Golf School

Golf games, drills, terms, rules, bets, jokes and other useful information to increase your enjoyment of golf.

Match Play Golf

Match Play Scoring Explained: Breaking Down One of The Most Common Golf Tournament Formats

“Match play” is a golf tournament format at its most basic. Scoring is as simple as apple pie. Players compete hole-by-hole, and the golfer getting the lowest score gets one point, so there are 18 points up for grabs during the match. The golfer winning the most holes, wins the match. It’s mano-a-mano! So, game on! The terminology for this style of golf tournament competition is a bit different, but cool to learn. Here’s what you need to know for match play golf rules:

  • Basic Scorekeeping: Win a hole, that’s one for you; Lose a hole, your opponent gets one.
  • Tie scores on individual holes are “halves”. No point is awarded for either player. You both go to the next hole and try to win that one.
  • The proper scoring of match play golf sounds like this: If you’ve won four holes and your opponent (the sworn enemy) has won three holes, the score isn’t 4 – 3, it’s called “one-up” for you, or “one-down” for your opponent. If you have won seven holes and your opponent has won three, then you are leading “four-up”, and your opponent is probably getting a bit depressed as they are “four-down.”
  • If the match is tied, it is “all square.”
  • Match play golf competitions don’t necessarily go all 18 holes if one player has an insurmountable lead. For example, if you’re “four-up” after playing the 16th hole, there are only two points available (Nos. 17 and 18). Your opponent is “closed out” at “3 & 2” which means you were three holes up and there were only two to go. Well done! The ultimate shellacking in match play golf is “10 & 8,” which means you won the first 10 holes and there are only eight remaining. Your opponent is probably giving up golf and taking up tennis or perhaps deciding finally, that taking a golf lesson from a pro isn’t such a bad idea.
  • The coolest term in match play golf is “dormie”. No, dormie isn’t the person you roomed with in college. Dormie means the player who is ahead in the 18-hole match leads by the same number of holes that remain to be played; for example, four-up with four holes left to play. The match is dormie and your opponent isn’t happy (but they still have a chance to get “all square” by winning the last four holes). But the occasion is the perfect time to rub it in and say: “Dude, you’re dormie.”

Match Play Strategies

Conceding a hole is a not-to-be-forgotten self-preservation tactic. If you are blowing up on a hole and lie four in the green-side bunker, while your opponent is on the green in two with a safe two-putt, it’s a good time to concede the hole. Why continue the frustration and the beating? Just walk away and let them have that one. Remember match play masters share three qualities: a cool head, a short memory and healthy dose of confidence.

To give or not to give a putt, that is the question. In match play, golfers have the option to give their opponent a putt at any time by calling it “good.” When to do it and how it’s done is the fine line between sportsmanship and gamesmanship. This is what makes match play so interesting. You may give your opponent short putts early in the round, but make him or her putt out every knee-knocker on the back-nine with the pressure mounting. There is some sly gamesmanship involved, so choose wisely on how nice, or nasty, you want to be.