Stroke play vs match play: what’s the difference?

2013-06-14 00:00

MOST golfers would say that stroke play (medal) is the real test of golf, when you have a card and pencil in your pocket. There are others who believe that match play tests the spirit and resolve more than stroke play. Whichever group you belong to, you will agree that the approach to the way you play stroke play and match play will be different.

For instance, let’s take putting. The match player is an aggressive putter. He attacks the five-metre putt with every intention of holing out and if successful, it would reduce the size of the cup for his opponent even if the ball is only a metre distance away. The medal player will instinctively lag his putt; bold putting is not in his make-up.

The match player will hole-out more often, but he may have more three-putts too. Never up, never in, is the match player’s maxim.

Every golf club in South Africa has its annual club championships in both stroke play and match play. In many instances, you will find golfers often winning the match play section but not the stroke play. There could be a few reasons for this, but the most obvious is that the match player takes more risks; he’s a gambler and is generally more erratic. A bad hole in match play will only lose the hole to your opponent, but a bad hole in stroke play will lose him the competition or tournament. The stroke-player is steady and conservative in his play and that reduces the chances of a bad hole.

Another difference between the two golfers is that the match player will relish the cut and thrust of competitive combat. The stroke player wouldn’t much fancy the individual confrontation.

By the time this column appears, the first round of the U.S. Open will have been played. The course at Merion is short in comparison to other venues and it will have been set up with narrow fairways, thick rough and firm and fast greens. Earlier this week, the course was flooded, with more rain forecast. This means it will be much softer than usual and it could play a lot easier. The best 72-hole score in a U.S. Open at Merion is seven-under by Australian David Graham in 1981. That score could be beaten this week. The most likely winner though, should be a straight driver who keeps the ball away from the rough. Ten golfers in the top 20 of the official world rankings haven’t yet won a major tournament. Take your pick; your guess is as good as mine. It’s a wide-open Open this year.

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