pressure on your opponent by continuing to hit fairways, which allows you to hit more greens. Do not let up.

Conversely, if you find yourself getting down a few holes early in the match, well, it may be time to change your playing strategy up a bit to turn things around. Example … you find yourself three down on hole number five, a tough par four that has water all the way down the right side and out of bounds on the left side, and you usually hit a fairway wood to get the ball into play. So does your opponent, and they are three up. You know your opponent is going to play safe, and does. Now may be the time to pull the driver out and put a smooth swing on the ball and hit it out there with their fairway wood. This strategy may get them thinking a bit and might even change their strategy even though they are up in the match. If you are down in a match, make your opponent think about your game as much as possible, and not theirs.

Isn’t match play great? More fun and games next week. Got to go for now.

Rick Rider is the advertising director of the Calaveras Enterprise and a former golfer on the pro tour. Contact him at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *