Golf features two prominent tournament formats: stroke play and match play. Stroke play is generally highlighted throughout the season, as it is the format for all 4 majors and for the majority of the other tournaments. However, the Ryder Cup and the President’s Cup, biennial tournaments that feature the United States vs. Europe and the United States vs. the rest of world excluding Europe, respectively, are conducted in match play format. This week’s featured tournament was the WGC Accenture Match-Play Championship, and after the dramatics that unfolded on Sunday, I believe that this is a format that should be highlighted more throughout professional golf leagues.
For those who don’t follow golf as closely, stroke play and match play differ in several key aspects. The first way is the quantity of the opponent. Stroke play pits one player against the whole field, and you must defeat everyone in the tournament field to be victorious. At the end of the tournament, the player with the lowest total stroke count wins. Match play, however, is a one on one battle between two players. Tournaments are usually held in single elimination brackets, like March Madness. Additionally, the scoring is done a bit differently. Match play accounts for holes won. If a player wins a hole, they are 1 up, if they lose the hole they are 1 down, and if they tie, the hole is halved. When a player achieves a lead that cannot be overcome, the match is won.
Considering these significant differences, I think that match play offers several benefits from stroke play. First and foremost, I believe it is more competitive. There is a more personal aspect to going at it one on one in match play. You are directly trying to take down your opponent, while in stroke play you are simply trying to do your best against a massive field. I think that this is what differentiates good match play players from bad ones. To succeed in match play, you need a killer instinct- think Ian Poulter, English professional golfer and Ryder Cup legend. Ian Poulter is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous, match play player in the world. He is relentless and wears down his opponents. He can get hot at any time and steal 3 holes in a row. Furthermore, match play inherently takes away some of the randomness and bad luck of golf. If a player has bad luck, or completely blows up on a hole, the punishment is significantly less for match play. I don’t want to watch a tournament where 1 bad hole out of 72 destroys a player’s chance at winning. Match play is much more forgiving in that sense. Finally, I think that this could attract a much larger fan base for golf. Match play tournaments are set up like a March Madness tournament, and brackets are created. If this format were to appear in a major, as was the case for the PGA Championship until 1958, I think that would attract more interest. Fans would find a better way to get involved than sitting on their couch and acknowledging their game will never come close to the pros. Even the most disinterested golf fans could find a way to have fun and participate.
Currently, the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship is the only match play tournament featured on the PGA Tour. As a fan, I would love to see this format expanded in to several other tournaments. This would give players who do not qualify for the Ryder or President’s Cup the chance to participate in a special and interesting format. Despite not being victorious, Victor Dubuisson gave fans a rush of excitement this week when he refused to give in to Jason Day. Match play has had great success when it is featured, why not give it more chances?