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Four Keys to Create Your Own Match Play Magic

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Sergio Garcia of Spain celebrates after hitting a hole in one on the fourth playoff hole in his playoff match against Lee Westwood of England during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images

As we all are entertained by the 112 matches being contested in Austin this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play, we are reminded of the stark difference between great stroke and match play competitors on any tour.
When you consider there is such a glaring difference, you wonder how can I become a match play champion?
Most of the announcers this week will fall for the cliché that each player just has to keep an eye on their opponent. Suggesting, that all you have to do is worry about them. Maybe that’s true, but my recommendation would be to approach your match quite differently.  Forget what your competitor is up to and focus on your game.
Control the controllable is a phrase we hear far too often at leadership seminars and sales meetings. In the case of match play, it’s actually quite a helpful mindset. Instead of worrying about how you will play your shot in comparison to your opponent, control your world. Make them worry about you.
Here’s a PGA Coach’s guide to controlling your world:
  • Focus on hitting the ball solid every time. Sounds simple, never happens. When it’s your turn to play, limit your distractions. Come up with a solid plan for your specific shot and hit the ball.  Too many times we lose holes because we have poorly struck the golf ball. There’s a reason why this is bullet point #1.
  • Speaking of a plan, when hitting to a target, take the club that will allow you to make a full swing without going over the green. A full swing wins holes, a half swing won’t even halve them.
  • No matter what happens, go at your own pace. If your opponent is fast/slow make sure you stay comfortable with the pace of the round. Getting out of sync starts by getting out of your personal rhythm.
  • Don’t change your short game strategy. If you like to die the ball into the hole, keep putting with that pace. Changing your pace for unique situations on different holes leads to indifferent results. When you chip and putt make sure you use your usual routine and pace.
Follow these 4 keys and you will create your own successful match play style. Within each key, you have to mentally and physically pay attention to what YOU do. If your opponent hits it close, that shouldn’t change your routine. Your best chance to hit it close as well is to do your thing. After all, that’s what makes you most comfortable. Comfortable wins in match play. The more you stick to what you do, the more your opponent will get caught up in reaction mode.
As we watch the drama unfold this weekend it’s a guarantee that those players who are able to best control themselves will certainly be featured come Sunday afternoon in the finals.
Take a moment and scroll back up. Write down one simple key for each point made above on a small index card. Know those keys like you know your yardages. The sooner you do the sooner you’ll be closer to creating your own match play magic.