A Lesson Learned: Match Play Strategies

By Ryan Polzin, PGA
Published on

The old adage is to always expect your opponent to make the shot in match play. I think we saw plenty of that this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

It really was a tremendous week of golf! Even more, that final match on Sunday epitomized what match play is all about. Expect the unexpected. You will see shots hit, even attempted, that you usually will not see at events. Twice in the playoff, Victor Dubuisson seemed virtually out of play. Twice he took seemingly desperate swings out of nearly impossible lies -- and twice he saved par. It took a birdie on the fifth playoff hole by Jason Day to finally end the match and the championship. But also big winners were the golf fans who were able to watch the theatrics in person or on tv.

Video: Watch Dubuisson's amazing shots

Yes, I certainly love the match play format. I play it in many events here in Texas (club and section events) and was fortunate enough to represent my country last year at the PGA Cup against the team from Great Britain & Ireland. The format lends itself to the type of golf I like to play. If you keep a few key items in mind, you'll perform better at match play as well.

1.) Focus on your game: I mentioned earlier, expect your opponent to hit a great shot. Every time. And don't worry about it. You have to worry about your game. Totally commit yourself to each shot, don't simply be reactive to what your opponent is doing. Don't wait on them to make a mistake, you have to play better, so keep your concentration and focus on you.

2.) Be aggressive: Remember that in match play, the worst you can do is lose one hole. So a triple bogey counts the same as a birdie if your opponent happens to make an eagle. So you're not trying to protect a score. You either win, halve or lose a hole. That's it. This means Dubuisson will try to hit a shot out of a cactus when it might lead to a double or triple. But it also might lead to a par (which it did...twice). In regular stroke play, he probably takes a penalty and hopes for a bogey. Can't do that here.

3.) Forget the past: A drive out of bounds or a missed short putt means, at worst, the loss of a hole. So you can shoot a big number and still win a match! You're really not out of it until you are mathematically out of it. (We saw plenty of that this week... ahem, Graeme McDowell). Ernie Els was a cumulative 5-over par for the championship (three rounds) when he met Jordan Speith, who was on a remarkable run, making nine birdies the day before when he dispatched defending champion Matt Kuchar. It didn't matter. Els was able to grind out a 4 and 2 victory because he didn't let the day before (or even the hole before) affect his next shot or expectation. It was a great lesson for young Jordan Speith.

Match play is a format I wish we all played a little more. It allows for some great shots and memories and also allows us to forget the shots that aren't quite so great. All golfers should play it some, just to develop the skills and strategies involved. And when you do, keep these three tips in mind and you'll end up on the upper end of many of your matches as well.

Ryan Polzin is the PGA Head Professional at Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston, Texas. Polzin came in 2nd place at the PGA Professional National Championship last summer in Sunriver, Ore., competed in the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York and represented Team USA at the PGA Cup in Northumberland, England (where his match play record was 2-1-1) 

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