How To Drill For Match Play

Match PlayI 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!

5 thoughts on “How To Drill For Match Play”

  1. Brian,

    I agree that the best way to get better in March play is to play more match play. You get to experience all the momentum swings that happen in match and learn how to strategize and deal with them. Most important thing is to never give up…you just never know what’ll happen! Good post.


    1. Josh,

      What’s cool about match play is that you change your focus from self to opponent. In stroke, you post a number for all to see. You play the course and focus on what you can control. The field is almost an afterthought. In match, you could win or lose 2 and 1 and play great or play like garbage, but the only thing that matters is the W or L. I think the dynamic is fascinating and is not that easy to switch to if you’re highly conditioned for stroke play.



  2. Aloha Brian,

    An interesting post. I like match play, it is a different mindset. I like it but I suck at it because I can’t keep the mindset for the entire round, sooner or later I fall back into playing against myself.

    However, next time I’m on a course alone I will try the two ball scramble playing the worst ball idea. It had simply never occurred to me. I think the pressure of having to repeat or better a good shot in order to use it will be interesting – and good practice. Thank you.

    A Hui Hou,

    1. Hey Wayne, worst ball puts a lot of pressure on yourself. If you are playing 18 you might want to split the nines up between best and worst ball. Don’t deliberately frustrate yourself for a protracted duration! Good luck and let us know how it goes!


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