Category - Major Events

Three Ways to be a Better Match Play Golfer

By Brendon Elliott, PGA
Published on

Scottie Scheffler reacts after a putt at the 2023 Ryder Cup.(Getty Images)

The Ryder Cup offers fans around the world the opportunity to see and enjoy one of the game's most traditional forms of play: match play.
Not only do we get to see golf in one of its historically purest forms of competition, but we also get to see it playing out in international team play, which brings an incredible amount of drama. When you play golf at the amateur level, especially here in the U.S., you are typically playing stroke play. That is undoubtedly the most common form of playing the game in a casual and recreational setting.
Match play, compared to stroke play, has its own special kind of flow and requires a golfer to have a different mentality, game plan and approach to succeed.
In the spirit of the Ryder Cup, I wanted to share three ways you can become a better match play golfer.
Think about your game plan
In match play, you must approach the game differently to succeed. How you use your head is critical to coming out on top. Here are a few areas to recondition your thinking:
  • Be aggressive (and conservative) when needed. I generally like the idea of having an overall aggressive mindset and strategy. However, based on how your opponent is playing, you should be prepared to ease off the gas a bit on any hole. Being adaptable in your approach at the drop of a hat is helpful.
  • Your final score doesn’t matter. Kevin Kisner may be one of the greatest match play golfers in recent memory. Since 2017, he has an absurd 23-9-2 record in singles matches and a 2-0-1 record in team matches. Kisner once said, “I don’t care what I shoot . . . I’m just trying to beat you.” I like that advice!
  • Never give up on your chances. In match play, you’re never really out of it, but you must believe that, too, to be successful in match play. Once again, I will quote match play genius Kevin Kisner. After his fourth-round win in 2019 against Adam Scott, he said, "I don't ever give up . . . I knew I needed to make some birdies. I knew I needed him to start thinking about it. I'm always trying to get the opponent to think about what I'm doing instead of what they're doing, and I was able to do that when I holed that bunker shot on 16."
Justin Thomas at the 2023 Ryder Cup.
Justin Thomas at the 2023 Ryder Cup.
Solidify your short game
A solid short game is essential in any round of golf, but because match play determines a winner on each hole, it proves even more critical. Golfers often have a more conservative approach to pitching chipping and putting in regular stroke play.
While getting it close enough to get up and down with a chip or pitch or to make a two-putt on the green has some merit in stroke play, that thought pattern won't get you far in match play. Being aggressive with these shots is vital to winning matches. Think like you are going to make every pitch, chip and putt.
Play against a future opponent
The best way to get better at match play is to play more match play. Doing so may only sometimes be possible, however. One practice game you can play on the course by yourself is simply challenging yourself to make a particular score on each hole to halve or win that hole against an imaginary opponent.
It may sound silly for us now as adults, but when we were kids, playing a late night round by ourselves, we often had our own version of Jim Nantz playing in our head saying, "This putt is to win the Ryder Cup," or "She needs to get up and down from here, from about 120 yards out, to win the Solheim Cup back for the U.S. squad."
Be a kid again! Make yourself play those scenarios in your mind and you'll be on your way to better match play.