I love match play. The upcoming Ryder Cup is the greatest match play tournament on the planet. I wish the world’s best would play more in this format.
The huge momentum swings that happen on a single hole, or on a single shot, add an exciting element and keep competitors actively engaged in the contest; even when they’re not playing their best. Ever start your stroke play round with a double or triple bogey? It’s so deflating and often sets the tone for the rest of the round, but in match play if you botch your first hole, you’re only one down and have plenty of time to recover.
It makes sense to prepare for match play a little differently than stroke play and the key is to steel yourself against the inevitable momentum changes. As a big believer in simulating game conditions for any format, the day before a stroke play round, I’ll usually play 9 or 18 holes on the driving range, using the mental images of the competition course for game planning. Yesterday, I made a discovery playing alone on my 9-hole executive course early in the morning. Usually, I’ll play a two-ball scramble using my best ball or worst ball to keep it interesting. On this occasion, I was playing best ball, and was cruising along after five holes with two birdies and three pars. I decided to play the last four holes with my worst ball (play two shots from the worst position until the ball is holed). The cool thing about worst ball is that if you hit a great shot on ball #1, it means nothing. It simply adds a layer of pressure to repeat on ball #2. Immediately, I noticed a small shock to my system as my mental view of the game was altered and my physical approach quickly followed. After playing the last four holes in 7-over, I realized that this would be an excellent simulation tool for match play because the sudden change in format elicited a rapid change in momentum which approximated a real match. Presto! New practice technique.
The best match play training is competing regularly in match play. Whether it be an actual competition or a two dollar Nassau with friends, there is no substitute for putting yourself under the pressure of rapid momentum changes. For my next round alone, I’m going to take it to the extreme by altering my best ball format on every hole. I think this will be an even better way to train for match play. What do you think? Do you have any specific strategies to prepare for match play competition?
Please share if you do and play well!