Golf Match Play Rules Simplified


Three players playing golf and one is cheering.

Did you know that there is more than one version of golf? No, I’m not talking about mini golf. The standard version of golf that most people learn is called Stroke Play. However, there is another popular variation called Match Play. 

You can find professional golfers at the Ryder cup following these rules. Match Play has various benefits, especially if you’re new to golf, but first, let’s dive into the basic rules. 

At OurGolfClubs, we have a passion for the sport of golf that is readily on display. We’re fortunate to have cultivated a community of fellow golf lovers and are always striving to share helpful content that will elevate your game. Whether you want to be educated or entertained, our community has you covered.

Match Play is a type of golf where you play 1v1 or 2v2 instead of entering a big pool of golfers. Each hole is a different miniature contest. The game is one by the opponent who wins more holes than the other. 

You only focus on the number of strokes while you’re playing each hole. As per usual, the lowest amount of strokes wins the hole. Loss of hole happens when you have the most strokes. 

If you and your opponent happen to finish a hole with the same number of strokes, it results in a tie. If the match is tied after the concluding hole, the game is extended one hole at a time until a clear winner is defined. 

Differences from Stroke Play

A couple putting at a hole and playing with match play rules.

The biggest difference in Match Play is that instead of being compared to a big pool of golfers, you are head-to-head with one other golfer, and each hole is a different battle. 

Let’s say your opponent is Emily. She beats you by five strokes on the first hole and four strokes on the second, all you need to worry about is losing two holes. 

Instead of figuring out how to come back from a nine-stroke deficit, you have to focus on winning more individual holes. Strokes become irrelevant in the overall score. 

The beauty in Match Play is that the game doesn’t drag on forever. Have you ever had those moments at a particular hole where you just couldn’t make the shot, but you had to keep going until you knocked the ball in?

In Match Play, you can pick up your ball and forfeit in the round when you know there’s no way to beat your opponent in that hole.

Surrendering a hole is not allowed to shorten a game intentionally.  According to USGA, if officials find out that each player is guilty of breaking this rule, both will be disqualified. 

Deliberate or not, the game in itself is typically much shorter than Stroke Play. You are hyper-focused on yourself and one other player. 

Another way the game’s length is shortened is to take the lead on your opponent by a higher number than the number of holes left in the game. For instance, if Emily takes the lead by six holes against her opponent and only five holes remain, she knows that she can no longer lose the game.

A Brief History of Match Play 

A couple playing golf with match play rules

The first forty-one years of the PGA Championship were exclusively Match Play.  It wasn’t until the rise in popularity of television in 1958 that the executive decision was made to switch over to the Stroke Play format. It was not popular with television because of the one-on-one competition; they had to air more holes than Stroke Play. 

Match Play became associated with amateur tournaments and could be seen during team championships at the Ryder Cup after the switch. However, with the formation of the World Golf Championships in 1999, Match Play was once again a professionally recognized golf style with the WGC-Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship. 

The best 64 players in the Official Golf Ranking play round-robin throughout the 18 holes. Since 2016, the championship has been played at the Austin Country Club in Texas. 

Influential Players

Though this style of golf is rarely played, there have been several players who left their mark on the game. Some of the most influential players who participated in this style of play are Jack Nicklaus, Walter Hagen, and Tiger Woods. 

  • Jack Nicklaus

Nicklaus is a very experienced golfer and is widely known as one of the greatest players of all time. He has won over 100 tournaments in his career. Though Nicklaus rarely participated in Match style, he did take home the winning spots of 1959 and 1961 at the US Amateur. 

He also won the 1970 championship better known as the Volvo World Match Play Championship. 

  • Walter Hagen

Walter Hagen was one of the world’s first golf professionals. According to Bleacher Report, “The Haig” lived for match play, using psychology to defeat his opponents. Hagen walked with a sense of supreme confidence in his matches and was somewhat of a showman, attributes that rattled his opponents right from the start.” 

Although he wasn’t known as the world’s best golfer in terms of accuracy, he could always get himself out of a major dilemma, which proved to be very useful in this style of golf.

  • Tiger Woods

A modern-day household named golfer Tiger Woods made his debut in the industry with Match Play. Woods had the mental focus and clarity to prevail in even the toughest of games. 

He has claimed three wins from the WGC Match Play Championships. Woods holds the record for most consecutive matches won. If he were presented with more games in this style, he would likely have more wins under his belt. 

Are you ready to try out your swing with Match Play golf? If you are new to golf, we’d recommend reading New Golfers Start Here: How to Hit a Golf Ball For Beginners. 

At OurGolfClubs, we have a passion for the sport of golf that is readily on display. We’re fortunate to have cultivated a community of fellow golf lovers, and are always striving to share helpful content that will help elevate your game. Whether you want to be educated or entertained, our community has you covered

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