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Want to Improve your Stroke Play Scores? Use a Match Play Mentality

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

We seldom see match play on the PGA Tour outside of a couple weeks of the year or an exhibition like the Ryder Cup. This past weekend at the Travelers Championship, we were treated to a great two-man match after 72 holes of stroke play competition. In most cases, the match play portion of a sudden death playoff only lasts one or two holes. On Sunday we got eight. In watching the tremendous theater, we were all left wondering how these two competitors were able to shift their mindset so quickly from stroke to match play.
When we really start to consider the difference between the two formats, we realize quickly they aren’t that dissimilar. Hickok and English were still playing for low score, just as they had on Thursday through Sunday. The difference in the playoff? There was only one opponent instead of one hundred and forty- two.
When we consider what makes a great match play player, how can those attributes assist our stroke play game? After all, most golfers admit match play is a little easier on the mind than stroke. So, a match play mindset can be very powerful. When we watch the Ryder Cup the commentators consistently mention strategy when describing the action. Hit the fairway, hit the green, put pressure on your opponent. A great PGA Coach will tell you to do the same things during a course management lesson.
Stroke play causes all of us to begin counting. Predicting scores, building anxiety, and fixating on that final tally. Match play forces us to look at every shot on each hole as an independent challenge. Steal that mindset and use it to succeed in stroke play formats. Instead of always calculating, treat every shot as an independent action. Just you versus the shot. Focus on your performance in that moment. The shot prior and the one following have NO effect on the current one.
The only thing that matters is concentrating on what makes the current shot work. Don’t worry about where it’s going to go. Doesn’t matter. Fear prohibits performance. Create a bubble around your shot. Within that sphere control what you can - the simple movements that make your swing work. Do that and the result will take care of itself.
Playing a successful round is like going to the grocery store. You have 80 items on your list: a goal. Does picking out fresh bananas have anything to do with the frustration of waiting in the deli line? Absolutely not. Treat each golf shot the same way in your mind. Play each shot like you are going through your list. Pick every grocery item out separately, play each shot separately. In the end, add up the items. You might be pleasantly surprised. Play this way and you may come up a couple shots short of your goal!
Great stroke play golfers use a match play mindset whether they know it or not. Start to understand how you can play better and reach your goals in a round by performing one swing at a time. Very quickly you will realize how powerful a tool this can be toward playing better golf.