What Is Match Play?

A common format in golf, match play has formed the basis of the Ryder Cup since its creation in the early 20th century. But what exactly is it?

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A common format in golf, match play has formed the basis of the Ryder Cup since its creation in the early 20th century. But what exactly is it?

What Is Match Play?

Avid golf fans obviously know what this is, but many watching the Ryder Cup may not know exactly what match play is. Therefore we have explained all below.

Used at every Ryder Cup and every President's Cup as well as the Amateur Championship, US Amateur Championship and many other competitions worldwide, match play is a format of golf that pits one player or team against another.

It is different to stroke play as golfers are simply playing against an opponent, not the course.

They compete for the best score on each hole and the player with the better score wins the hole and goes 1up. The aim of the game is to beat your opponent by winning as many holes as you can until they do not have enough holes to come back.

For example in an 18 hole match play contest, the highest score you can win by is 10 & 8, which means the player is 10 up with only 8 holes to play. Tiger Woods (opens in new tab) nearly achieved this at the 2006 WGC-Dell Match Play against Stephen Ames, whom he beat 9&8.

Related: Best Shots In Ryder Cup History (opens in new tab)

At the Ryder Cup you may see the letters AS on the leaderboards and this means the match is All Square. That means neither player has won enough holes to be ahead of their opponent.

Match play can take several forms like it does during the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup.

In both events this match play format is split into three sections - four balls, foursomes, and singles.

Singles is self explanatory in that it pits one player against another and the better scorer wins the hole. Four balls is the same but it is two pairs of players and the best score wins. Finally, foursomes is two pairs of players, but they play one ball and it is alternate shot.

Traditionally in the Ryder Cup, team Europe is better at four balls and foursomes, whereas the Americans tend to be better at singles.

Due to the nature of match play, it has created some incredible moments and intense pressure situations and yet it is rarely used on the European, PGA, or LPGA tours because the final would only be between two players.

For more Ryder Cup content, check out the Golf Monthly website.

Sam Tremlett
Senior Staff Writer

A golfer for most of his life, Sam is a Senior Staff Writer for Golf Monthly. 

Working with golf gear and equipment over the last five years, Sam has quickly built outstanding knowledge and expertise on golf products ranging from drivers, to balls, to shoes. 

He also loves to test golf apparel especially if it a piece that can be used just about anywhere!

As a result he has always been the one family and friends come to for buying advice and tips.

He is a graduate of Swansea University where he studied History and American Studies, and he has been a part of the Golf Monthly team since December 2017. He also previously worked for World Soccer and Rugby World magazines.

Sam now spends most of his time testing and looking after golf gear content for the website. He also oversees all Tour player content as well. 

Unfortunately, Sam is not a member of any club at the moment but regularly gets out on the golf course to keep up the facade of having a handicap of five.