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The 5 Keys to Picking the Right Playing Partner in a Match Play Event

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Editor's Note: In anticipation of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, PGA.com will be taking deep dive into Match Play throughout the month of September. From Match Play tips and strategies to stories from local players and everything in between, be sure to come back all month long to get ready for the biennial event.

The Ryder Cup represents something totally different. More than half of the possible points come from team match play. What makes the Ryder Cup pairings even more interesting, the Captains select the partnerships and not the players.
The everyday golfer plays more partner and team competitions than any other form of play. The simple reason, it’s just more fun. Over the years, we have seen several partnerships flourish and others fail to meet our expectations. As we prepare to watch another edition of this amazing biennial match, let’s consider what constitutes selecting a great partner.
The pressure of a Ryder Cup teaches us many things and maybe no detail more important than what creates a perfect pairing.
  1. Do I know you? Rule #1, it helps to know your partner. The top seven winningest European partnerships have played more than eight matches together. Seve and Jose Maria played fifteen matches together and won twelve points! Our most successful all-time pairing has only played seven matches together. When selecting a partner choose someone you know. Golf is a difficult game, knowing your partner will make a huge difference when you need a positive push.
  2. Don’t Hire Yourself An adage in business and makes perfect sense here as well. Don’t pick a partner who reminds you of… you. Find a friend who compliments you. The most successful partnerships involve a very well-rounded combination of skill sets. Assess your weaknesses on the course and select someone who fills in those needs. Conversely, make sure you can help them in their areas of need as well.
  3. Let’s Get Fired Up! A clash of personalities can lead to a difference of opinion on the course. Golf is an emotional game and nowhere is this more evident than a team competition. Tiger Woods had trouble finding a successful teammate because nobody on the planet could match his “fist pump.” Choose a partner you know, but make sure you share a common pulse. Sustaining the peaks and diminishing the valleys works best when we both share the same emotional state.
  4. The Mentor-Apprentice Thing Works If you don’t possess a ton of tournament experience, look for someone who does. Veteran-Rookie pairings in the Ryder Cup play an important role. If you have an opportunity to pair with a savvy competitor, give it a try. If nothing else, playing alongside an experienced partner will make you more comfortable when the pressure increases.
  5. Hey, Slow Down Pace of play drives golfers mad. Don’t spend the entire round pacing alongside your partner or running to catch up. Seems like a simple point, but so many times it gets overlooked and then both players are out of sorts. Choose a partner who plays at the same pace you do.
We know Captains Stricker and Harrington are trying their best to check all five boxes when making their parings at the end of the month. Make sure you consider this list from both sides as well. After all, building a perfect parentship begins with knowing what it takes to be a great teammate as well as picking one.

Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.

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