What is Match Play in Golf?

Golf, always the game we come back to. The game our passion and spirit draw us to without end; the game where you can spend a lifetime playing and still discover new techniques, the game that has challenged people ever since its inception in Scotland, more than 250 years ago.

You could spend countless hours talking about what it is that makes the game as special as it is, just like the people who dislike it could spend just as many hours explaining why it's boring to them. You either get it, or you don't.

We get it, and you get it too. That's why you're here reading an article about Match Play.

What is Match Play in Golf?

Let's find out.

Match Play Golf Rules

Match play is what most people usually start with when learning golf. It's easier to understand than stroke play, it's friendlier to the newbies, and it's a whole lot less intimidating.

In match play, we take on the opponent, not the stroke card. You're playing a head-to-head match with someone.  

The way you win a hole is by completing it in the fewest number of strokes.

You, or your opponent, can concede a stroke, a hole, or even the match to each other. In case your next stroke has been conceded, you are permitted to putt out unless that's going to help your partner (by example, by showing them the line for their putt.).

If you or your partner are unsure how to proceed, you can agree on a course of action, even if it's against the rules. That doesn't mean that you can waive a rule, though! If you and your opponent don't agree on how to proceed, you should do what you think is correct. Your opponent can then make a request for a ruling, which will later be decided by the Committee. In match play, you are not required to keep a scorecard – scorecards are only required in stroke play.

It sounds pretty easy, right? That's exactly why it's so popular! Golf can be a very intimidating game to pick up. Match play makes it accessible to everyone who has the time and money to hit the course every now and then.

Let’s take a look at golf match play scoring, shall we?

Match Play Scoring

"That sounds good, but can you go into more detail about the scoring?" Sure can!

It goes like this: A player is awarded a point for each hole they win (they win it by completing it in fewer strokes than their opponent). If the player loses the hole, they're awarded zero points.

If the two players tie on a hole, they're both awarded a half-point. The player with the most points at the end of the round wins. It's also possible to win before that if you're up by more points than the number of remaining holes.

The scoring itself is done a bit differently.

Let's say you've won six holes and your opponent has won four, the score will not be shown as 6 to 4, but instead, you're 2-up or 2-down for your opponent. 

In a nutshell, match play scoring tells golfers and spectators how much each player is up or down when compared to his opponent. In case the match is tied, it's called "all square" often abbreviated as "AS." On leaderboards and in TV graphics.

Let's dive a bit deeper into the types of scores you might see.

2 and 1

When you see a match score of 2 and 1, a single point difference, it means that the winner clinched the victory before reaching the 18th hole, and the match ended early.

The first number in a score of 2 and 1 will tell you the number of holes by which the winner was victorious. The second number will tell you the hole on which the match ended. 

That means that in a score of "2 and 1," the winner was two holes ahead with one hole to play; the match ended after No. 17. "3 and 2" means three holes ahead with two holes to play.

2-up

If "1-up" means the match went the full 18 holes, and a score such as "2 and 1" means it ended early. What's the deal with "2-up" as final scores, then? Why did the match not end on No. 17?

A score of "2-up" happens when the player in the lead wins the match "dormie" on the 17th hole. 

"Dormie" means that the person who's leading is up by the same number of holes that remain.

Let's say you're 2-up with two holes to play. In that case, you can't lose the match in regulation (some match play golf tournaments have playoffs to settle ties, others, like the Ryder Cup, do not).

A score of "2-up" means that the match went dormie with two holes to play (the leader was 2-up with two holes to play), and then the leader won the 18th hole.

5 and 3

Here we go again. If you're ahead by five holes, then why doesn't the match end with four holes to play instead of three? Well, the leader took the match dormie with four holes to play (4-up with four holes still to go), then won the next hole, making a final score of 5 and 3.

Final Thoughts

Wrapping your head around what all of the above scores mean isn’t really that important for a casual player, but it’s a fun way of learning more about match play.

What’s really important is that you hit the course as often as you can and enjoy one of the greatest sports this world has to offer!

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