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Match Play and RYDER CUP 2010

by Donald Crawley

Contributing Golf Writer and Director of Instruction for The Boulders Club Voted as a TOP 100 Teacher in Golf Magazine, and Director of Instruction at the Boulders Golf Academy, Carefree, AZ.

Donald Crawley Hatboro, PA (Sports Network) - Let's talk about match play although, regrettably and realistically, some of you may not even know what that is. You see, in the United States of America the vast majority of golfers play stroke play. That is when you count every stroke and total your score after 9 or 18 holes. Match play is when two or teams of two each play against each other, winning holes. It doesn't matter how many strokes each individual or team take on each hole, but the lower score on that hole wins...just that hole. And, in case you are still confused let me give you an example.

Donald is playing against Phil. Oh yes, the mighty lefty against the little Englishman. Donald makes four on the first hole, Phil strokes in a curling 18- footer to birdie and make a three. Phil won that hole and is deemed to be one up. Phil hooks into the woods on the second hole, chips out, knocks it on the green, two putts for a bogey five. Donald crushes two laser-like shots onto the green to narrowly miss his birdie attempt making a par four. Donald wins that hole, and the match is all square. So Donald and Phil continue through the round to play for each hole. How simple is that?

Phil battles but can't shake the wily teaching pro from the Boulders (you expected descriptions of me to be modest?) and, after 17 holes, Donald is two up, meaning Donald has won two more holes than Phil. There is only one hole left to play so the match is over. Donald has won two and one. Two holes up with only one hole left. Match complete. It doesn't matter if Phil is two under par for the day and Donald is one over par; the total score isn't tracked or reported. The victor is he who wins each hole, and ends up with more wins than losses. That is match play. So this is the language you will hear, and the format that will be played at the Ryder Cup in Wales, October 1-3.

This format is rarely used in the United States. The vast majority of golf games are stroke play. On the PGA and LPGA Tour the events are all individual stroke play. The only time you see this match play format is on teams, or perhaps your club championship. Match play can affect the strategy of the player's game. Put yourself in the shoes of the Ryder Cup player. For the first two days you will be playing with a partner, as a team, against a team of two opponents. Two American players against two Europeans. They play best ball which you are aware of, I'm sure. Tiger and Phil play their own ball. Tiger makes 3 Phil makes 4. Tiger's low ball score counts against the Europeans best ball on each hole and the hole is either won or drawn. A draw is two teams shooting the same best ball score on that hole. That is called a halved hole.

So, the team atmosphere is crucial to success. The pairing of the teams is carefully plotted. Captain Paul Azinger did a great job two years ago, pairing players together who complemented one another. The pros play against each other, as individuals, every week of the year except at either the Ryder Cup or Presidential Cup. They are individually minded, playing for themselves against 124 same-minded opponents every other work day, except during the Ryder Cup week. This makes it challenging for the players and team captains to try and adopt a team-minded mentality...while playing match play rather than stroke play.

If Tiger makes a six on a hole but Phil makes a three, the American team scores a three. The Europeans score a 4 so the Tiger/Phil team are one up. Tiger has to forget that he is two over par, because it doesn't matter for the team. His team is one up. They are winning the match.

Consequently, one of the reasons the Europeans have won more Ryder Cups in the last 15 years, at least in some golf experts' opinions, is that they played more team and match play events growing up. This is somewhat true in the States but more so in Europe, especially in amateur golf. Let me give you an example and brag a little about a very talented amateur Scotsman (with whom I had the privilege to work on recent occasions). James Byrne plays college golf for ASU, Arizona State University, so he is playing on a team. But, all his events are stroke play. His individual score counts for his team, but always playing stroke play. This last summer he went back to his native land to play the amateur circuit. He played a 36 hole stroke play qualifier to get into the British Amateur. The top 64 players, the lowest 64 scores, qualified to play match play against each other. In short, a knock out, or playoffs as in NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL. James played four matches to get to the finals, and then lost to finish runner up.

Next, he went on to compete in the Scottish Amateur Championship played match play, narrowly losing in the final four, a basketball term with which you are very familiar, called the semi-finals. Now he is representing Great Britain and Ireland playing as a team against Continental Europe. They will be involved in match play similar to the Ryder Cup format. In October he will represent the Scottish national team, the top three Scottish amateurs, playing as a team against 50 other national teams from 50 countries. In that tournament it will be stroke play. But, my point is that as a top class European amateur, James is accustomed to playing team and match play events. Fast forward a few years and I predict James, outside forces willing, will be playing on the European Ryder Cup team quite comfortable and confident playing team and match play.

It is worth noting that the top American amateurs play some match play but not as many as the Europeans. That, my friend, is why the Europeans still hold an upper hand on the Ryder Cup format. This year's keen competition will be worth watching and following. On a personal note, because I was born and raise an Englishman and my heart pulls for the Europeans BUT I must admit that, overall...mentally and emotionally, I am truly pulled in two directions as I am happy and proud to announce that I will become a US citizen before the end of the year. Therefore, here's to both teams and seeing a match that is played well and hard...in match play that you now understand fully and completely.

Donald Crawley

Donald Crawley, Director of Instruction at the Boulders Golf Academy at the Boulders Resort & Golden Door? Spa in Carefree, Ariz. Crawley, a veteran of 35 years of teaching experience, is the newest contributor to The Sports Network with regular features that range from tips on improving your game to etiquette at the course. He has established 40 golf school sites in the United States since 1980,previously as vice president and director of instruction at John Jacobs' Golf Schools.

Crawley is recognized among the "Top 100 Teachers in America" by Golf Magazine and one of the "Best Teachers in Arizona" by Golf Digest. As both a Class A U.S. PGA member and a British PGA member, Crawley has been recognized for his outstanding teaching abilities. In 2002 & 2005, he won the Southwest Section PGA's Teacher of the Year Award. He also received the Horton Smith Award for education in 2000. In addition to teaching over 60,000 students, Crawley has co-authored video instruction tapes with John Jacobs and BBC/ABC golf telecaster Peter Alliss.

Comments? Contact Donald Crawley at Donald.Crawley@theboulders.com.

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