UNLIKE IN the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and Presidents Cup, most golf clubs send their match play contestants out in two twosomes. Should you help look for lost balls in the other match? Who putts first? Here are six match play rules questions, with answers from GottaGoGolf Guidance guru Gail Rogers.
Dear GGG: At our course they send two matches out together. Are there special considerations I need to know for this format?
A: First, this is not a format anticipated by the Rules of Golf. The match play rules anticipate one singles match being played alone or one four-ball match where you have a partner and two opponents. When your course sends out two singles matches together, the players in each match would be wise to consider their match “an island unto itself.” That being said, there are some ground rules that might be established in order to maintain a level playing field.
On the first tee the honor should be decided by the draw. (Look at the match play tree on page 145 of the Rules of Golf Book if you are unfamiliar with the order of the draw.) This means the match with the player with the best qualifying score plays first. Look at the bracket and see who is listed higher on the individual bracket. The player at the top of the bracket plays before her opponent plays.
After that, in each match, the player who plays first is the one whose ball is farther from the hole. On the next tee the winner of the hole tees off first, or if the hole is halved, the play is in the order of the previous hole. Note: There is no penalty for playing out of order in match play, but by match play rules your opponent may immediately recall your great shot, and you will have to play again. No penalty.
Q. What happens when everyone has her ball on the green?
Once the matches have reached the green, it is again important to think through how to complete the hole without giving an advantage to anyone. Agree in advance that the match with the ball farthest from the hole will complete the hole and then go on to the next tee and tee off. The second match can then complete their play of the hole. This leaves a bit of space between shots in the matches and one player does not get an immediate read for a breaking putt from the other match.
Remember too in match play, putts may be conceded. Don’t give away a difficult putt for a win, but don’t have lock jaw when your opponent’s ball is a few inches from the hole.
Q. What happens if a putt is conceded but the opponent still wants to putt it even though doing so would give a player in the other match the advantage of seeing the line for her putt?
A: In this case the player should lift her ball and wait until the second match finishes the hole. Then she may try the putt that was conceded to her. By match play rules, we are allowed to practice putt immediately after the conclusion of a hole, but we should be considerate of the players in the other match.
Q: What about pace of play in match play? We are used to ready golf in stroke play to keep things moving? Can we do that in Match Play?
A: No. Any stroke player out of order may be recalled by an opponent. What a tragedy if it happens to be a hole-in-one!
One of the important aspects of match play is the opportunity to react to the shot of your opponent. Whether she hits a good or a poor shot might make a difference in how you wish to play your next stroke. Match play should move quickly as putts and even holes can be conceded. The key is to be ready to play when it is your turn and there will never be a slow play issue.
Q. What happens when you see a breach of the rules in the other match?
A: You are a spectator as far as the other match is concerned. Absolutely do not comment on a breach of the match play rules. It is up to the players in a match to decide on whether to act on a breach of the rules or to just ignore it.
This is very different from stroke play. You are not protecting the field in match play. The opponent must protect herself. Players elect to ignore a breach of the rules for a variety of reasons, but whatever they are, it is not your responsibility, nor should you interfere, in the play of the other match.
You might want to talk with your friend after the match is over to determine if she was electing to ignore a rule of golf or if she was just not aware of the rule.
Q. What about potential lost balls? Should we help search?
A: Just as spectators on the course help search for a ball in any tournament, you as a spectator for the other match may help search, but remember if the player has hit a great provisional ball and does not want you to search for the original, you stop searching. The opponent may continue to search if she wishes, but you should not help in that case.
Have fun in your match and remember: The winner buys the drinks.