Match-play is the most equitable competition in golf. If players have honestly built their handicap, it provides a fair means to compete . Among friends, as I found out yesterday, it provides endless entertainment, chances to rib your opponent, and light-hearted competition.
A match-play match consists of one side playing against another over a stipulated round unless otherwise decreed by the Committee. In match play the game is played by holes. Except as otherwise provided in the Rules, a hole is won by the side that holes its ball in the fewer strokes. In a handicap match, the lower net score wins the hole. The state of the match is expressed by the terms: so many “holes up” or “all square”, and so many “to play”. A side is “dormie’’ when it is as many holes up as there are holes remaining to be played. (if you want all the official rules governing match-play competitions go to RCGA.org)
This weekend was a perfect way to rebound from my poor showing at last-weeks Regional competition. Not playing well during the last two days of Regionals was quite disappointing, but that is golf! Immediately after the last round of Regionals, I headed to the airport to pick up my friend and his wife who had just arrived from the UK. They graciously planned to visit us for three days, so Kirk and I took advantage of the time and hit the links all three days.
The last day was the competition for the “Duck”. This year we decided to have a match-play competition because stroke-play was too intense and not suited for a friendly! The negotiations about how many strokes a-side he would receive was hammered out in a two-hour discussion. The guiding factors used were his handicap – he is a 10 and I am a 4, his play over the previous two days, it was my home course, his jet lag and maybe a bit too many libations. Ultimately, we decided on four strokes a-side. It may seem a bit much considering his handicap, but I figure it was the right number for each of us to enjoy the round and keep the competition close.
We were fortunate to have one of my regular playing partners, Jean, join us. His steady play and ability to arbitrate disagreements was a great addition to our group! As we started, I quickly jumped out up 2. I thought that this was going very well and if I could get through his four-stroke holes on the front, I could hold a commanding lead going into the back. Well something happened that I was not ready for – his short game. That was by far the best part of his game! He always chipped close and never 3-putted. Each putt was either in or a tap-in on the second shot! It definitely was a clinic on how to put pressure on your opponent during a match-play competition.
His second strength was his ability to get the ball back in play! He did hit a few wayward shots, but scrambled perfectly. Of the four situations where he had to play out of trouble, he played it safe by chipping expertly out from the woods or sand; Kirk made three pars and a bogey from trouble!
His ability to scramble was really hard to compete against. In a match-play event, the ability to recover can be demoralizing to your competitor! And in our match, he gave back as much as he received. He never bent to the pressure and kept firing back great shot after great shot!
I was not to be out done. My game was steady and relentless. I did nothing flashy, yet nothing disastrous. I figured that if I played my normal game (with a couple breaks) Kirk would not be able to stay with me over 18 holes. This strategy had worked very well in our stroke-play competitions, but not during our match-play event!
After seven holes, I was still one up. This was the last hole on the front nine that Kirk received a stroke. My plan was to tie the hole and head to the par 5 ninth hole, one up. Since the par 5, ninth hole was played straight up, I figured I had a good chance to be 2 up starting the back nine!
Well, in a movie, this is where the slow motion scene would start! After hitting a 260 yard drive, Kirk had 120 yards to the pin. He confidently stepped over the ball and hit a 5 iron (okay it was a wedge) and hit his ball to 1 foot! He sunk his putt and evened the match. He looked and smiled at me as if to say…’you’re in trouble my friend’!
The back-nine was a slug fest. Every time I would put the pressure on, Kirk would counter with pressure of his own. During his four holes where he received a stroke, his play was excellent. He won three of the holes and put me in a pickle being 2 down with three to go! Teeing off on the 16th hole, solved nothing. We were both in play. After hitting our approach shots, he was 30 feet away and I was 45 feet away. It was not looking good for The Grateful Golfer! Undaunted, I stepped up and drained my putt for birdie! No one was more surprised than me, but with some unexpected pressure, Kirk left his putt just short and putted in for par. I was now 1 down with two to go!
The 17th hole was a 120-yard par 3. There is a sand trap to the right protecting three-quarters of the green which usually comes into play during pressure matches. The pin was up front. Kirk hit to the middle of the green about 25 feet away. I was off to the left about 15 feet away. After Kirk made his second putt; the pressure was on to win the hole and push the match to the 18th. As I stepped over the putt, I felt confident that his putt was going in! After a smooth stroke, I came up six inches short! Yup, short! The match was over and Kirk defended the title of not having to carry ‘The Duck’
After the match, Kirk and I both agreed that match-play was the best competition for ‘The Duck’. It allows the higher handicapper more chances to be competitive. Overall, it was an awesome day and we are looking forward to the rematch in the UK on his home course or maybe The Old Course in St Andrews!
In case you were wondering, I shot a 73 and Kirk shot a 78. Next time he is giving me strokes! This was truly a fantastic match!
I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!