RENSLOW: Digging deeper into the intracacies of match play |

RENSLOW: Digging deeper into the intracacies of match play

Match play versus stroke play. We’ve touched on this before, yet primarily from the scoring aspect.

Rather than keeping track of your score (stroke by stroke) and a resulting total for your round, match play is a competition played hole by hole.

If a player has a score of 12 on the first hole and their opponent has a score of three, they are not down nine shots, they are down one hole. The match is then accounted for that way. When a player is ahead (or “up”) by more holes than remain to be played, that player has won the match.

Nearly every tournament we watch on television uses stroke play. Yet, one remarkable event each year employs match play. The United States takes on Europe on the even years (Ryder Cup) and an International team (non-European) on the odd years, which is known as the President’s Cup.

Most of these matches are pairs against pairs in fourball and foursome play. Each pair has a score and that score is compared to their opponent’s score. The team match is scored in the same manner as an individual match.

Here is today’s lesson. Not only is the scoring different. In some cases, the Rules of Golf may be applied differently.

Our case in point comes to us from the President’s Cup match from a few weeks ago. Jordan Spieth and his partner Patrick Reed were taking on Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day. It was a short par-4 and birdie would likely be a tie (or “halve”). Day was chipping his third shot from behind the green.

It is important as this juncture to identify a significant difference between stroke play and match play. Because a match only effects those involved and not the rest of a field of players, the Rules of Golf state that “a stroke, the hole or the match may be conceded at any time.”

The most common of these is a short putt. Your opponent hits a long putt that comes to rest within inches of the hole. Rather than require your opponent to either mark their ball or go through the process of holing this small putt, you say “it’s good.” You have conceded that shot. Your opponent picks the ball up and that shot is included in the score for that hole.

Back to our story. Day’s chip shot for birdie sails past the hole and continues to roll well beyond. Again, a birdie is commonplace for these players on this hole and a lengthy putt for par is essentially meaningless. Knowing this and sparing Day a long walk to a moot point, Spieth stops the ball as it rolls along the green and returns it.

Oops. Spieth had the best intentions. Frankly, I didn’t catch it in real time. One cannot interrupt a moving golf ball.

Logic tells us that Day’s ball had no chance of going in. His next putt for par was pointless. Practically it makes sense. But, you can see why this rule is in place. Who knows? Maybe the ball hits a rake and caroms into the hole. Realistically, no. But, other situations may not be so obvious. One can imagine other scenarios in which a player causes another player’s ball to move that would not be good.

So, a Rules Official informs Spieth of his infraction and a thorough discussion ensues. Day and his partner are even willing to let this slide. However, in the end, the result is the same. The penalty for stopping this moving ball is “loss of hole.”

Fortunately, the match was not decided by this scenario. Spieth and Reed would go on to win the match. For us, it is an entertaining and educational moment.

John Renslow is a PGA Class A Professional and Instructor at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at

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