John Renslow: Match play event offers change of pace |

John Renslow: Match play event offers change of pace

“It’s the same, but different.” Many of us have chuckled at this line. We think, it’s either the same….or, it’s different. Not too much middle ground here. Or, is there?

The original form of play for the game of golf was match play. Players did not record a score. It was a hole-by-hole match, in which the player who won more individual holes became the overall winner.

Golfers would keep track of their strokes for a given hole and the player with the least amount of strokes on that hole ‘wins’ the hole. A tied score on a hole would result in a ‘halve.’

The player who wins the first hole of the round was “1 UP.” A subsequent hole captured by that player would result in the player being “2UP.” Were that player to lose the next two holes, the match would again be “square.”

This match will continue until one of the players is “up” by more holes than remain to be played. Standing on the 17th tee, with two holes to go, a player who is “3UP” has won the match.

It wasn’t until much later that stroke play (recording the total number of strokes) and aggregate score tournaments began. Even into the 20th century, match play was generally the form of play. Yet, in the late 1950s, stroke play gained popularity and became the common form of play.

Hmmm…wonder why? The short answer is television. Sponsors don’t want a match to be completed on the 15th hole, especially if it involves an elite player. There goes an hour of better ratings.

This week, we get one of the few opportunities to watch the top players compete in a match play event. It is the Dell Match Play, in Austin, Texas, part of the World Golf Championships.

Even for these elite players, it is a tremendous change of pace and because of the format, we will likely see some different faces than we might expect. Knowing this, the PGA Tour wants to give the marquee players every opportunity to make it to the weekend (remember what we were saying about television).

So, they have greatly reduced the possibility of a lower ranked player eliminating a household name in an early match. Now, the early matches are “round robin” style. Each golfer in a four-player grouping plays each other once. The players with the best record in the grouping advances to the weekend. Over the weekend rounds go back to single elimination, win or go home.

At this level (we’re looking at the top 64 players in the world) there is no slouch and it will be fun to watch, no matter who succeeds in the early matches. Catch it today on Golf Channel and on NBC over the weekend.

The game of golf — stroke play and match play. It’s the same, but different.

John Renslow is a PGA professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.

John Renslow

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