Match play

What is the definition of Match Play in Golf?

Match play is a unique format in the game of golf, where players compete directly against each other in head-to-head matches, rather than trying to achieve the lowest total score over an entire round. In this style of play, the objective is to win individual holes by completing them in fewer strokes than one’s opponent. The winner of the match is the player who has won more holes than remain to be played, making each hole a crucial battle.

This type of competition differs significantly from stroke play, the more common format where golfers aim to post the lowest score over 18 holes. In match play, strategy and mental toughness are often just as important as technical skill, as competitors must focus on outplaying their opponent hole-by-hole rather than simply trying to achieve a low overall score. This format has given rise to a variety of different match play formats and has been featured in some of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world.

Key Takeaways

  • Match play is a head-to-head golf competition format where the goal is to win individual holes.
  • The format emphasizes strategy and mental fortitude, as players try to outperform their opponents on each hole.
  • Numerous match play formats exist and are featured in prestigious golf tournaments worldwide.

Basics of Match Play in Golf

Match play is a popular format in golf, where players or teams compete head-to-head in a series of individual holes. Unlike stroke play, the goal in match play is to win the most holes rather than achieve the lowest overall score throughout the entire round.

In match play, each hole is scored separately, with the player or team that completes the hole in the fewest number of strokes being awarded one point. This format requires golfers to strategize and focus on winning individual holes rather than amassing a low cumulative score. If players or teams tie on a hole, it is considered “halved,” and no points are awarded to either side.

A match is over when one player or team holds a lead that is greater than the number of remaining holes. For example, if a player is four holes up and there are only three holes left to play, they achieve a 4&3 victory. In the case of tied matches after 18 holes, sudden death playoffs or additional pre-determined holes may be implemented to determine a winner.

Handicaps can also be factored into match play, leveling the playing field among golfers with varying skill levels. In a handicap match, the lowest net score on each hole wins the point. Players with higher handicaps are allowed additional strokes on pre-determined holes based on their handicap index and the course rating.

Some common terminologies used in match play include “dormie,” which is when a player or team leads by the same number of holes as there are left to play, ensuring at least a tie; and “concession,” which is when a player or team, out of sportsmanship or strategy, concedes a hole or a putt to their opponent without requiring them to complete the hole.

In summary, match play in golf focuses on winning individual holes against an opponent through a combination of skill, strategy, and sportsmanship. Both handicaps and different terminologies are integral parts of this format, adding depth and excitement to the game.

How Match Play is Scored

Difference from Stroke Play

Match play in golf is a format where a player or team plays directly against an opponent or opponents in a head-to-head match. Unlike stroke play, where players aim to achieve the lowest score over 18 holes, golfers in match play compete to win more holes than their opponent. You win a hole by completing it in the fewest number of strokes, and you win a match when you are winning by more holes than remain to be played.

Match Play Scoring Terminology

In match play scoring, golfers and spectators need to understand specific terminology to follow the progress and results of the matches:

  • Winning a hole: A player or team wins a hole by completing it in fewer strokes than their opponent.
  • Tied or halved hole: When both players or teams complete a hole in the same number of strokes, the hole is considered tied or halved.
  • All square (AS): If the match is tied, it is said to be “all square.” On leaderboards and in television graphics, this term is often abbreviated as “AS.”
  • Up and down: When a player or team is in the lead, they are considered “up” (e.g., 2 up) by the number of holes they are leading. The trailing player or team is considered “down” (e.g., 2 down). The numeric value indicates the number of holes separating the competitors.

By understanding and applying these terminologies, match play scoring becomes clear and accessible to both players and spectators.

Types of Match Play


Singles match play in golf is a head-to-head competition between two individual players, where each player competes to win the most holes. The winner is determined by comparing the number of holes won by each player throughout the course of the game. If both players have the same number of strokes on a hole, it is considered halved, and neither player gains a point for that hole. The player with the most holes won is declared the winner.


Foursomes is a popular team format in match play golf, involving two teams of two players each. In this format, each team alternates shots, with one player hitting the tee shot on even-numbered holes and the other player hitting the tee shot on odd-numbered holes. Both players on the team take turns hitting the shots until the hole is completed. The team that completes the hole in the fewest strokes wins the hole. The team with the most holes won at the end of the match is declared the winner.


Fourball is another team-based format in match play golf. In this format, two teams of two players each compete against one another, but each player plays their ball throughout the round. On each hole, the lowest scoring player from each team contributes their score to the team’s total for that hole. The team with the best individual score on a hole wins the hole, and the team with the most holes won at the end of the match is the winner.

In match play golf, various formats can offer different levels of competition and excitement. Singles, foursomes, and fourball are popular variations that showcase the diverse ways that golf can be played and enjoyed.

Strategy in Match Play

Match play in golf is a head-to-head competition between two players or teams, with the objective of winning the most holes. To succeed in match play, golfers need to adopt a different strategic approach compared to stroke play tournaments. Here are some key strategies to consider:

1. Use mental focus to your advantage: As players are competing directly against each other, it’s important to remain focused and mentally strong. Use your opponent’s performance to motivate and push yourself to excel but avoid getting too emotionally invested in their game.

2. Understand your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses: By doing so, players can tailor their own game plan accordingly. For example, if an opponent struggles with long putts, then it might be wise to play a more conservative approach shot into greens to avoid unnecessary risks.

3. Play to your own strengths: Instead of solely focusing on besting the opponent, it is crucial for players to also concentrate on their own game, capitalizing on their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.

4. Prioritize risk management: Match play provides an opportunity to take calculated risks, but unnecessary chances can lead to losses on crucial holes. Therefore, managing risk is especially vital in maintaining momentum and staying ahead of the competition.

5. Make use of handicaps: In some match play events, golfers may receive a handicap, which can level the playing field between players of varying skill levels. By understanding the implications of their handicaps, players can make strategic decisions to maximize their chances of winning.

By incorporating these strategies in match play, golfers can enhance their chances of victory. Adaptation and clever decision-making may be the difference between winning and losing in this exciting golf format.

Famous Match Play Tournaments

Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup is a prestigious biennial golf tournament between teams from Europe and the United States. The competition began in 1927 and has grown to become one of the most intense and closely contested events in the golfing calendar. Played over three days, the Ryder Cup features a combination of foursomes, fourballs, and singles match play formats, with each match worth one point. The team that achieves 14.5 points or more out of a possible 28 wins the cup.

Presidents Cup

The Presidents Cup is another prominent biennial golf tournament, pitting a team from the United States against an International Team consisting of players from non-European countries. The Presidents Cup, which started in 1994, also follows a similar format to the Ryder Cup, comprising foursomes, fourballs, and singles match play events across four days of competition. The winning team must accumulate at least 15.5 points out of a possible 30.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is an annual tournament on the PGA TOUR and is part of the World Golf Championships series. Established in 1999, this event showcases the world’s top golfers competing in an elimination bracket format. The tournament begins with a round-robin stage, where golfers are divided into 16 groups of four players. The top player from each group advances to the knockout stage, where they compete in single-elimination matches until a champion is crowned. During each stage, golfers earn points for winning or halving individual matches, and the player with the most points at the end of the event is declared the winner.