Many of you may think of this as a stark contrast to regular “stroke play” rounds of disc golf where it is in your best interest to play the course and NOT your opponent — and you would be right. While this article could bounce back and forth between the differences in playing match play and stroke play, we decided to take a deeper look at my personal favorite format of match play. We will follow up in the upcoming weeks with an article about stroke play, but for now, let’s take a look at the wildly entertaining format!
Match play is an incredibly exciting format to play and watch on so many levels for so many reasons. From the mind games you can play with your opponent, to the strategy and patience needed in keeping to your game plan of a cautious, yet aggressive hybrid style of golf. Either way you slice it, you need to remember you are playing your OPPONENT during the match, not the course. Let’s explain…
In stroke play, you can’t control how others are playing. It’s in your best interest to keep your head down and scratch and claw for every stroke you can — not worrying about the players in your group, or what other scores have been posted earlier in the day. Match play, on the other hand, is completely different. The sole focus of your round is to beat one guy — your opponent. Your score at the end of the round doesn’t matter, your match does. If you take a 6 on a hole and your opponent takes an 8, you should care less that you just made a triple bogey — you won the hole; now its time to put that hole behind you and focus on the next one.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with match play, it’s pretty simple. Matches are typically between two players, and each hole is worth one “point,” if you will. If you win the 1st hole, you are 1 up. If you then lose the 2nd hole, you go back to All Square. As the match goes on, the remaining holes begin to dwindle — the nemesis of the disc golfer that is currently losing. Holes can be won, lost or halved (halves are called “pushes” in disc golf for some reason, but we will continue using halves in this article). If you halve a hole, the next hole isn’t worth an additional “point.” The match is over when you have won more holes than there are holes left. Let’s use an easy example: say you won the first two holes to go 2 up in the match. After that, you and your opponent halved every hole — eventually, after halving the 17th hole, you would be the winner, 2&1.
As you can see, since you are playing a direct opponent, you need to be aware of how they are playing at all times. If they teed off first and chucked their disc on an aggressive line over a pond and sat it five feet from the basket, you better get aggressive yourself! You have to assume they are going to make that birdie, and if you want to halve the hole, you better get close as well. If take an aggressive line and hit a tree 20’ in front of you, it doesn’t matter because you were going to either halve or lose the hole anyway, but at least you gave yourself a chance by trying to uncoil a drive that may be a bit out of your comfort zone.
The flip side of that is playing cautious, and waiting out your opponent. Let’s say you are on a long par 3 that you can easily reach with a big drive. Your opponent tees off first, hits a tree and deflects out of bounds. Now, at best, they are going to take bogey as they’ll most likely advance the disc back into the fairway, throw their next shot under the basket and make the putt for four. Instead of you being a stud and parking your Destroyer next to the basket, it would be in your best interest to play your opponent here. If you mess up and make bogey, you just let him back in the hole. Instead, maybe you tee off with a Roc and rip it down the middle of the fairway. You may not be able to make birdie, but your focus should be taking bogey out of the equation because anything better than that means you win the hole.
Some of the other fun elements of match play are the mind games you can play with your opponent. One way to keep your opponent off balance and thinking more than they should is through concessions. At any given time, you can “concede” a shot or the hole to your opponent. If they are five feet from the basket, it’s most likely they are going to make, so just concede the putt instead of insulting them by making them putt it. That being said, a great way to keep your opponent from getting in a rhythm is by conceding longer putts of 20 feet or more early in the match, but come pressure time at the end, make them putt those distances you willingly conceded earlier and see what happens. “Good Goods” are friendly concessions between players who may not have the confidence in each of their own shots at any given point. An example would be each player having a downhill, 15 foot putt where there is a potential of missing and having the disc run away. If you are putting well, by all means drain it and force them make it, but if you are having second thoughts, look at your opponent and ask “Good Good?” and move on to the next hole with a halve if they agree.
All that being said, conceding longer putts may not be the best idea for many, though. If you concede too many putts, you are halving holes you could have potentially won. There is a strategy in keeping your opponent off balance and out of rhythm, but giving them every putt isn’t it. Another way to make your opponent think more than they should is by walking to the next tee after you make your putt, before they finish out. There is definitely a respect and camaraderie within the sport — and this does ruffle feathers on some instances — but it’s a widely used technique in traditional golf that “shakes up” your opponent a bit. When you drain a 30 foot putt and storm to the next tee without waiting for your opponent to finish, they’re more concerned with you not showing that you care if they make their putt or not — ultimately aiding in their miss and losing the hole. Match play, and golf in general, is a “one shot at a time” mentality, and your focus needs to be on that and only that. While this technique shouldn’t be used on every hole, it’s worth a try, and although the next interaction on the tee may be a bit awkward, you just won the previous hole by getting in their head and PLAYING YOUR OPPONENT — and that’s all that matters in this ever-popular format.